Juice: a longterm quarterback solution

By Troy Murray

. You only have to look back to the Kurt Kittner era to find that answer. Remember the days when the Fighting Illini always had a chance to end the season on top of the Big Ten? Those days are long gone and one of the main reasons is Illinois’ struggle to find a replacement at quarterback that lives up to Kittner’s legacy.

A quarterback is a football team’s general. The coach and the team as a whole must be able to place 100% of their trust in the man under center.

In Saturday’s press conference, head football coach Ron Zook addressed Illinois’ quarterback problem. Zook said that if the team plays well, too much credit is given to the quarterback. If the team plays poorly, too much blame is placed on the quarterback’s shoulders.

That might be true, but a quarterback can change the outcome of a game with one mistake or with a string of completions.

A good, quality quarterback holds the key to a team’s success and has a mixture of several crucial characteristics. The most obvious and important trait is that the quarterback needs to have leadership qualities. Poise, presence in the huddle, intelligence, understanding the offense and making the right decision is all tied in together here. The leadership qualities go hand-in-hand with being poised and not making many mistakes. A quarterback doesn’t necessarily have to be able to beat the other team, but he can’t let the other team beat you.

Just by watching freshman Isiah “Juice” Williams in his first three collegiate appearances, he possesses these characteristics. In the press conference after each game, Juice seems to radiate confidence. It’s obvious he’s a special player just by the feeling among the fans and the extra energy the offense seems to possess when he’s in the game.

Most quarterbacks have to develop leadership characteristics, but Juice seems to be a unique case. He’s a quick learner and looks as if he grasps the offense pretty well for someone who was just introduced to the system. And as a freshman, one might expect that he’d have to work for the respect of the upperclassmen, but Juice’s hype and performance in high school might be able to replace his youth and inexperience.

Defenses are known to be much more complicated than in the past, so quarterbacks also must be able to read blitzes and pass coverages and adjust accordingly.

A good quarterback also needs an accurate arm. He doesn’t have to have an extraordinarily strong arm as long as he’s accurate and precise with his throws. Turnovers are a quarterback’s worst enemy, and if he doesn’t possess an accurate arm, interceptions become routine.

One of Juice’s highly touted strengths is his strong, accurate arm. Through three games, his touchdown-to-interception ratio is 2:0 – a good sign of things to come.

Best in the Big Ten

Although Juice seems to be the Illinois’ best quarterback since Kittner, he has a long way to go until people begin to consider him a Heisman hopeful. Dual-threat quarterbacks, like Juice, are known to give defensive coordinators the most trouble.

If Juice has hopes of one day becoming the best signal caller in the Big Ten, he should start looking up to Ohio State’s Troy Smith. No other quarterback in the Big Ten comes close to where Smith is at so he’s the obvious choice for the best quarterback in the Big Ten.

Since his coming-out party in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Smith has made himself the front runner for the Heisman Trophy. After getting snaps the last two seasons, Smith is said to have great presence in the huddle, demands the respect of his players, and can read defenses with the best of them. He’s poised in the pocket and, based on his statistics, he obviously makes the right decision almost every time he has the ball, accumulating an unhuman-like touchdown to interception ratio of 29:7.

Something Illinois can only hope for in the coming four years with Juice.

Troy Murray is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]