Williams leads Illini to rout of Indiana
Illinois' latest motto is “Don't judge a season until it's over.” With quarterback Juice Williams putting up big numbers, perhaps it should be “Don't touch that dial.”
After a 55-13 victory over Indiana in a Big Ten Conference game before a sellout crowd of 62,870 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night, the Illini slipped back over .500 and calmed a fan base already growing restless.
The Illini were unable to match last season's 5-1 start, but they made it look easy against an Indiana program finding it even more difficult to back up last season's bowl appearance.
"I didn't want to tell the young guys that was a must-win,'' Williams said. "I didn't want to add to the pressure. Inside, I prepared like it was a must-win. We came out and got it done.''
Williams completed 16-of-22 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns. All three touchdown passes came in the first half when Illinois built a 28-7 lead. He also rushed for one touchdown and finished with 301 total yards.
Illinois freshman running back Jason Ford rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns. If the Illini are still a running back by committee, there's obviously a new chairman.
Bouncing back from a disappointing loss to Minnesota the previous weekend, Illinois improved to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten. The Illini play at Wisconsin (3-4, 0-4) on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2).
"I kind of got a little drift that people were bummed out,'' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "I've said since January that we've still got a long way to go. We're in the learning phase.
"This is the first time anybody on our football team has played under expectations where you're expected to win. That's different. We talked about that as a team. We can't be afraid to step out there. You can't be afraid to fail.''
Williams completed a 60-yard pass on Illinois' first offensive play, the Illini scored on the following play, and Illinois never trailed while defeating Indiana for the 11th time in the last 12 meetings here.
The 55 points were the most scored by the Illini in Memorial Stadium in a Big Ten game.
Williams, who set stadium records while compiling 934 total yards in the previous two games, completed touchdown passes of 1, 20 and 37 yards before halftime, then added an 8-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Williams entered the weekend ranked fourth nationally by averaging 353.7 total yards.
Receiver Arrelious Benn caught six passes for 119 yards and one touchdown before halftime, becoming the first Illini receiver with 100 receiving yards or more in four consecutive games. He finished with seven receptions for 130 yards.
Illinois made several changes, but the biggest switch came with Ford, a Belleville Althoff product who set a St. Louis area career rushing record with 6,415 yards. Although he didn't start, he quickly took over the lead running chores and showed the tough running style needed in the Big Ten.
His yardage was the second most by an Illini freshman, trailing only Rocky Harvey's 215 against Middle Tennessee State in 1998.
"I just got the trust from my coaches,'' Ford said. "They told me this would be my breakout game. Throughout the week, I got more work with the first string. I got more trust from the coaches, and they said go from there. They said show the world what I could do. This could lead to bigger things.''
Freshman placekicker Derek Dimke took over the kickoff duties. The former Rockford Boylan star made his first college appearance when he sent the opening kickoff to the Indiana 5.
Sophomore defensive tackle Josh Brent and freshman defensive tackle Corey Liuget were used as extra blockers on short-yardage plays near the goal line.
Indiana fell to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers played without Kellen Lewis, the star quarterback who didn't make the trip because of a sprained ankle suffered last week. Sophomore Ben Chappell, who played in the previous six games, made his first college start.
"They are a very, very, very good football team, offensively in particular,'' Indiana coach Bill Lynch said. "They have weapons everywhere, starting with Juice. They have big, strong wide receivers. They have very good backs, and they've got a great scheme. They are very capable of exploding, and they showed that tonight.''
Williams completed a 60-yard pass to Will Judson on Illinois' first play on offense. Judson reached the Indiana 1, and Williams threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui on the following play.
Illinois pushed the lead to 14-0 on a 20-yard pass from Williams to wide receiver Jeff Cumberland. Ford's run answered an Indiana touchdown and gave Illinois a 21-7 lead. Williams found Benn wide open for a 37-yard touchdown pass and a 28-7 halftime lead.
NOTES: Williams has 16 touchdown passes this season, topping a personal best of 13 set last season. … The 55 points are the most scored by Illinois under Zook. … The 563 total yards were a season high for the Illini.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
Illinois report card
Quarterback Juice Williams keeps putting up the numbers to merit him consideration for first-team all-Big Ten quarterback. Penn State's Daryll Clark is the only real competition. Freshman Jason Ford is a Big Ten style runner who enjoyed a breakout game. Even if this is a running back by committee, Ford appears to be the new chairman. Ford is Illinois' best option against physical Wisconsin next week.
Illinois held Indiana to a season-low 13 points. It didn't hurt that Hoosiers star quarterback Kellen Lewis was back in Bloomington, Ind., nursing a sprained ankle, but Indiana got little done except one first-half touchdown drive. Illinois won the turnover battle. Next up is a team that also has issues at quarterback and a Big Ten losing streak.
Special teams: A
How about that. Illinois actually looked like a competent unit. Freshman Derek Dimke nailed the kickoffs in his first collegiate appearance. The Illini didn't give up a back-breaking return, and Illinois freshman A.J. Jenkins' 96-yard kickoff return was Illinois first since Arrelious Benn brought one back against Penn State last season.
This was almost like an open-book test. Illinois handled the pressure of a must-win, made a quick start on offense, never trailed and made next weekend's game at Wisconsin a big game. Jason Ford's running ability may provide the Illini with another element on offense and perhaps the complement that quarterback Juice Williams needs to an explosive passing game. This is just what Illinois needed after the disappointing loss to Minnesota had fans fretting all week.