QB Juice Williams

2007 Statistics

Coach: Ron Zook
13-23, 3 years
2007 Record: 9-4
vs. Missouri LOST 34-40
at Syracuse WON 41-20
at Indiana WON 27-14
at Iowa LOST 6-10
at Minnesota WON 44-17
at Ohio State WON 28-21
Southern California LOST 17-49

2007 Final Rankings
AP-20, Coaches-18, BCS-13

2008 Outlook

If you didn't enjoy seeing an underdog like Ron Zook finally get his just due after he put his heart and soul on the line here, then we'll put some character in your stocking this Christmas. One of the most tireless coaches in FBS after 32 years in the business, Zook excitedly built this program into a Big Ten contender once again. We used to have to list his superlatives to counteract the three years of hell he endured from the alumnus at Florida, but that was before he broke through. After their No.20 finish (AP) and win in Columbus against the top-ranked Buckeyes, most now realize the Illini aren’t just lucky - Zook is a strong recruiter with knowledge of the modern game and its needs. He knows how to deal with tough situations, obviously, and lead through example by persevering. He expects the same of his coaches and players, and they respond, in turn. The sheer glory of running the clock out at the Horseshoe with almost all running plays (over the final eight minutes) shows he knows what it takes to get a lead and then keep it.

This year looks like another good one in Champaign, but there are enough holes in the two-deep to make it interesting. Like in 2006 and '07, the entire season rests on the wily talents of Juice Williams. Juice is amazing when he is on, eluding tacklers as he fakes defenders out of position and exploits their mistakes. He hasn't beaten anyone yet, though, with his arm alone. Like WVU’s Pat White, the way to stop him (and Illinois) is by cutting off his rushing numbers first. The running game will likely lead the conference for the third straight year with all of the talent behind Williams, so all Juice has to do is learn how to win by air and this team becomes nearly unstoppable.

The defense is volatile, too, with so many holes at safety and linebacker. These are the players who will match up against any extra receivers (especially on assumed running downs), so these areas look to be an important aspect for whether the D can do its job. Davis, Miller and Davis are the seniors who need to vocalize their leadership so as to bring the other stoppers to the levels that led to last year's nine wins. The talent is there to fill the vacancies, so it is just adjustments once the right players are chosen and the leadership needed to keep the talent motivated that will bring home a conference crown.

It isn't nice to kick things off with Big 12 runner-up Missouri, but the Tigers’ top effort will give Zook a good reading on the areas needing tightening...he makes great mid-stream adjustments, so one loss to start won't mean much. When they went down to Mizzu in the opener last year, it put them on the map because they played a great game in losing 40-34. An early win would mean they have their ship righted from the get-go, a great sign that they may pick up right where they left off (in the regular season…the USC bowl loss has to be forgotten). That's the way they need it to go if the games in Madison, Happy Valley and Ann Arbor are to be won...well, they are each/all winnable since those three schools are in flux at quarterback. It will be great if the conference title is still within grasp as they host Ohio State. Then it could be like a playoff atmosphere, making that the game of the year in the Big Ten instead of the OSU-UM game. Whatever the outcome, Zook is a great leader and Williams is just a highlight reel every week, making this a team worth watching, regardless of the outcome.

Projected 2008 record: 8-4
CB Vontae Davis
QB - 4 DL - 4
RB - 3.5 LB - 3
WR - 3.5 DB - 3
OL - 3.5 ..
2007 Statistical Rankings
Total Off:
Sacks Allow:
Total Def:

Passing: Juice Williams, 153-267-12, 1743 yds., 13 TD

Rushing: Juice Williams, 165 att., 755 yds., 7 TD

Receiving: Arrelious Benn, 54 rec., 676 yds., 2 TD

Scoring: Juice Williams, 7 TD, 42 pts.

Punting: Anthony Santella, 64 punts, 37.7 avg.

Kicking: None

Tackles: Vontae Davis, 76 tot., 56 solo

Sacks: Will Davis, 9.5 sacks

Interceptions: Vontae Davis, 4 for 0 yds.

Kickoff returns: Arrelious Benn, 10 ret., 28.0 avg., 1 TD

Punt returns: Kyle Hudson, 17 ret., 7.5 avg., 0 TD


OFFENSE: Russ Weil-FB, Jacob Willis-WR, Martin O'Donnell-OG, Akim Millington-OT, Jason Reda-K, Rashard Mendenhall-RB (NFL), Kyle Hudson-WR (baseball)
DEFENSE: Chris Norwell-DT, Antonio Steele-LB, J Leman-LB, Justin Harrison-SS, Kevin Mitchell-FS, Justin Sanders-FS

The difference that elevated Illinois to its final No.20 ranking (AP) came primarily from the offense. More specifically, Isiah "Juice" Williams elevated his decision-making skills, which in the end meant an increase of 80 more yards of total offense per game for the team. In only three games last year did Juice fail to illicit at least 21 points from the offense. All three were losses. Consistency comes from the running attack - like all good Big Ten members, the Illini run it almost twice as much as they pass. Juice is a beast on the ground, faking a throw as he scrambles only to then turn it up field for a nice gain. He has the power in his step to break tackles, so this forces foes to move towards him when he rolls out, thus opening up the options downfield. Just ask Ohio State if his multiple weapons don't force over-pursuing, which resulted for the Buckeyes in Williams lofting it to open receivers. The Chicago hurler hit for four scores (which accounted for all of their points, 28) in Columbus to upset the undefeated and then-No.1 Buckeyes. When he is on, Juice is as good as they get. But he showed that he still can't beat foes with his arm when his own running dimension is stagnant (USC, Michigan and Missouri losses were his worst rushing games). Stop him on the ground and you stop Illinois from winning...simple as that. Juice has thrown for over 200 yards only four times in two years (top game of 245 vs. USC in the Rose Bowl), throwing a pick for every TD during his college career. But he's a winner who improved drastically from the prior year’s 2-10 gloom and should be that much better after off-season tutelage. Reserve QB Eddie McGee is basically the same as Juice for play-calling purposes, so little changes when he is in. McGee likely gets more reps since Juice could bolt after this season for higher ranks (NFL).

A huge weight gets put around the neck of Daniel Dufrene, who steps in for the 1600+ yards of now-departed Mendenhall. Dufrene has to stop trying for extra yards and hit the hole, which often means taking those hits between the tackles which he avoided last year (lost 38 yards on only 47 carries last year, which would extrapolate to losing 212 yards if he carries it this year as much as Mendenhall did in '07). Zook needs sure yards in this conference, and a bulked up incoming frosh like Jason Ford (40" vertical leap) is just what a dual-back system needs. Rahkeem Smith is a true fullback, one who needs the rock a bit more so defenders are forced to mark yet another option in the offense. Coordinator Mike Locksley's guys have led the Big Ten in rushing both of his years at the helm.

What we have to see featured more is the aerial aspect, especially with only 15 total TDs coming from the passing game in ‘07. There are worthwhile receiving options galore, so it is up to Locksley to "coach up" Williams and get the most out of his arm and/or the Illini passing game. Speaking of options, Big Ten Freshman of the Year Arrelious Benn looks like a potential All-American with his superior pedigree and work ethic. Mr. Everything in prep (USA Today, SuperPrep and Parade All-American; Walter Payton Award by EA Sports for most-dedicated national H.S. athlete; D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year), Benn has size and speed for making the catch and then killing with YAC. Look for Benn to keep carrying it three or four times a game, with a breakout run sure to come. Ex-high jump champ (6'10" best) Kyle Hudson is a nice compliment. The smallish senior was the team leader in receiving (yards) in '05 and '06, so he is ready to reemerge in his final campaign. Gamble is another underneath option in the short passing game Williams loves. Ex-sprinters Morgan and Warren need to be used for their speed to stretch the field as well as for their excellent downfield blocking. Spreading the field to run it is great, but the Illini have to prove they can be viable in the deep passing game to keep DBs from cheating in to stop Juice. Jeff Cumberland is likely to keep being used as a wide-out instead of for his designated tight end skills...that's where classmate Mike Hoomanawanui comes in. Hoomanawanui starts much of the time with his size, but he has soft hands, too, hence Cumberland's move to the outside to capitalize on his skill set more.

The line gets shuffled a bit. Ryan McDonald (36 consecutive starts) at center is the senior leader needed for orienting the new guys. Xavier Fulton is another senior who will lead with his athletic example at left tackle. John Asamoah on the inside right will foster the youth there, so it is up to the new faces to step up. Palmer, Block and Hunt all have their eyes on the prize after doing well as backups. Things up front have to be tight by the trip to St. Louis (to play Mizzu).

One area of concern is turnovers, specifically fumbles – 18 of the drops were due to foes causing the mishap, so the other nine unforced fumbles have to be addressed. The passing game and the fullback have to be utilized for their maximum (distracting) potentials. The team's passing efficiency went from dead last (119th) in the nation to 80th, and a similar improvement would keep Illinois in the running for the Roses.


WR Arrelious Benn


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Juice Williams-Jr (6-2, 223) Eddie McGee-So (6-4, 200)
FB Rahkeem Smith-Jr (6-1, 246) Darius Purcell-Fr (5-10, 210)
RB Daniel Dufrene-Jr (5-11, 195) Troy Pollard-Fr (5-8, 180)
WR Chris Duvalt-Jr (5-11, 171) Chris James-So (6-0, 190)
WR Arrelious Benn-So (6-2, 215) Brian Gamble-So (6-0, 197)
WR Jeff Cumberland-Jr (6-5, 244) Marques Wilkins-Jr (6-0, 191)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui-Jr (6-5, 261) Tom Sullivan-Jr (6-4, 227)
OT Xavier Fulton-Sr (6-5, 280) Mark Jackson-Fr (6-5, 307)
OG Randall Hunt-So (6-6, 304) Jack Cornell-Fr (6-5, 320)
C Ryan McDonald-Sr (6-5, 293) Eric Block-Sr (6-3, 290)
OG Jon Asamoah-Jr (6-5, 300) Jeff Allen-Fr (6-4, 326)
OT Ryan Palmer-So (6-7, 308) Graham Pocic-Fr (6-7, 316)
K Derek Dimke-Fr (6-0, 175) Matt Brandabur-So (6-0, 199)



Learning how to bend and not break is what differentiated the 2007 defense from its predecessors. The run-stopping numbers were similar, but they figured out how to pare down allowing 19 TDs on the ground to only 11. The passing yardage allowed in 2007 increased by over 60 yards. Yet, within the complexities of conjuring pass efficiency ratings, if you keep the same basic rating but you allow more yards (which they did), you must have tightened another area up to compensate for the yardage increase. They let in nearly twice as many TDs, so the stat that offsets thing is the 17 INTs, an increase of seven from 2006. It all equaled the difference of five less points per game and, most importantly, seven more wins. Five foes went over 30 points in 2006 (all losses), whereas only two did in '07 (also both losses). See the pattern? Duh, less scoring means more wins, but consistency and managing opponent's production is more important than just limiting yards for yardage sake.

Much of this can be seen in the DE rotation. Will Davis is all-conference after he showed again that he is good for one TFL out of every four of his takedowns. Pilcher and Walker offer more girth, but neither produced like Davis. The tackles don't go as deep, but those first three - Lindquist, Brent and Williams - are all worthy of the start. Only Brent broke through in last year's bumper class for tackles, but the off-season progress of super-quick DeAngelo McCray will afford a complete two-deep to keep legs fresh. Two new faces will push everyone to that next level, hopefully.

The move of prize DE recruit Martez Wilson is not a shock considering all of the speed he possesses. Sam Carson gets his first designated start since injuring his hand in 2006; the Woodridge native has never fully realized his potential, so he is looking to go out on a high note. A similar plight is shared by Rodney Pittman, so extra effort will carry these two to new heights. Brit Miller will be a nice centerpiece to build the rotation around. The corps sees Ian Thomas come aboard - the former Defensive Player of the Year in Maryland prep just has to hone his skill package to be a great LB. Learning to play together is the only way Illinois will beat Mizzu, so the LBs becoming a unit is most key to avoiding the early loss. Leman will have to be replaced by committee, and a “green” committee they will be.

The most utilized safety in '07 who comes back, Bo Flowers, had five total tackles. Donsay Hardeman is finally ready to be part of the team after having to hit the JUCO trail out of prep. He is now the overall No.7 junior college prospect and the likely starter due to his experience at a similar level. Travon Bellamy could find himself back here after shoulder surgery meant he missed 2007, which allowed his starting cornerback slot to be usurped. Ex-QB Garrett Edwards also figures into the mix. All of these guys have the size and speed to really improve the numbers back here. Corner Vonte Davis followed up his Freshman All-American year with an All-Big Ten showing. Also a former D.C. Gatorade player of the Year, Davis has size to batten down his corner better against the run. Dere Hicks had a huge sophomore season, big enough to mean he will be left out on an island much of the time. Marcus Thomas is a decent nickel, but the reshuffling of the safeties will dictate who is left off of that two-deep and who, out of those, can play that ‘lagniappe’ role as needed.
Vital is the ability for the line and corners to play on their own, allowing the variable nature of the LBs and safeties to come together naturally instead of out of dire necessity. The back seven will be introduced to the big time when Chase Daniel picks them apart, but they have to take those lessons in stride and make it so they carry over; even with one early non-con loss, Illinois can again challenge for the conference title.


DE Will Davis


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Doug Pilcher-Jr (6-5, 265) Derek Walker-Sr (6-4, 276)
DT Sirod Williams-Sr (6-0, 278) Josh Brent-So (6-2, 320)
DT David Lindquist-Sr (6-3, 276) D'Angelo McCray-Fr (6-4, 333)
DE Will Davis-Sr (6-3, 246) Jerry Brown-So (6-4, 253)
SLB Martez Wilson-So (6-4, 236) Sam Carson-Sr (6-1, 245)
MLB Brit Miller-Sr (6-1, 251) Dustin Jefferson-So (6-0, 224)
WLB Rodney Pittman-Sr (6-2, 235) Ian Thomas-Fr (6-0, 210)
CB Vontae Davis-Jr (6-0, 204) Ashante Williams-Fr (5-10, 197)
CB Dere Hicks-Jr (5-10, 181) Marcus Thomas-So (5-11, 160)
SS Bo Flowers-So (6-2, 222) Travon Bellamy-So (6-0, 194)
FS Nate Bussey-So (6-2, 210) Garrett Edwards-So (6-2, 210)
P Anthony Santella-So (6-2, 180) ..




Bad punts were huge factors in both the Iowa and Michigan losses. Anthony Santella needs to either use his huge foot or pick his placements better...doing neither is why Illinois ranked 92nd in net average. Matt Brandabur has yet to kick in a real situation in college, so Mike Cklamovski, last year's kickoff specialist, will likely get the nod for both place kicking jobs (at 265lbs, he is an asset as an 11th tackler, when needed). Benn has been great on kicks as a return guy, but Vontae Davis will challenge him as both are up for the punt return slot.