Illinois takes on Michigan, freshman QB

Shira Weissman

Shira Weissman

By Lisa Koulias

Illinois head coach Ron Turner said he will not know until game time who will be Illinois’ starting quarterback on Saturday, when the Illini take on Michigan at 11 a.m. But he will know what to expect from Michigan’s rookie QB.

Chad Henne enters Saturday’s game third in the Big Ten in passing with an average 237.3 yards per game, third in total offense with an average of 226.2 yards, and third in pass efficiency with a 140.2 rating. Henne is the top true freshman signal caller nationally in completions, attempts and passing yards and is tied for first in touchdown passes as well. And his numbers are only improving as each week passes.

“This guy is a special quarterback,” Turner said. “I knew a lot about him coming out of high school and he was a very, very good high school quarterback – one of the tops in the country. He’s a great player. Physically, he’s big and he’s got a powerful, big arm. He seems to have great field presence and he’s getting better and better.”

The Illini, on the other hand, are still trying to find their starting quarterback. After a lackluster performance by starter Jon Beutjer and an OK showing by sophomore Chris Pazan against Michigan State last weekend, Turner is giving the two, along with redshirt freshman Brad Bower, a chance to earn Saturday’s starting spot.

“We are running the same game plan, running the same plays regardless of who plays,” Turner said.

Playing it cool

After suffering a sprained MCL in last week’s game, running back E.B. Halsey’s status remains day-to-day. He will be ready to play in an emergency situation for Saturday’s game.

“I’m definitely trying to push it a little bit, but I’m trying to be smart with it as well,” Halsey said. “I just really want to be smart with it and don’t want it to be a recurring thing or wind up even more serious than it is.”

Even though Halsey can’t take many reps on the field, he is keeping up with the game through film study and meetings, so he “won’t be a step behind” come game day.

Series standing

Illinois and Michigan face off on Saturday for the 88th time in history – Michigan holds the all-time series record at 64-21-2. The Wolverines also lead the series in games played in Champaign with a 31-11-1 record. The last time the Illini won at Memorial Stadium was in 1983. They last beat Michigan in 1999.

The Illini have six members on their squad from the state of Michigan, including starters Alan Ball and Anthony Thornhill. Michigan has only four Illinois natives on its roster, including senior wide receiver Jason Avant.

Nothing to lose

“Our backs are against the wall right now. We’ve got nothing to lose, so we are going to go out there and give it our all. We just want to go out there and get a win. I guarantee 99 percent of the (community) doesn’t think we have a shot, so its all about us now.”

– senior linebacker Mike Gawelek