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Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Midseason review: Illinois

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 1-5 (0-4 Big Ten)

How did it get so bad so fast? It is a question being asked throughout the Illinois program, from head coach Ron Zook to the assistants to the players. Despite a very disappointing 2008 season, Illinois returned the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback in Juice Williams, seemingly one of the nation's best wide receiving corps and a defense with several exciting playmakers. But things have gone downhill since the season opener against Missouri, and the Illini still haven't reached rock bottom. Illinois' five losses have come by an average of 19.8 points. Williams already has been benched and reinserted as the starter, but the offense doesn't resemble the unit that shined at times last season. The defense also has fallen on hard times and lost starting middle linebacker Martez Wilson to a season-ending neck injury after Week 1. Two more losses will eliminate Illinois from postseason contention for the second straight year after the Rose Bowl run of 2007.

Offensive MVP, RB Jason Ford -- No one really deserves this distinction, but at least Ford has produced when healthy. The sophomore is averaging 8.2 yards a carry but still doesn't get the carries of a featured back.

Defensive MVP, DE Clay Nurse -- The Illini defense isn't immune from the struggles, but Nurse has done his part in the first half. The junior leads Illinois with five tackles for loss to go along with a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries. Honorable mentions go to defensive linemen Doug Pilcher and Corey Liuget and cornerback Tavon Wilson.