NCF Nation: Dere Hicks
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Juice Williams enters 2009 as one of the Big Ten's most recognizable players, a proven quarterback in a league starved for them.
|Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMI|
|Juice Williams was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last fall.|
Williams has experienced just about everything at Illinois: A 10-loss season as a raw, yet talented freshman, a thrilling Rose Bowl run as a sophomore and a very disappointing campaign as a junior last fall. Illinois led the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense but struggled to a 5-7 finish. Williams, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last fall, wants to end his college career on a good note, and perhaps for the first time he has truly taken ownership of the team.
Earlier this week, Williams discussed his up-and-down 2008 season, his outlook for the future and his legacy at Illinois.
What's been the mood for you and the guys during offseason workouts after things didn't go the way you wanted them to last fall?
Juice Williams: The attitude of this year's team is completely different from what we had last year at this time. Obviously, we didn't end up the way we should have or what we thought we should have. But that's affected this team in such a positive way. [The struggles] may be one of the best things to happen to this team.
Guys now are realizing that if we don't come to play every week, we're not going to be successful. And in order to come out there and play like that, we have to train and prepare our bodies to play 12 games to the maximum potential. Guys have really taken on that role, and I think we'll be ready by the time the season comes around.
Do you think guys were taking things for granted a little bit last year, especially coming off a Rose Bowl run?
JW: I think it had some type of affect on it. Guys kind of slacked off a little bit. We didn't really have the same intensity in the offseason as we should have. But like I said, I think it was probably the best thing that happened to us, not going to a bowl game. Us bringing back so many seniors and so much experience for this year, it's going to really prepare this team in the right direction.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It was an extremely entertaining Saturday around the Big Ten, and here are some of the men who made it possible.
Purdue QB Justin Siller -- The sophomore has spent most of the fall practicing as a running back, but he certainly looked the part at quarterback against Michigan. Siller showcased his passing ability, completing 21 of 34 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the win. He also did what he does best, racking up 77 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Michigan State K Brett Swenson -- The Big Ten's premier specialist this season came up big against Wisconsin after struggling the week before at Michigan. Swenson, who worked with former Spartans star Morten Andersen this summer, made his mentor proud by converting all four of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winning 44-yarder with seven seconds remaining.
Northwestern QB Mike Kafka -- Making his first start since 2006, Kafka stepped up to help Northwestern upset No. 17 Minnesota. He set a school single-game record for quarterback rushing with 217 yards and also tossed two touchdown passes. The junior finished the game 12-for-16 passing.
Michigan State WR Blair White -- I mistakenly left White off the sticker list last week, but he delivered another worthy performance against Wisconsin. White had seven receptions for 164 yards in the 25-24 win. The junior has 307 receiving yards in his last two games, the best two-game total for a Spartans receiver since Charles Rogers had 341 in 2002.
Illinois secondary -- I'm not too big on group stickers, but Illinois' secondary had a great collective effort in a must-win game against Iowa. Cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Donsay Hardeman recorded interceptions, and cornerback Dere Hicks made the play of the game in the fourth quarter with a sack, strip, scoop and score against Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Sorry for the brief delay. I had to get out of the Metrodome and over to the airport. The blog has been heavy on Northwestern-Minnesota today, but it's time to look at what else has happened around the league.
Despite the league's two flagship teams (Penn State and Ohio State) on bye weeks, this might have been the most entertaining Saturday of the season. All five games were decided by a touchdown or less, four in the final minutes. Great stuff.
Not to overlook the many bright spots of the day, but it's always important to recognize historical ineptitude. That's where we begin.
The collapse is complete for head coach Rich Rodriguez and Michigan, which fell to 2-7 after today's 48-42 loss. Michigan's nation-long streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances is over, and the program is assured of its first losing season since 1967. The Wolverines' streak of 40 years without a losing season is fourth longest all-time, behind Penn State (49, 1939-87), Nebraska (42, 1962-2003) and Notre Dame (42, 1889-1932).
Purdue's third-string quarterback Justin Siller, who spent most of the season at running back, threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the game. The Boilermakers rolled up 522 yards of offense against Michigan. I still think Rodriguez will get this program on track, but embarrassment is setting in for sure.
Credit Siller and Purdue for stepping up and rallying back today. The Boilermakers likely are out of the bowl mix, but they might have found their quarterback of the future. Siller accounted for four touchdowns, and the game-winning hook-and-lateral from Greg Orton to Desmond Tardy was pretty sweet. Joe Tiller can still call a play or two.
This was another example of how Michigan State has turned a corner behind second-year coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans seemed on their way to a post-Michigan hangover -- they were 1-5 in games following their last six wins against the Wolverines -- and Javon Ringer did nothing against Wisconsin's defense. Dantonio admitted the team came out flat, but Michigan State showed its newfound mental toughness in the second half, erasing an 11-point deficit to win, 25-24. It helps to have a star kicker, and Brett Swenson (four field goals) certainly qualifies. Michigan State looks like a good bet for a New Year's Day bowl.
Wisconsin looked ready to take another step and salvage its season, but the fourth quarter doomed the Badgers yet again. The Badgers' rushing depth finally showed as both John Clay and P.J. Hill eclipsed 100 yards on the ground, but this defense can't finish games. Wisconsin has been outscored 66-57 in the fourth quarter this season. Next week's trip to Indiana becomes a must win for the Badgers to preserve their bowl hopes.
Speaking of must-win games, this was one for Illinois, and the Illini came through with a 27-24 victory. This team continues to be an utter mystery, but it found a way to win a sloppy game that featured six turnovers. With Juice Williams struggling and the run game nonexistent, Illinois' defense stepped up to sack Ricky Stanzi six times and limit star running back Shonn Greene. Dere Hicks' strip, scoop and score was huge and Matt Eller continued his strong season with the game-winning field goal.
The bye-week bugaboo continues for the Big Ten. Iowa's loss take the luster off next week's matchup against No. 3 Penn State, and the Hawkeyes could be scrambling for a bowl berth at 5-4. Greene continued his streak of 100-yard games, but quarterbacks need to win college football games and Stanzi came up short today. The Hawkeyes will need a huge effort from their defense and more polished play from Stanzi to hang with Penn State.
The knock on Indiana has been and always will be its defense. Today's game didn't do much to change that perception. Central Michigan torched the Hoosiers for 37 points and 522 yards, and the Chippewas didn't even have their best player available in a 37-34 win. Star quarterback Dan LeFevour sat out with a sprained ankle, but backup Brian Brunner led the charge, passing for a school-record 485 yards and four touchdowns, plus the game-winning 1-yard scoring run. Indiana linebacker Matt Mayberry did his part with four sacks, the Hoosiers defense remains far too vulnerable to deep passes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
No case of the Mondays today. The best week of the Big Ten's nonconference slate is officially under way. Despite an 11-0 mark in Week 2, the Big Ten still has plenty of work to improve its national reputation, and this is the time to do it. Matchups against top-ranked USC, No. 16 Oregon, No. 21 Fresno State and an always-spotlighted Notre Dame team provide the Big Ten the chance to change public opinion.
Quarterback questions linger at Iowa and Michigan, while injuries are piling up around the league. Here's a look:
- An interesting piece from The Indianapolis Star's Mark Alesia about the popularity and peril of football teams accepting "special admits" in recruiting.
- Illinois starting safety Miami Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The Illini expect to move Dere Hicks to his spot and hope to get wideout Jeff Cumberland back from a foot injury. Defensive tackle Josh Brent also is ailing, Mark Tupper writes in the Decatur Herald & Review (scroll down a bit).
- Sure, it was Murray State, but Indiana's defense looks much stingier so far this season, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star.
- Ricky Stanzi is the fans' choice to become Iowa's starting quarterback, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Longtime starter Jake Christensen took his demotion in stride, Pat Harty writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- Running back Sam McGuffie is picking it up, but don't expect many fireworks from Michigan's offense this fall, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. Despite an elbow injury to left tackle Mark Ortmann, the Wolverines' offensive line seemed to jell against Miami (Ohio), Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News.
- Michigan State is using key starters (S Otis Wiley, RB Javon Ringer) on special teams, and so far it's paying off, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal. Ringer doesn't expect his workload to lessen, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Minnesota's big road win against Bowling Green might come with a cost, as starting running back Duane Bennett went down with a knee injury, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. No word yet on the severity of the injury.
- Northwestern left Duke with an ugly win, but questions on both sides of the ball, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Ohio State's conservative play calling without Chris "Beanie" Wells raises some concerns if the star remains limited for USC, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Buckeyes' takeaways on defense didn't lighten the mood from Saturday's near disaster, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- The comparisons between Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and former Lions star Michael Robinson are hard to ignore, Jeff McLane writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Lions must overcome more adversity after the season-ending loss of defensive end Jerome Hayes, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times.
- Purdue is optimistic that standout right tackle Sean Sester (back) will play against Oregon. The Boilers need him. Purdue is preparing for the Ducks' speed, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
- Slow starts are becoming a problem for Wisconsin, which can't come out flat at Fresno State, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.