To be effective, the Illinois offense requires balance between run and pass. It also requires multiple skill players to prevent opponents concentrating efforts on one or two stars. Illini receiver A.J. Jenkins is having a phenomenal season, but his pathway to continued success was limited when sophomore receiver Darius Millines had to miss four games.
Millines sat out spring ball with a stress fracture in his foot, and he aggravated the injury this fall. He had caught 11 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown at the time of the injury. He is also an excellent downfield blocker. Since he was a prime alternative to Jenkins, opponents found it easier to cover the UI's star.
Millines returned for the Penn State game, but he is even healthier after the bye week.
"I'm doing good, taking it day by day, getting my foot better and stronger. It's the same thing I had in the spring. It just got a little sore. They wanted me to stay off it so it would get better."
Has it been difficult to get back into the flow of things?
"Not really. I just hopped back in and picked it up pretty fast."
Millines didn't catch any passes against Penn State, but he wasn't upset about it.
"Yeah, it was snowing and all. I wasn't worried about it, I just wanted to come out with a win. I've just got to keep working hard and come out hard against Michigan and get the "W."
He was open several times in the PSU game, but quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw no passes his way.
"It's all about what Nate sees and who he wants to throw it to. If we are open, all we can do is come back to the huddle and tell him to come back to it."
The Floridian feels the bye week helped the Illini team.
"Yeah, I think that helped us heal our bodies a little more, so we can come back and play fast."
Few outside a college football team understand how hard games are on their bodies. The Illini played 9 straight, and they needed the week off to heal bruises and recharge batteries.
"Yeah, it's hard, it's tough. Last year we had a bye week. But this year, we played these 9 games. Even I was tired, and I was out. It takes a toll on your body. You've got to take care of your body."
Millines says the three straight losses have not destroyed Illini confidence.
"We're holding up good. We're a real great team. We've just got to keep fighting. Looking at film these last two games, we beat ourselves. We still have confidence. We've got to come out and limit the mistakes."
The Illini set a number of lofty goals in the preseason. Some have fallen by the wayside, but most are still attainable. Like all good teams, the Illini are not looking ahead.
"We're not worried about goals right now. We're worried about Michigan, and then the next game and the next game. Then we'll worry about what comes after that."
Michigan won a high scoring game in overtime last year, a game that could have gone either way. Millines agrees the Illini have payback on their minds.
"Yeah. I think we're gonna come out and play hard because we want revenge. The coaches want it, the players want it. We know what's at stake."
Returning the Illini to winning ways is important to Millines. But so is being able to play fast, free of pain. He longs to make a difference the rest of the season.
"I'm hungry. I'm ready to get the ball in my hands, make plays and will this team to victory. I can't wait."