Zook’s carousel of QBs is dizzying

By Jeremy Werner

The Fighting Illini had plenty of problems on Saturday. Penalties gave the Michigan offense too many opportunities and Kyle Hudson’s muffed punt return was simply brutal. But those things can’t be changed now. It happened, let’s move on and focus on Ball State.

But Ron Zook’s quarterback carousel has me scratching my head. Zook switched between quarterbacks Juice Williams and Eddie McGee a total of four times against the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday.

Zook is the right guy to run the Illini football team. He’s turned this program around from the misery of the past decade. But his game management decisions have to be questioned.

First, I question why Juice Williams was taken out of the game in the middle of the third quarter. He was managing the offense well and had not committed a turnover to that point. Zook has put McGee in as a spark plug in earlier games, but there was no need to put McGee in while Juice was keeping the Illini in the game against the explosive Wolverines.

But what I question even more is why Juice was benched, put back in, benched and then put back in once again on the final drive. Zook is managing his quarterbacks like pitchers, putting one in for certain situations and another in for other situations.

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Taking Juice out each game is only going to make him question his status as the starter. Juice’s attention is better served worrying about opposing defensive schemes and his receivers’ route.

McGee energized the Illini offense against Syracuse, Penn State and Wisconsin. He played the “closer” role in the fourth quarter to try and seal the victory for the Illini. But Zook took McGee’s role to a whole new level Saturday when he substituted McGee in for Juice in the third quarter.

If Zook thinks McGee gives the team a better chance to win, put him in and keep him in. McGee, a redshirt freshman, does many of the things Juice does well. He runs the option well, makes plays with his feet and has a strong arm. But he also struggles with the same aspects as Juice: touch and accuracy with passes and poor decision making, obviously caused by lack of experience.

While McGee is able to do many of the things Juice does, he doesn’t do it as well. Juice is a better runner inside the hashes, has a stronger arm and has a year of Big Ten experience. He is still the most talented quarterback on the team and gives the Illini the best chance to win.

Juice is a sophomore and still has plenty of growing pains ahead of him, which hinders the Illini’s chance of victory. But McGee has even less experience, which became evident to Illini fans everywhere when he rushed a throw and threw an ill-advised interception at Iowa.

If Juice was struggling like he did against Penn State, it would be understandable to pull him in favor of McGee in order to give your team a better chance to win. But pulling your starting quarterback when he’s keeping your team on par with one of the powerhouses of college football is downright puzzling.

Zook needs to re-evaluate how substituting his quarterbacks back and forth affects both a quarterback’s mentality and whether or not it really gives the Illini a better chance to win.

I think either quarterback will prove to be successful as long as they have a full game to manage the team and as long as they hand the ball off to Rashard Mendenhall more than 18 times a game.

Zook looks like he’s going to continue to take us on this carousel, but it’s time for him to choose the horse he wants to ride.

Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].