Cumberland steps up at tight end

The Illinois football team has had its fair share of injuries this season, and Saturday’s 38-13 win against Michigan was no exception.

Senior Michael Hoomanawanui (ankle) and sophomore Hubie Graham (back) were sidelined for the game, leaving the Illini without their top two tight ends.

Redshirt freshman tight end London Davis received significant playing time for the first time in his career, and senior wide receiver Jeff Cumberland shifted over to line up at tight end for most of the day.

“I had three days to prepare for a tight end position that I haven’t played in about two and a half years,” Cumberland said. “It was pretty exciting being back out there blocking and in the whole scheme and everything.”

Cumberland first played as a tight end during his freshman year before making the move over to wide receiver as a sophomore.

“It felt pretty smooth being out there,” Cumberland said. “My technique out there went down. Not playing tight end for two and a half years has its toll. After having a week to come back and relearn the position, I felt I did pretty well today.”

Cumberland led the Illini with two receptions for 51 receiving yards, including a 34-yard catch in the third quarter that set up an Illinois touchdown.

“It always feels good when you’re out there making plays,” Cumberland said. “And then when you win, it makes you feel that much better.”

Illinois head coach Ron Zook said Sunday that he expects Hoomanawanui and Graham to be back when the Illini travel to Minnesota for Saturday’s contest.

Juice plays entire game

Despite splitting time with redshirt freshman Jacob Charest at quarterback during practice the week before, senior quarterback Juice Williams started and finished Saturday’s game against Michigan.

“We talked about it (Friday) night, we talked about it (Saturday) morning, and we talked about it at halftime with all intentions of putting Jacob in the game,” Zook said.

Zook kept Williams in at quarterback after the Illini offense posted minus-15 yards of total offense in the second quarter.

Charest, whose parents made the trip from North Carolina to watch the game, watched as Williams led the Illinois offense to 21 points in the third quarter.

“I talked to (Charest) at halftime and we said, ‘Let’s see what happens in the first series of the third quarter before we make a decision,’” Zook said. “I had all intentions of having him play, but I thought we were in a rhythm and it would be best to leave Juice in there.”

Celebrate good times

Saturday’s win snapped the Illini’s five-game losing streak, which caused audible celebration from fans and players alike.

“It’s up there,” Williams said of where the win ranked in the most exciting games of his career. “It’s not so much that we won the game. I had the ability to sit back and watch my teammates be cheerful and be happy and cherish the moment.”

The celebration, junior wide receiver Chris James said, carried off the field into postgame festivities.

“It was pretty rowdy in there, as rowdy of a bunch of football players as I’ve seen,” James said of the locker room after the game.

“Lots of smiles, lots of laughing, lots of hugs and a whole lot of singing.”

Zook congratulated his players afterward but warned against over-celebrating the win.

“We can’t just walk around and beat our chests like we’re there already,” Zook said. “We still have four games left. The good news is that we can build on this.”