Here’s what Illini players will be wearing for Halloween

If there’s one holiday the Illinois football team should appreciate, it’s Halloween.

This entire 2009 season has been somewhat of a giant masquerade for the Illini — a team that possesses players talented enough to contend for a Big Ten title but just can’t execute.

Instead of churning out the kind of offensive performances everyone expected, the team’s roster seems to be disguised as Ball State’s second string.

This Halloween, kids would be well-advised to avoid trick or treating at Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Schultz’s house. Sure, he probably has tons of candy. But if his play-calling is any indication, Schultz will inevitably decide to dole out apples and carrot sticks instead.

His conservative offense has (unsuccessfully) attempted to turn a once productive dual-threat quarterback into the second coming of Joey Harrington. Juice Williams has not been allowed to throw the deep ball, which up until this season was arguably his most dangerous weapon, despite having the conference’s most physically gifted crop of receivers at his disposal.

On the other hand, head coach Ron Zook will not be handing out any candy either. Instead, he will be going out trick or treating to celebrate his good fortune. Zook will probably be dressing as a cat, because it seems as if Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther is prepared to give him all nine of his lives. Despite watching the Illini start 1-5 and trail at Purdue, Guenther endorsed his coach at halftime of last Saturday’s loss.

Do you know what a coach at an SEC or Big 12 school would do if he started the season at 1-6?

Resign … quickly.

Even fans of Illinois’ fellow Big Ten program, Michigan, were calling for head coach Rich Rodriguez’s head on a platter last season after the Wolverines went 3-9 — and that was in his first year! But regardless, Guenther has been firm in saying Zook’s job is safe.

The aforementioned Williams will undoubtedly be dressing up as King Leonidas, from the 2007 movie “300.” No matter how poor Williams’ numbers have been this season, he is still the face of the football program and plays the role of a fearless leader on this Illini team. Just as was the case with the 300 Spartans, the odds against Williams are stacked up too high for him to emerge from his senior season victorious — or at least with a .500 record. But I guarantee he won’t go down without a fight.

Meanwhile, backup quarterback Jacob Charest will be the guy trick-or-treating right behind Williams, all the while trying to steal the first-stringer’s candy. Charest saw action in both the second and fourth quarters of last week’s game and looked relatively steady in going 4 for 8 for 52 yards. It remains to be seen whether Charest will be able to seize that bag of candy for good and take over the team’s starting duties, or simply continue to see spot-duty the rest of the season.

Preseason All-American candidate Arrelious Benn will undoubtedly be dressing as the Invisible Man after the team has failed to get the ball into his hands consistently. Benn has not scored a touchdown yet this year and has only recorded 28 touches for 300 total yards. The junior has also struggled with minor injuries throughout the season and is probably counting down the days until he can jump ship and become a first-round NFL draft pick, as ESPN analyst Mel Kiper has frequently said Benn’s lack of productivity in ’09 has not hurt his pro stock.

On the defensive side of the ball, I’m told the entire Illini secondary will be wearing zombie costumes — because even a bunch of dead guys could do a better job of breaking up passes than the Illinois back four. Youngsters Walt Aikens and Ashante Williams have shown some glimpses of life after stepping onto the field in recent weeks, but the Illini are still ninth in the Big Ten in pass defense, giving up 230.6 yards per game.

Seniors Dere Hicks and Donsay Hardeman have frequently looked undisciplined and erratic, while Garrett Edwards, also a senior, has been steady but struggled with injuries.

So with Saturday’s game kicking off at the relatively early time of 2:30 p.m., the Illini players will have the chance to take part in the campus’ Halloween festivities afterward.

But what if, instead of dressing up, Illinois ditches those second-string costumes before the game?

Because if they do, the Illini could shock both the Wolverines and its own fan base by picking up a big conference win — and sending Michigan’s squad back to Ann Arbor empty-handed will just be an added bonus.

Peter Zervakis is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]