Chicago Colleges: Ashante Williams

Midseason report: Illinois

October, 16, 2012

Record: 2-5 (0-3 Big Ten)

Tim Beckman didn't inherit a mess at Illinois, even if it looks that way after the first seven games. Beckman came to Champaign to bolster a program that, while underachieving since 2007, had won back-to-back bowl games for the first time in history. Although depth was an issue, top-level talent didn't seem to be, especially on defense. Although few projected Illinois to wind up in Indianapolis, most expected the Illini to go bowling again.

No one could have foreseen the disaster that has taken place in the first half of Beckman's first season as coach. Each of Illinois' losses has been by 17 points or more and four of the five defeats have come by 28 points or more. Illinois has dropped its first three Big Ten contests by a combined score of 111-21. Illinois' only wins have been against a Charleston Southern team that didn't win a game last season and has just two wins this fall, and a below-average Western Michigan squad.

Most of the problems have been on offense, which lacks an identity and ranks no better than 96th nationally in any major category and is tied for 117th in the FBS in turnovers (18). The Illini have no players ranked in the Big Ten's top 10 in rushing, passing or receiving. Illinois' defense hasn't gotten any help, but it also has performed well below expectations, particularly against spread offenses. The Illini allowed more than 30 points just twice in 2011. They already have done so five times this season. Some of the special-teams issues that plagued Illinois last fall have resurfaced this year.

It can't seem to get much worse for Beckman's crew, which gets an open week to regroup before a somewhat manageable closing stretch. But there's a lot of work ahead for a team that has taken a significant step backward.

Offensive MVP: RB Josh Ferguson. There's no obvious choice here as offensive weapons are in short supply for Illinois right now, but Ferguson has shown he can help the Illini in a variety of ways. He ranks second on the squad in both rushing yards (210) and receiving yards (199), and has served as the team's primary kickoff returner. Ferguson ranks eighth in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (112.2 ypg). WR Ryan Lankford, RB Donovonn Young and QB Nathan Scheelhaase also merit mentions.

Defensive MVP: LB Jonathan Brown. Again, no clear picks on an underachieving unit, but Brown leads the team in tackles for loss (6.5) and ranks second in total tackles (44). He has recorded at least a half tackle for loss in five of seven games and also boasts a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Other defenders worth noting include Ashante Williams, who plays the star position, along with defensive end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Mason Monheim, one of the Big Ten's top freshman defenders.

Illini impressive in Beckman's debut

September, 1, 2012

There were concerns about the Illinois offense. There were concerns about Western Michigan, which played the Illini tough in Champaign last year. And there were concerns about the weather.

Turns out there was little need to worry about Tim Beckman's debut as Illinois head coach. His team turned in a strong overall effort in a 24-7 opening win against the Broncos.

It all revolved, not surprisingly, around the the Illini's stout defense. Normally high-scoring Western Michigan, which put up 63 points on Beckman's Toledo squad last season, didn't hit the board until the fourth quarter and had only 246 total yards. Illinois held the Broncos to negative-6 rushing yards and forced four turnovers.

The key turnover came with 9:06 left, when Ashante Williams intercepted Alex Carder and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. Michael Buchanan and Jonathan Brown also had big days on defense.

The Illinois offense, moving to the spread under Beckman, didn't do a whole lot after producing 17 points in the first 23 minutes. The offense totaled only 248 total yards and averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. But it was more than enough on a wet day.

The concern now turns to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who was carted off and missed the entire fourth quarter with a left ankle injury. Reilly O'Toole played the rest of the way. At this point, Scheelhaase's availability for next week's game at Arizona State is unclear, though Beckman said immediately after the game that he expects his starter back.

The main takeaway from today is that Illinois is off to a good start under Beckman, with some things to build on.
URBANA, Ill. -- University of Illinois linebacker Ashante Williams has been sentenced to a form of probation after pleading guilty to driving drunk.

Read entire story.

Illinois' Williams ok to practice after DUI

August, 30, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois junior linebacker Ashante Williams has been permitted to practice with the scout team after being suspended for a DUI arrest, Illinois coach Ron Zook announced on Tuesday.

Read the entire story.