McGee: 'I was excited'

Asmussen provides more thoughts on Juice and Eddie here.

CHAMPAIGN – His teammates were surprised by the move. So was Eddie McGee. But they didn't question it.

McGee will start Saturday's game against Michigan State in place of Juice Williams, who just became Illinois' career total offense leader. Ron Zook announced the quarterback switch Monday.

McGee and Williams were told about the change after dinner Sunday night.

"He called me in his office," McGee said. "I had no idea what he was calling me in for. Honestly, that was the last thing on my mind because Juice is a great player. He's the man. He's the quarterback. When (Zook) told me, I was in shock. But at the same time, I was excited. I knew I had the ability and my teammates believe in me as well. And Coach Zook obviously has confidence in me."

After meeting with Zook, McGee caught up to Williams in the parking lot and drove to Williams' home to talk about the move.

"Me and Juice are still best friends," McGee said. "Nothing has changed in our relationship. He still helps me watch tape. Same thing as we've always been doing.

"There was no real need to say, 'No hard feelings,' because we knew that there are never hard feelings between me and Juice no matter what. He's like my brother."

Zook said he is not pinning the blame for the 1-3 start on Williams.

"I can assure you that it's everybody," Zook said. "Like I told the team (Monday) night, 'We're all a part of this thing. We're all responsible and everybody's got a piece of it.' Unfortunately, the quarterback's the one position that gets the most notice."

What does Williams think about the change? The senior quarterback wasn't made available to the media. He is usually part of a Monday teleconference, but his spot was left vacant.

Williams practiced Monday as the No. 2 quarterback. That means fewer repetitions with the starting offense. And more time watching McGee run the team.

Having the week to prepare as the starter will help, McGee said. It won't be his first time on the field, but it will be McGee's first start. In his career, he has completed 52 of 94 passes (55 percent) for 714 yards. He has three touchdowns and five interceptions. As a runner, he has four touchdowns.

"It's a big change," McGee said. "It was on my mind a lot (Sunday) night. But when I came out to practice, it was time to go."

Zook said he doesn't want McGee to be looking over his shoulder during Saturday's game, wondering if a bad pass will send Williams back in.

McGee doesn't see it being a problem.

"I'm just going to take the ball and run with it," McGee said. "My main goal is to win. There's no need for me to look back. If I do, it's going to deter my performance on the field, so I'm not looking back."

The Illinois players promise they've got McGee's back.

"We're going to support (McGee) just as much as we support Juice," Illinois defensive tackle Josh Brent said.

"I feel good about it," Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn said. "Both Eddie and Juice are two guys who are great with each other. They're going to help lead each other. I think Eddie has the ability to go out there and do what he needs to do."

Benn talked to Williams after hearing about the demotion.

"He's handling it well," Benn said. "Juice is a guy who knows how to handle things like this. I'm not going to let him handle it on his own. We're just going to keep moving forward."

"He's going to support Eddie in all ways possible," Brent said.

Benn went into the Penn State game with five receptions this season. But he had five grabs against the Nittany Lions for 96 yards, including a season-best 49-yard catch.

Illinois made a DVD about the Williams-to-Benn connection during the summer called "7-to-9." And there is a Web site dedicated to the quarterback-receiver combination. Now, it will be 10-to-9.

"I do have a little chemistry with Eddie," Benn said. "But not maybe as much as I do with Juice. I will build on that throughout the week. Eddie's the type of guy who is real competitive. He's a leader on and off the field."

Benn said the two quarterbacks are similar in many areas. The differences are subtle, with McGee better on his feet and Williams having an edge in experience.

"Eddie can get the job done," Benn said. "I know what Eddie is capable of and I know what Juice is capable of. Eddie's going to go in there and do the best job he can."

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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Illini1973 wrote on October 06, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Does anyone read this as laying the groundwork for next year, i.e., this season is lost?

Oskee5 wrote on October 06, 2009 at 1:10 pm

If Illinois was 1-3 with losses to Indiana, Purdue, and Fresno State, I might agree with you; however, there is a lot of football to be played and unfortunately for the Illini, their 3 toughest games came in the first 4.

blmillini wrote on October 06, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I think it is Zook grasping at straws. He has moved to panic mode, which cannot be good for the team. I hope the guys can hold strong. Eddie has not proven he can take care of the ball, which is the same issue Juice has had. As long as we keep turning the ball over, we do need to start looking at next season. Charest, Scheelhaase and Whitmer get me more excited since we no longer have Mendenhall to bail us out.

jjohnson wrote on October 06, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Boy, some guys are never happy.

kfj wrote on October 06, 2009 at 3:10 pm

The football team should stay positive and reflect upon their accomplishments thus far and then extrapulate future strategies to yield further accomplishment for the remaining part of the long football season. Go Illini!

senior32 wrote on October 07, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Personally, I see the team making a bowl in December. I hate how Zook is in panic mode and moving his players around when he should be moving his coaching staff around.

Zook, you should probably talk to your coaches about how conservative their play calling is.... You have tons of talent USE IT!