Williams has record-setting day



By Daniel Johnson

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Last week, Juice Williams felt he was going to be physically ill after a demoralizing 38-24 loss to Penn State. This week, there was an entirely different range of emotions for Michigan Stadium’s new record-holder for yards in a single game.

“It’s a great feeling,” Williams said of the 45-20 win. “Anytime you beat a top program with a lot of tradition, it’s something you’ll never forget. We were able to bounce back from last week’s loss up at Penn State. That was one of those losses that gave us a gut-sick feeling; we hated it.”


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Seeking increased motivation, head coach Ron Zook challenged Williams and other players this week. And while it may not have worked until now, the most recent challenge seems to have struck a chord with both the offense and the defense.

“I said to (Juice), ‘You gotta play like you’re capable of playing,'” Zook said. “But he’s not the only one I challenged, I challenged a bunch of them. I just think your best players have to got play the best.”

The offense responded with 501 total yards on the day. Williams’ 431 record-setting yards surpassed the previous stadium record set by Illinois alumnus Tony Eason. Juice had 310 yards through the air with two touchdowns and added 121 yards on the ground with two scores.

The defense and special teams responded with the second-fewest points the Ilini have allowed all season, five forced fumbles, four sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. Senior linebacker Brit Miller led the defense with a nine-tackle, two-sack performance.

“It was a tough game out there today, and there was a couple big plays that people made, when Juice threw that touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland, I think that’s when they kind of broke their back,” Miller said. “The defense stepped up and stopped them.”

If there had been one thing that had plagued the Illini this year, it was the big play. There were times when the defense would break down at the most inopportune times and allow one, or two, big plays or scores; and when the offense needed to pick up the defense, it seemed like it was unable to produce a momentum-changing play. Williams settled into his role, putting forth arguably the best – and mature – game of his career.

“The big play on both sides (hurt us),” Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Defense couldn’t get off the field on third down, you know, (Illinois) made some plays, (and) I told the team we’re probably going to be sick when we watch the film.”

Illinois’ offense was good during the first half, producing some effective and methodical drives. But it was the second half, in which Illinois scored 28 points, when the aforementioned big plays started to pile up for Illinois – and take their toll on Rodriguez and his Wolverines.

After struggling with fumbles against Wisconsin last week, Michigan’s problems continued with five fumbles on Saturday, two of which were lost to the Illini. Rodriguez could hardly contain his disdain when asked if there was anything he could have done to correct the problem, one of many that gave Illinois the game.

“If there was, you think I wouldn’t be doing it?” Rodriguez said. “You think I like standing and watching that? You think it hasn’t been addressed? You gotta be kidding me. I’ve never seen nothing like it. And I don’t know if you can work on it more than we’ve worked on it.”

And while the first-year Michigan coach has his own issues to deal with, it could have hardly been any more of a polar opposite for Williams and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. The ordinarily reserved quarterback coach had a tone in his voice that seemed to be reserved for a day like this, when Illinois could hardly do wrong.

“I can’t talk enough about not turning the ball over, not throwing interceptions or making bad decisions.” Locksley said. “We give ourselves a chance to win a bunch of games when we don’t turn it over. That’s what we preach, and that’s what we saw today.”

In perhaps one of the most telling plays of the day, Williams was under a heavy Michigan pass rush before lofting the ball to running back Daniel Dufrene in what could have been a short gain. But the tailback followed his blocks and turned the ball up field for a 57-yard touchdown, showcasing a speed that hadn’t been seen before.

“Juice got the ball up and over, hit Daniel in stride coming down hill,” Locksley said of the play. “You had some great perimeter blocking by his receivers and by (Xavier Fulton).”

Illinois took a 17-14 lead after Dufrene’s catch and score, putting the game, and possibly the Illini’s season, back on track.

After the game, Locksley was able to succinctly describe why his offense was able to thrive, and why Williams felt exponentially better after this week’s game.

“Juice made the big play, especially in critical situations,” Locksley said. “Our defense gave us the ball in some great situations. It all clicked for us today.”