Rose Bowl QBs set for New Year’s duel

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Mike Theodore

When Juice Williams committed to head coach Ron Zook and Illinois while a student at Chicago Vocational, some questioned the quarterback’s decision.

But as a true sophomore, Williams has helped quiet the doubters.

Williams engineered the Illini offense to nine victories, an upset against the then top-ranked Buckeyes and the school’s first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1983 season.

The dual-threat quarterback fits well into Mike Locksley’s offensive game plan and produces results. He finished the season with 13 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions and rushed for seven touchdowns and 774 yards.

Williams started all 12 games this season but split time with redshirt freshman Eddie McGee in seven of the first eight games. Before the Illini’s midseason matchup with nonconference opponent Ball State, Zook and the coaching staff decided to let Williams take all snaps against the Cardinals. The decision paid off.

The Illini are winners of four straight – the longest streak in the conference. A week after the Ball State game, Williams had an impressive night at Minnesota, passing for 207 yards and rushing for 133 more.

Then, in the season’s defining moment, Williams led the Illini offense on a dominating fourth quarter drive in the Horseshoe to knock off No. 1 Ohio State. The quarterback rushed for four first downs on the final drive to help Illinois erase the final 8:06 of the fourth quarter and preserve the Illini upset.

“Juice is a winner,” Zook said following the Ohio State game. “He’s a competitor and that’s why he’s been our starting quarterback.”

To say John David Booty had big shoes to fill would be putting it lightly. Booty stepped into a role that former Trojan quarterbacks and Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart thrived in.

The pair won a combined four straight Pac 10 championships, but in Booty’s two seasons as starter he has continued the Trojan’s winning ways.

When Leinart decided to return for his senior year after winning the Heisman Trophy as a junior, Booty’s succession to starter was postponed. But last season Booty finally stepped into the starter’s role and found success. Booty fired 29 touchdowns against nine interceptions as USC finished 11-2 and defeated Michigan 32-18 in the Rose Bowl.

This season the Trojans once again turned to the reliable Booty to lead the USC offense. The senior quarterback played in nine games and completed 62.7 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 20 touchdowns.

Booty did not play for three consecutive midseason games. He sat out with a broken middle finger on his throwing hand in victories against Arizona and Notre Dame and a loss at Oregon. As a result, his passing yards are more than 1,000 yards less than last season’s total of 3,347.

Booty returned in week nine and led the Trojans to four straight victories to end the season.

“The guys before me set high standards,” Booty told usctrojans.com. “That’s what I want to do, by winning games. My biggest goal is to have our football team win, not put it in bad situations. All I can control is what I do . … All I want is to be known as a winner.”