It probably will not send shock waves through the college football world, but an interesting moment occurred in Saturday's Ohio State-Illinois game. Down only 17 points with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter, Eddie McGee was given the reigns of the Illini offense instead of Isiah "Juice" Williams.
To the casual eye it may not seem like that big of a deal, but to those in Champaign, it appears the love is starting to dissipate for the junior quarterback. All fans of college football remember the magical season Juice led the Illini through last season culminating in an upset win over Ohio State in Columbus and a Rose Bowl berth.
While Illinois had lost a few defensive leaders, it was largely thought that the Illini would be in the upper echelon of the Big Ten in 2008. But after a blow out win against Indiana, the once potent offense has sputtered, mainly because of its star junior at quarterback.
Over his last four games consider this stat line: five TD passes and eight interceptions. Suddenly, the big play star now is struggling to make the big plays. While one can not blame Juice for all of the Illinois troubles, it seems that maybe the player fondly known as Juice is staring to spoil in the minds of Illinois coaches and fans.
The stats are not terrible for Juice this season. He has well then surpassed his career highs in passing yards by more than 1,000 yards. But he has crumbled to an extent down the stretch when Illinois needed his abilities the most.
His three interceptions at Wisconsin, two of which were in Badger territory, cost the Illini a win in what should have been a win against a overrated Badger team.
Even worse were Juice's two interceptions on consecutive possession which helped spur the Western Michigan Broncos onto an upset victory.
Then today, Juice's erratic play squashed a few drives, and a costly fumble inside the Illinois twenty yard line setup Ohio State's first score. The quarterback did not see the field most of the fourth quarter, when coach Ron Zook pulled Williams in favor of Eddie McGee. Williams only saw the field again when McGee was injured.
To Juice's credit he did lead a scoring drive after he came back in, but it came after the game was all but decided. Williams pumped his fist after the score, but many, including this Buckeye fan, wondered where was this play earlier in the game.
ESPN commentator, Andre Ware, made a telling comment late during the analysis of the game. Ware wondered if Juice was still the man under center next weekend.
The Illini need a victory next weekend at Northwestern for Illinois to even be bowl eligible. If they lose, Illinois will become the first team since Michigan in 1965 to go to a Rose Bowl and have a losing season the following year. To think that Williams may not be the best option at quarterback right now is a huge setback for Illinois and Ron Zook.
Ron Zook has defended his team by saying that they were ahead of schedule last season, and that they really won some games that could have just as easily have been a loss.
Whether you disagree with him or not about that statement, one has to realize that this much of a regression is inexcusable. If the Illini are going to finish this 2008 season strong and right the ship for next year, Zook needs No. 7 to play under center like he has shown he has been capable of in the past. Without Juice, Illinois lacks that spark on offense. And with a defense that is struggling, it is more than likely that Illinois will need to outscore the Wildcats next weekend.
Standing at 5-6 with one game to go in the season is where Illinois finds itself. What a difference a year makes. But the Juice may be starting to go sour in Champaign.
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