McGee ‘excited’ for first start at QB


Illinois’ Eddie McGee (10) rushes during the game against Illinois State at Memorial Stadium Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009.

By Anthony Zilis

When Eddie McGee was called into Illinois football head coach Ron Zook’s office late Sunday evening, the last thing he expected was to be named the team’s starting quarterback.

“Honestly, that was the last thing on my mind,” McGee said. “Juice is a great player, a great quarterback.”

But Zook simply said he needed to change things up.

Two days after a 35-17 loss to Penn State dropped his team to 1-3, Zook announced that McGee would replace Williams at starting quarterback Saturday against Michigan State.

“Honestly, it’s something you don’t decide on overnight. Obviously, we put a lot of thought into it. This is not one guy’s fault,” Zook said.

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“I can assure you that Juice’s part on this team will be on the sideline, just like Eddie was, and that’s the great thing about the situation. We’ve got two great guys that can win for us,” he added.

Williams threw for his first and only passing touchdown of the year late in the fourth quarter last Saturday.

McGee, a redshirt junior, has filled in for Williams in spot duty the last three years. He played in 10 of 13 games in 2007 as a redshirt freshman, completing 29 of 55 passes for 444 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Last year, McGee split time at receiver and quarterback, where he was 4 of 9 for 59 yards through the air. McGee is 19 of 30 for 211 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions this season.

McGee said he was surprised to find out he would get his first opportunity to start.

“I was in shock. I was obviously excited,” McGee said. “I know I have the ability, and my teammates believe in me as well. Coach Zook obviously has confidence in me.”

Coming into the season, expectations for Williams were high. He was named to the preseason Walter Camp Award watch list for the best quarterback in the nation and was heralded as a team leader. But despite breaking Kurt Kittner’s total offense record, Williams’ numbers have been disappointing thus far.

Subtract the Illini’s 45-17 win against Illinois State, in which Williams’ only play was a 49-yard run, and the senior is averaging 207 total yards of offense per game.

He averaged 324 total yards of offense per game in 2008, when he ranked among the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten in most statistical categories.

Williams’ benching hasn’t put a strain on the relationship between the two teammates, and McGee knows his recruiting classmate will help him through his first start.

“Juice is my friend,” McGee said. “If anything goes wrong, he expects me to step up, and I owe him that.

“I expect when I come straight off the field after a series for him to be right there in my ear telling me, ‘This is going on,’ or ‘Look for this,’ just like I would do when he was on the field.”

Zook wouldn’t say whether starting McGee was a season-long decision or a one-game test, but he did respond when asked how difficult it was to break the news to his four-year starter.

“Do you have any kids?” he asked. “It’s hard, but we owe this to University of Illinois and Illini nation and to this football team. Sometimes you have to make decisions that you don’t want to make.”