Zook not taking chances with Hawthorne

Entering this season, cornerback Terry Hawthorne was expected to be one of the most important players on the Illinois defense. But since suffering a stress fracture just before the start of the season, Hawthorne has been forced to watch from the sidelines, as the team’s defense became one of the most surprising units in the Big Ten.

Hawthorne was cleared to play before the team’s game against Penn State. However, the sophomore was only allowed on the field for a limited number of snaps in the fourth quarter, well after the game had been decided.

Illinois head coach Ron Zook said he doesn’t want to rush Hawthorne back onto the field and risk another injury.

“We’ll work him in there,” Zook said. “He had a good practice (Monday), played 12 plays (last) Saturday. He’ll get more and more time, I just don’t want to throw him there until I know he’s ready to go.”

Offensive line gets their jobs done

While Mikel Leshoure and the rest of the Illini rushing attack has gotten much of the credit thus far, the offensive line has been the unsung hero of the Illinois offense.

Despite losing projected starter Corey Lewis to a knee injury during spring practice and guard Hugh Thornton being limited with a neck injury and suspension, the line has allowed just eight sacks through five games and allowed the Illini to rush for nearly five yards per carry.

“The offensive line is playing well,” Zook said. “I think (offensive line coach) Joe (Gilbert) has done a great job with them and, once again, I think the big thing is the plans are such that the guys are able to do the things that they do best. I am very proud of the way the offensive line is playing.”

The group will have its hands full this weekend against a Michigan State defense that has allowed fewer than three yards per carry this season.

“Obviously they are very good on defense … They are going to pack the box. They are going to force you to figure out a way to run the football,” Zook said. “They’re a defense that chases the football. They’re experienced and play extremely hard.”

Ford makes noise on Twitter

Jason Ford’s Twitter this week suggested that he wasn’t happy at Illinois.

His tweets early this week read: “Givin up on everything. Jus want to go home to my daughter,” and “Tired of workin hard and not gettin nothin out of it! Bout to say (forget) it!”

The posts have since been deleted.

Ford told reporters that he was tweeting about school and not football and that he is happy playing for the Illinois football team.

“We talked to him last night, and Jason’s fine,” Zook said. “I was a little shocked; I’m still not so sure that it was him who posted it. I’ve talked to him and (running backs coach) DeAndre (Smith) talked to his mother. The guy’s practicing his tail off. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. I think he’s running pretty hard.”