Illini wants to "Loose the Juice"

Illini wants to "Loose the Juice"

Illinois has plenty of talent at hand on both sides of the ball and it is somewhat puzzling why there is not more production.

OKEMOS, MI - Talent wise, Illinois has plenty of talent at hand on both sides of the ball and it is somewhat puzzling why there is not more production. Of course, offensive cordinator Mike Locksley is fairly new at calling the shots after being a running backs coach the last seven years of his college coaching tenure.

Senior quarterback Tim Brasic threw for 149 yards against Eastern Illinois (EIU) connecting on 13-of-17 passes. Against Rutgers, Brasic ran into trouble and connected on only 5 of 11 passes for a mere 42 yards while throwing two interceptions and getting sacked twice.

His performance was just as poor against Syracuse, Brasic hit on just 8-of-16 passes for just 61 yards and one interception.

That led Zook to turn to heralded freshman recruit Isiah Willliams, who played in mop up against EIU and hit on 2-of-4 passes for 25 yards.

However against Syracuse as he threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, but again was sacked four times. Zook tabbed "the Juice" to start against Iowa but he completed just nine of thirty-three passes for 161 yards and one touchdown coupled with three interceptions and he was sacked three times.

Williams does give them a lot of mobility at times and has rushed for 130 yards. As a high school senior last year, he not only threw for 1,841 yards and 22 touchdowns combined with 1,441 yards rushing, good enough for 17 touchdowns with a unbelievable 21.8 yards per carry average.

This kid has good feet and can break tacklers down but like a typical freshman he has been hesitant and indecisive in the pocket. That coupled with some poor blocking up fronthas lead to some sacks. Look for Williams to get the call against MSU. The Spartans will likely call on SirDarean Adams at bandit for spy duty to keep Williams from getting out of the pocket and getting up field.

At wide receiver, Illinois will rotate six receivers into the playing group for their three receiver sets led by starters Kyle Hudson, who has nine catches and Derrick McPhearson, who has caught just three passes this year.

McPhearson was a highly-touted recruit who originally signed with Florida. He broke his leg last year, but has recovered most of his blazing 4.38 speed. Jody Ellis has been the third starter after hauling in 15 passes for 156 yards a year ago, he has five this year.

Also in the mix are Detroit native DeJuan Warren, who caught 21 passes for 205 yards in 2005, Frank Lenti, and Jacob Willis. Willis has been the surprise with seven grabs and one touchdown. Still, the Illini have just three touchdown receptions in four games so they are not prolific in the passing game.

When the Illini go to those three-receiver sets, look for Spartans nickle back Kendell Davis-Clark to play a big role, as he will draw coverage duty on the slot man.

Illinois has two of the better running backs in the Big Ten in Pierre Thomas and Rashard Mendenhall. Thomas rushed for only 664 yards and five touchdowns in 2005, but did have a nifty 5.2 yards per carry average.

Thomas is a power runner but not fast, and can be caught from behind. This year he has rushed for 241 yards in four games with two touchodowns and 6.0 yards per carry average, and yet is only averaging 59.8 yards per game. Mendenhall is one of the highest touted backs Illinois has had in some time. He rushed for 226 yards on 48 carries for a 4.5 yards per carry average as a true freshman last year, and has 143 yards in 2006.

Don't be confused; you'll have to look at the back of jerseys to make sure its Rashard, not Walter Mendenhall who occasionally gets a rep.

MSU's linebacking corp of Adams, David Herron, Jr. and Kaleb Thornhill need to turn in a business like effort as they will be tested with short to intermediate throws to the backs all afternoon.

The offensive line has been so-so at best. Last year they averaged a decent 4.0 yards per carry on the ground, the bad part is they also gave up 32 sacks.

The inconsistency is a bit puzzling because they have some talent in the unit. Martin O'Donnell has been the primary starter at left guard for the last two years and was a very highly-touted prospect out of high school.

Matt Maddox moved to right guard after being the starter at center a year ago where the teams offensive line MVP. Ryan McDonald started eleven times at right tackle last year before moving to center this season. Charles Myles is the right tackle after starting one game against Northwestern in 2005. Still the group has yet to function as a unit, so look for MSU to try to exploit the tackles and build on their performance against Notre Dame. Junior Ervin Baldwin had a solid performance rushing the passer and will have sack opportunities. Cliff Ryan will also likely get a push inside with Ogemdi Nwagbuo. Still, MSU will have to be disciplined and play assignment football to keep Williams, Thomas and Mendenhall out of the secondary.

ONSIDE KICK: Another point of interest for the Spartan faithful was the departing of former assistant Reggie Mitchell to Champaign last year, where he has become the Illini's Assistant Head Coach and recruiting cordinator.

Some fans thought he dealt MSU a low blow leaving in the middle of recruiting season when he was supposed to be recruiting. Certainly, it couldn't have been easy for the Flint, MI native being on the receiving end of the thrashing they received last year for MSU.

MSU's recruiting hasn't suffered in Mitchell's absence and he could find himself broomed if Zook and his staff don't get things turned around. Maybe it wasn't such a good move after all, Reggie.

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