Illini recover, anticipate Eastern



By Laura Hettiger

Just 50 miles south of Champaign, the Eastern Illinois football team is preparing to take on the Fighting Illini.

Losing their season opener to Central Michigan, 31-12, the Panthers have reworked their game plan to be ready for their northern neighbor.

“We played a good team in Central Michigan,” Eastern’s head coach Bob Spoo said on Tuesday. “I thought we did some things good. Now we’re playing an even better team.

On paper, Illinois is bigger, faster and stronger than Central Michigan, but for the No. 24 Illini to finish the weekend with a 1-1 record, the team has to improve upon the mistakes that gave Missouri the edge last weekend.

“We didn’t coach very well, we didn’t play very well,” head coach Ron Zook said on Tuesday. “The good thing is, everything we need to get corrected is correctable.”

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Some of the things Zook has concentrated on this week included tackling, trying to stop the run and increasing his team’s running game. Against No. 6 Missouri, the Illini had numerous missed tackles and, in a surprising change from last season, did not effectively run the ball, as the Tigers gained 226 yards on the ground compared to Illinois’ 81.

The Illini did find success in the air on the arm of quarterback Juice Williams. Receiving the first Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week award, Williams completed 26 of 42 passes and threw for 451 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

“I feel confident as a passer, I know now I have the ability to make every throw on the field, long or short,” Williams said. “Having that confidence can really lead over to the next game and the game after that, so it’s going to be important to come out and continue where I left off on Saturday night.”

Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has spent this week reviewing game film of EIU’s loss to the Chippewas to develop a new game plan. Locksley was pleased with William’s performance in the Mizzou game and was “pleasantly surprised” with wide receiver Will Judson’s two-touchdown game.

Even though Eastern is a smaller school, Williams and Judson both know this weekend will not result in an easy win.

“We’re going to take the same approach against everybody and treat them all the same,” Williams said. “Eastern – the name could fool a lot of people. You hear Eastern Illinois, (people) automatically try to put them down, but that’s not the case. They’re a good team and (could) easily come by and knock us off.”

Judson agreed, adding that as long as the Illini score more points than Eastern, whether through the air or on the ground, that’s the team’s main objective.

With an all-star line-up of former Illini greats returning for the first time playing in the renovated Memorial Stadium, including Dick Butkus and Howard Griffith, Zook just hopes his team will live up to the expectations of old and new Illini fans.

“It’s very important our football team plays the way that stadium looks,” Zook said.