Illinois held a lengthy but productive scrimmage Saturday, their second of the fall. There were still some things that need correcting, but head coach Ron Zook felt it was a good scrimmage and good Camp Rantoul.
"Overall, we got better. Tackling is still not where it needs to be, but it is better than it was. If we go back and look at the second scrimmage over the years, this was probably the best. As it should be.
"If everything was perfect, there would be no need for coaches. Since everything is not perfect, it gives us an opportunity to have a job.
"It's been a good camp. There has been no complaining or bitching, other than the normal stuff. I've been very pleased and happy with the way they've worked."
There was some good news on the injury front. Offensive guard Jon Asamoah continues to improve from his illness and is getting closer to a return. And offensive guard Jon Cornell appears to be making a rapid recovery from a sprained ankle according to Zook.
"Jon and Jack were both out there. Jon is biting at the bit to get out there. The last two days, Jack has really made some good strides. He's walking pretty decent. He's still got some black and blue there, but I think he'll be back in time to get ready to go."
The scrimmage combined lengthy offensive drives with goal line, redzone, and two minute situations. As expected, there were big plays on offense and solid hits on defense. Both groups continue to give each other plenty of work in preparation for the season.
No official statistics were kept. But unofficially quarterback Juice Williams was 10 for 18 for 100 yards and one touchdown. One pass was dropped. He ran for 11 yards in five carries, not counting a five yard sack. Williams would have gained considerably more yardage had he not worn a red shirt.
Backup Eddie McGee completed 5 of 10 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Two of his passes were dropped. His big gainer found Fred Sykes open down the middle in a 2 minute drill. Sykes broke the tackle of Donsay Hardeman and sped 58 yards before being caught from behind by Garrett Edwards. McGee ran four times for 17 yards and was sacked twice for 10 yards in losses.
Jacob Charest was 2 of 5 for 16 yards. He also ran five yards on an option and was sacked once. Freshman Nathan Scheelhaase missed on all three of his pass attempts. Freshman safety Walter Aikens intercepted one of his passes. Scheelhaase showed his quickness by scampering for 13 yards in three carries, not counting one sack.
Running back Jason Ford powered for two short touchdowns, while Daniel Dufrene and Mikel Leshoure scored once each. Leshoure was the leading ground gainer, his 35 yarder in the second series helping him accumulate 58 yards in 8 carries. His touchdown run came from 15 yards out.
Ford showed 28 yards in nine carries, while Dufrene added 34 in 9 tries. Troy Pollard gained 7 yards in two attempts. Freshman Justin Green continued to show a burst of speed, scampering for 31 yards in 9 carries. And fellow freshman Bud Golden made a brilliant run along the sideline, breaking tackles on his way to a 15 yard gain. He totalled 29 yards in just five carries.
Ten receivers caught passes. Arrelious Benn had three catches for 30 yards and added a nine yard run from scrimmage. Freshman Terry Hawthorne, seeing his first full contact after recovering from a broken hand, was impressive both running and receiving. He had a twelve yard run in addition to catching two balls for 10 yards and a touchdown.
Sykes added a six yard catch to his long gainer, and A.J. Jenkins caught two balls for thirty yards. His 27 yarder kept a two minute drive alive, setting up the first string offense for a score. Jack Ramsey, Jeff Cumberland, Chris James (another brilliant one-handed grab), Jarred Fayson (touchdown), Zach Becker, and Michael Hoomanawanui all added receptions.
There were some big defensive stops as well. Defensive tackle Josh Brent made several good plays, including breaking up a McGee pass, sacking McGee, and meeting Leshoure at the line for no gain. Defensive end Clay Nurse also sacked McGee. Redshirt freshman Glenn Foster was credited with a sack on Williams. And Justin Staples sacked Scheelhaase.
Cornerback Tavon Wilson blocked a Matt Eller field goal attempt. Linebacker Ian Thomas threw Fayson for a two yard loss on a run. Defensive tackle Ugo Uzodinma knocked down a pass attempt, and defensive end Whitney Mercilus did likewise. In the latter case, the ball floated toward a receiver where safety Bo Flowers intervened to break it up.
Other defenders who made their presence known with big hits included freshman defensive end Michael Buchanan, junior college transfer linebacker Aaron Gress, freshman defensive tackle Akeem Spence, and freshman linebacker Eric Watts. Freshman Joelil Thrash broke up a pass.
Camp Rantoul is now officially over, but much work remains before the Missouri game two weeks hence. With classes beginning Monday, the team must now add school responsibilities to football. They must be diligent in both.
"These next two weeks are going to be important," Zook reminds. "After last week's scrimmage, we sat down and listed those things we need to improve on, and some of those things are not yet corrected. But they're better.
"What we have to deal with these next two weeks is school. I told them, 'When you're in school, its school. When you're in football, it's football.' They'll have to condition their minds to focus on that stuff as well."