Illini improve one week at a time

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Laura Hettiger

“What a difference a week makes.”

Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook knows this motto stands true for his football team.

Coming off a spirit-crushing Homecoming loss to Minnesota last week, Illinois (4-3) turned its play around to dominate Indiana (2-5) – scoring eight touchdowns in its 55-13 win.


photo DI multimedia



Illini roll over Hoosiers

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“Our guys understood that we had to go to work after last week,” Zook said. “Our season wasn’t over.”

The Illini went to work early in the game, scoring their first touchdown in the first three minutes after opening kickoff. Quarterback Juice Williams connected with an open Michael Hoomanawanui in the end zone to set the tone for the Big Ten showdown. Illinois’ opening drive clocked in at 45 seconds with the Illini moving the ball 61 yards in two plays.

To cap off the first quarter, Williams found an orange jersey, as the junior threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland to bring the score 14-0 in favor of the Illini. Before the quarter ended, Indiana put up seven points when Bryan Payton ran 25 yards for the Hoosiers’ only touchdown of the night.

Indiana went scoreless in the second quarter and was only able to hit two field goals during the remainder of the game, thanks to Illinois’ physical defensive play.

“One of the strengths of their defense is that they’re a very good pass rushing football team,” Hoosier head coach Bill Lynch said. “So we knew there was going to be some pressure.”

Illinois’ defense held the Crimson and Cream to 313 total offensive yards – a far cry from the Illini’s staggering 563 yards gained.

The Hoosiers were also playing without veteran quarterback Kellen Lewis, who suffered a high ankle sprain earlier in the season. Lewis did not even make the trip to Champaign. Ben Chappell took Lewis’ starting position and believed Illinois’ defensive line “really got after us.”

Defensive end Derek Walker kept Chappell in check with two sacks on the night, as the rest of the defense succeeded in containing the pass rush.

“I think the defense stepped up, you know we gave up one play but that’s a part of being a good defense,” cornerback Vontae Davis said. “We want to be a good defense, we got to stop that one play and we’re just going to look at film, see what we can correct and try to get better and better throughout the week.”

Davis admitted the defense struggled early in the season, but it did not give up too many big runs to Indiana. The defense allowed 13 points to the Hoosiers, the fewest points given up all season.

On offense, however, Williams continued to put up his own numbers, throwing his 16th touchdown of the season in front of the 62,870 sellout crowd.

Accumulating more than 1,200 yards in total offense against Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana, the quarterback is playing at his highest level, and his teammates have taken notice.

“He’s playing how he’s supposed to be playing,” wide receiver Arrelious Benn said. “Not making a lot of mistakes and leading the offense and doing his job as quarterback.”

Benn, who racked up 130 yards receiving and a touchdown, thinks Williams’ recent performances have resembled “video game numbers.” In fact, Benn’s numbers could also be described as a “video game” as he has turned in four 100-plus yard games in a row. It is the first time in Illinois history a receiver has recorded four straight games of 100 yards receiving.

Another standout on offense was true freshman running back Jason Ford. Though the Illini have kept a strict “running back by committee” policy all season, Ford broke out against the Hoosiers, gaining 173 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns.

The Belleville, Ill., native’s performance helped the team score a mind-boggling 55 points which is the highest point total the Illini have scored since Zook took over in 2005.

Illinois redeemed itself after its loss to Minnesota, but the team still has mistakes to correct before it will be ready for Wisconsin. In the heart of the Big Ten season, the Illini have found their weapons and will continue to capitalize on them one game at a time.