Juice Williams will soon break the all-time Illinois record for total offense. He has been the starting quarterback for the last three years, and he appeared poised to have his best season as a senior. And then he pulled a thigh muscle on his first play from scrimmage in the Illinois State game.
Williams ran the option, found a wide open seam and darted down the sideline for what appeared to be a 50 yard touchdown jaunt. However, he strained a quadraceps muscle in his right leg, stumbled and fell one yard short of the end zone. He described what happened after practice Monday.
"I started to feel it about the 10 yard line. I kind of had it set in my head, once I hit the 5 yard line I wasn't gonna slow down. I didn't want a repeat of what happened last year at Michigan's Big House when I was down at the one. So I got to the ten, felt the pull, stumbled my way to the end zone but kind of came up short.
"It's just a little thigh pull, trying to push too hard. I could have finished the game out, but it was just a precaution. It's a long season, and Coach wanted me to be good for the remainder of the year."
Was he warmed up properly for such a strenuous run his first play from scrimmage?
"Yeah. I got warmed up in the locker room. That's the first time that's happened to me, just running the ball, sprinting. Hopefully, it is one of the things that never happens again."
The 6'-2", 240 pounder was erroneously reported to have tripped and fallen before the end zone. The competitor would have rather played the entire game.
"I wish I had of tripped and fell down, to be honest."
Williams was able to participate in much of Monday's workout thanks to proper warmup.
"I did some stretching, got a little treatment on it. Getting the muscle warmed up pretty good. In a couple days, I should be back to 100%."
He described what he was and was not able to do in practice.
"Today, I did 7 on 7, individual routes, almost everything except running full speed, sprinting. I presume by Monday I'll be back to practicing."
Williams believes he could play a game this week if needed. But the bye week may be a blessing in disguise. He had a one word assessment of the situation.
Williams and his teammates have high expectations for the offense in 2009, and they have not yet been able to put everything together.
"Everyone is a little frustrated because we know what kind of offense we can have if everyone is out there at the same time. We can use these two weeks for that purpose, getting everybody healthy, making sure guys are healed correctly. And we can use this time to prepare for Ohio State."
He made some big runs two years ago in Columbus to pull a big upset. Will his leg be healed enough to perform similar feats on September 26?
"Absolutely. The leg should be fine by next Saturday. I'm anticipating having fun with the game, making big plays when available and hopefully trying to get a W."
The 2007 game with the Buckeyes will be remembered for as long as Illinois fields a football team, and Williams took center stage in that performance. Playing admirably the entire game, he distinguished himself in the fourth quarter by running for one first down after another to keep the Ohio State offense off the field and run down the clock.
In particular, he talked Coach Ron Zook into letting him sneak for a big first down on 4th and short. He says people's memories of the moment have grown in stature over the years.
"I think it's more exciting now that it was at the time. You're in the heat of the moment, and you're trying to do what's necessary to win the game. It's one of the things that happened in the spur of the moment. I said the offense could get the first down. Coach Zook went along with it and we did. It wasn't so much for me, but more for the offense itself."
If a similar situation arose in two weeks, will he be willing to go to bat for his offense again?
"Absolutely. If I'm in a situation similar to that, I wouldn't hesitate to tell Coach Zook we can get a half an inch. It all depends on how we set the offense."
The Buckeyes will be heavy favorites in the game. Do the Illini play better as underdogs?
"I think it's a little bit easier. It's always easier when you have nothing to lose. But at the same time, we've got to go out there and earn their respect, take things we want to get accomplished, and play hard. Whether we're underdogs or favored, we want to go out there, be productive and try to win the game."
Illinois was favored over Missouri and got blown out. Some players thought they took the game too lightly. Williams disagrees.
"I don't think we took them lightly at all. Something just happened to us between leaving Champaign and getting ready for the kickoff. Emotionally, we weren't quite into the game as we should. We didn't play with as much energy as we need to."
He said much of that problem was corrected against ISU.
"We didn't want to make the same mistake and come out on the field lacking passion. I think we did a pretty good job last Saturday. With me being on the sidelines, I tried to encourage my teammates as much as possible. I wanted us to stay in the game, be passionate about it, and get the W."
There is always a concern a team having two weeks to prepare for an important game may peak too soon. Williams understands that but believes the Illini are mature enough to handle the situation properly.
"As long as we can maintain the drive we have early in the week, I think we should be fine. I think a lot of teams can get caught up in the excitement too early and burn themselves out. But if we maintain the same excitement for the next two weeks, we should be fine."