Illini suffer home defeat to Syracuse

ME Online

ME Online

By Jason Grodsky

Click here to view this slideshow

Illinois freshman quarterback Juice Williams threw his first career touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of the Illini’s game against Syracuse at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Illini’s early mistakes as the Orange beat the Illini 31-21.

The Illini were penalized 12 times for 106 yards and turned the ball over twice. The loss extended the Illini’s losing streak against Division I-A opponents to 11 straight games.

“As hard as we work and as hard as we coach I don’t handle very well playing the way we played,” head coach Ron Zook said. “Right now it’s not fun, it’s brutal, but we’re going to have to stay the course and improve.”

While Syracuse put 31 points on the scoreboard, only 17 were truly given up by the Illini defense.

The Illini caught a bad break early in the game when junior Kevin Mitchell forced a fumble only to have it picked up by Syracuse junior wide receiver Taj Smith, who scampered 43 yards for a touchdown.

Trailing 14-7, the Illini had an opportunity to cut into the Orange’s lead late in the first half, but made mental mistakes.

After moving the ball to the Syracuse 30-yard line, the Illini committed three straight penalties and senior quarterback Tim Brasic threw his third interception of the season to halt the Illini drive.

“The penalties were just ridiculous,” Zook said. “We don’t condone it and we don’t let them do it in practice. I don’t know if it’s a matter of focus but it shows we aren’t disciplined.”

Despite the loss, Illinois received a much needed spark from Juice Williams, who entered the game on Illinois’ second drive of the second half following a Brasic fumble that was returned for a touchdown that put Syracuse ahead 21-7.

Early in the fourth quarter, Williams eluded a Syracuse defender in the backfield and found sophomore Rashard Mendenhall streaking down the right sideline for a 76-yard touchdown.

“The offense definitely sparked toward the end,” Mendenhall said. “Juice came in and did a great job, he was hitting his reads and making good throws. He looked really comfortable back there and it showed at the end of the game what our offense is capable of when we are hitting on all cylinders.”

Williams finished the day 9-of-16 for 227 passing yards.

While Zook said he couldn’t make a decision on who would be starting at quarterback for the Illini without reviewing the tape from the game, it’s clear that Williams has a good chance of starting under center for next weekend’s Big Ten opener against Iowa.