Following a 1-3 start that included lopsided losses to Missouri, Ohio State and Penn State, Illinois coach Ron Zook needed to find some answers before today's homecoming game against Michigan State.
What did he decide to do? Well, he panicked and benched his best player. Nevermind that senior quarterback Juice Wiliams is a four-year starter and the school's all-time leader in total yardage. Zook needed a spark, dammit, and he decided to go with backup quarterback Eddie McGee (pictured). Predictable results ensued.
McGee completed just two of 11 passes for 31 yards. Naturally, he had no TD passes and one interception that Michigan State returned for a score as the Spartans got out of Champaign with a 24-14 victory.
Illinois scored ZERO points with McGee at the helm in the first half. Michigan State held a 17-0 lead at the break, and when McGee tossed his pick on the first Illini possession of the second half, it was 24-0 in favor of Sparty.
At that point, Zook realized the error of his ways and removed McGee from the game. Williams came on in relief and directed two touchdown drives that will make the score look more respectable in the paper, but not much else was accomplished.
What possessed Zook to think McGee was going to make a difference? Sure, the fans wanted Williams benched. But you know what they say about coaches who listen to fans: They'll be joining them in the stands soon. Good coaches realize that backup quarterbacks are second-string for a reason -- namely they aren't as good as the starter.
Williams hasn't been particularly good this season, but he's clearly a better player than McGee. He clearly gives the Illini their best chance to win. When you observe this Illinois team, you see an awful offensive line. You see a team that commits penalty after penalty. You see a team that drops passes. You see a team that can't stop the opponent's rushing attack. You see a defense that can't tackle and can't get off the field on third down (or fourth down, for that matter). The special teams are lousy, too, especially the punter.
Putting those first three losses at the feet of Williams was a joke. The quarterback play is such a small percentage of the problem in the Illinois football program. Benching Juice was the equivalent of placing a band-aid on a fatal chest wound. It's ridiculous, and Zook basically admitted it was ridiculous by taking McGee out and putting Williams back in during that third quarter.
For next week's game at Indiana, I have a suggestion. Bench Zook and let somebody else coach the team. Why not? We're grasping at straws here anyway.