Redshirt freshmen compete for OL starting spot

Offensive lineman, Michael Heitz was pulled from Saturday’s football game when he committed a false start penalty and allowed a sack on the same drive.

The redshirt freshman Heitz has started every game this season in place of injured lineman Corey Lewis, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

“Michael has done a great job,” Illini head coach Ron Zook said. “I think he probably has hit the wall a little bit. Now that I think he’s going to be able to have a little pressure off of him, he’ll come back quick and be ready for this week in terms of just mentally. He’s handled it extremely well.”

Fellow redshirt freshman Simon Cvijanovic filled in for Heitz. The switch was supposed to be temporary to give Heitz a breather, but the coaches were impressed with Cvijanovic’s performance and left him in the game.

“I was very, very proud of Simon,” Zook said. “Simon came in and did a great job. … Simon knows he’s going to play a little more, a lot more.”

On Sunday, Zook said he wasn’t sure which redshirt freshman would start this week, but both would play against a Penn State defensive line that ranks third in the Big Ten in sacks and rush defense.

“There will be (a plan for a starter), but it’ll obviously have to do a lot with how they practice this week,” Zook said. “They both are going to have to play this week, this is a great defensive line we’re getting ready to play.”

Ford not hampered by sore shoulder

When running back Jason Ford was taken down hard early in the third quarter against Ohio State, with nearly all of his 235-pound frame landing squarely on his left shoulder, it looked as though his status for not just the game, but perhaps the season, could be in serious jeopardy. But after further tests in the locker room, head coach Ron Zook said he didn’t expect the injury to be an issue going forward.

Against Purdue on Saturday, Ford showed no signs of being hampered by the shoulder, as he carried the ball 10 times for 83 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run that finally put the Illini on the board midway through the fourth quarter. After the game, Ford said his shoulder felt “100 percent.”

“I just saw that we were down, and I wanted to come in and make a big play,” Ford said. “I just happened to be in the right spots at the right times and made a couple plays.”

Despite averaging more than eight yards per rush, Ford got just 10 carries due in large part to an early deficit, as the Illini trailed 21-0 just halfway through the second quarter.

“When you’re down three touchdowns, I didn’t think you had time to establish a running game,” Zook said of Ford’s limited carries. “When they’re playing the way they’re playing, and we’re not moving the ball the way we want to move it, you have to throw the football.”

Millines still recovering

from injury

Much of the talk in the week leading up to Purdue focused on the need for more playmakers in the passing game outside of receiver A.J. Jenkins. In particular, the Illini had high hopes for the return of sophomore receiver Darius Millines, who had missed the previous three games with a foot injury.

And while Millines made the trip and was in full pads, he watched from the sidelines as the Illini offense struggled for the second consecutive week. After the game, Zook said the decision was made as a precautionary move rather than due to a re-aggravation of the injury.

“Really, as we got into it, it’s probably good that he didn’t (play),” Zook said. “He could have played, but I think once again it just gives us an opportunity for him to be one week closer.”

Despite playing in just four games, Millines still ranks second on the team with 174 yards receiving and one touchdown on 10 catches.