Monday, April 27, 2009
Illinois spring game recap
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook divided up his team to create more balanced competition in Saturday's Orange and Blue Game, but the score ended up lopsided as the Blue squad shut out the Orange team 20-0 at Memorial Stadium. With first- and second-teamers playing alongside one another in the game, it was a bit hard to evaluate units, though several individuals stood out.
Senior quarterback Juice Williams directed two scoring drives for the Blue team, completing 13 of 26 passes for 150 yards with a 10-yard scoring strike to Chris Duvalt and an interception that freshman linebacker Evan Frierson tipped to himself. High winds hampered Williams a bit, and Zook said the senior threw "a couple of balls that have been his worst of the spring."
Still, Williams shouldn't be a major concern for Illini fans going forward.
The big questions with Illinois come on defense, and there were several bright spots, including the play of Martez Wilson, who likely will stay at middle linebacker after making the switch from the outside this spring. Wilson recorded 4.5 tackles and broke up a pass for the Blue team. According to The (Champaign) News-Gazette, Wilson has been getting advice from former teammates Brit Miller and J Leman on playing middle linebacker.
Other notable items from the Orange and Blue Game:
- No one had a better day on the field than junior defensive end Jerry Brown, who recorded a game-high seven tackles, including six for loss and two sacks. Brown appeared in all 13 games last fall and could assume a greater role after Illinois lost ends Will Davis and Derek Walker. Zook isn't getting too excited about Brown, though, noting that the junior needs to clean up some academic issues for the fall.
- Running backs Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford were undoubtedly the best stories of the spring for Illinois, which can feel much better about its ground attack heading into 2009. Both LeShoure and Ford averaged more than five yards a carry in the spring game, and both Ford and fellow back Daniel Dufrene scored touchdowns.
- Don't be surprised if backup quarterback Eddie McGee sees more time at wide receiver this fall. Though Illinois is loaded at receiver, McGee led the Orange team with three receptions for 23 yards in the spring game. He completed 3 of 8 passes for 25 yards and was sacked twice. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest got more work at quarterback behind Williams.
- Illinois and Northwestern announced their new rivalry trophy Saturday. The two teams will compete annually for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which still must be designed but will coincide with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. The trophy replaces the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk, which was retired in November as part of Illinois' effort to remove all Native American imagery from its athletic teams. I personally was hoping for the Graham-Grange Trophy, but it didn't make the cut.
- Cornerback Tavon Wilson led the Orange team with four tackles and two pass breakups. Wilson could enter the fall as the team's top cover corner. Defensive end Clay Nurse (hello, nurse) added a sack and two tackles for loss.