The Juice and Benn Show excited the Illini football fandom at the final spring scrimmage Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Juice Williams and freshman Arrelious "Rejus" Benn showed some of their immense abilities and gave great hope for the future of Illinois football.
Juice Williams, playing against the second string defense, ended with 14 pass completions in 23 attempts for 301 yards and one touchdown. And he ran for an additional 20 yards and a touchdown. His 61% completion percentage was a big improvement over his first fall season.
Former Illini great Jeff George, serving as honorary head coach for the offense, made note of Juice's ability in his postgame press conference.
"Juice is a young guy full of talent," George said. "Everyone already knows what he can do with his legs, but today he showed he can throw the ball. He can create plays that not a lot of people can do. Everyone on the sidelines was on their toes just waiting to see what the Juice was going to do. He's a very bright kid, and I'm excited where the team is going. He's still learning, but eventually it will start clicking. Once he clicks, look out because he is electrifying, and he's a lot of fun to watch."
All-Pro defensive end Simeon Rice, the Illini's career sack leader serving as honorary coach for the defense, also complimented Juice Williams.
"Juice looks like the real deal," Rice said. "He's got a rocket launcher for an arm. He reminds me a lot of (Michael) Vick in his playmaking ability and creativity."
Coach Zook noted Juice's improvement, commenting, "Mike Locksley has done a wonderful job with Juice. They're constantly talking, he's constantly coaching. Juice has all these things going on in his head, and he's getting better and better. Juice is looking the safeties off, he's got touch on the ball. Not every one, but the improvement Locks has made with him is incredible."
Another player who was certainly fun to watch was primary receiver Arrelious Benn. The 215 pounder from Washington, D. C., demonstrated why he was a high school All-American with 145 yards in just five pass receptions. He also gained 44 yards in five carries, including a 30 yard touchdown run. His versatility and athleticism will be a big asset to the team this fall.
Coach Zook doesn't want to put too much pressure on Arrelious. But he was not surprised by Benn's day.
"We didn't open things up there (on offense). What you saw with Juice and Rejus we kind of expect them to do. Sometimes it is hard to remember this is Juice's first spring ball, and Rejus should still be walking the halls in high school. They're going to get better as they mature."
Second string quarterback Eddie McGee was 6 for 11 passing on the day for 47 yards, but he also threw a poorly timed ball that cornerback Chris Duvalt returned for an 86 yard touchdown. McGee was operating against the first team defense, and many teams will find the going tough when playing them.
Other receivers of note included DaJuan Warren, who had 4 receptions for 40 yards, and Frank Lenti and Walter Mendenhall, who each had 36 yards in three receptions. Marques Wilkins, Joe Morgan, Jeff Cumberland, Chris James, Will Judson and Russ Weil also caught passes. The Wilkins catch netted 33 yards.
The Illini running game was not utilized much due to a shortage of players. With star Rachard Mendenhall nursing a high ankle sprain, his brother Walter was the leading ground gainer with 52 yards in seven carries. Help is on the way this fall, so expect more running then.
Most Improved Special Teams Award recipient Matt Brandabur kicked a 25 yard field goal. The freshman walkon from Middleton, Ohio, was impressive all spring and will provide good competition once senior Jason Reda's groin heals.
Freshman walkon punter Anthony Santella made a move in the last two weeks and may be the favorite going into fall camp. He averaged 55 yards on two punts with the wind. Jared Bosch averaged 45 with one of his two kicks against the wind. Kyle Yelton averaged 34 yards in kicks both with and against the wind.
Most Illini fans come to watch exciting offense. Even without the running game at its best, the fans got their money's worth today.