Illinois has struggled at several positions this year. But quarterback problems became obvious when Ron Zook benched Juice Williams in favor of his classmate and long-time friend Eddie McGee for the MSU game. McGee had seen action in multiple games, but he did not respond well as a starter.
"I don't think it was the pressure of starting," McGee related. "I just have to play harder and execute my assignments."
McGee realized some things he needs to improve.
"I have to work on pocket presence and trusting the o-line. A lot of times, I went out of the pocket just because of a lack of trust. So some of it wasn't the o-line's fault. That's one of the main things I need to get corrected."
After watching the film and evaluating his play, the Washington D.C. redshirt junior can't wait for another opportunity to show what he can do.
"I'm really eager to get back on the field. I'm really disappointed in myself the way I played last week. I need to get out there and prove to myself and my teammates that I'm the good player they believe I am."
McGee and Williams were named captains for the Indiana game, along with Doug Pilcher and Josh Brent. While they are uncertain who the starter will be, they are both working hard to help the team get back on a winning track.
"We still have seven games left, and we have a great opportunity," Williams reminds. "I think we can make the most of that. We have to come out here and get prepared mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually and take care of business."
Like McGee, he can't wait for the Indiana game regardless who's starting. You always want to move quickly to the next game to get the taste of losing out of your mouth.
"You keep chopping at the bit to get out there and play."
Williams says the team is encouraged by its improved second half play against the Spartans.
"Absolutely. We moved the ball and got two touchdowns the second half. That's something to build off of. We can't wait until second half to get it together. We have to be ready from play one. Take care of business. Not give up sacks, not throw interceptions, complete balls, receivers catch the balls, run the ball without turning the ball over. If we do those things, we'll be fine."
His play wasn't perfect by any means, but overall Williams was pleased with his performance.
"I did some pretty good things coming off the bench. I put the ball where our receivers had the opportunity to catch the ball. I wish I could take back a few plays, but you've got to keep moving forward. I've got to be better."
He says the benching helped him understand the MSU defense better for when he entered the game.
"Absolutely. That's one of the benefits of not starting. It gives you the chance to see what the defense is trying to do to you. You can learn alot, and that's something I did. I came out and knew exactly where to throw the ball, I anticipated the blitzes and different things like that."
Still, the benching was a new experience for him, and it's not one he wishes to repeat.
"Other than the first two games my freshman year, that's the first time I didn't start my whole life. It was a motivator. It's not something you want to get used to, but if it can benefit this team, I'm all for it.
"Last week was definitely new for both of us. I was the starter for 38 straight games. But that role-reversal allowed us to get prepared for this week."
Both McGee and Williams were understandably distraught at the loss to the Spartans, but their spirits were uplifted getting to meet Mel Meyers. The Texan was the first-ever black quarterback at Illinois, and he was visiting after a 49 year absence.
"It was a great honor meeting the first African American quarterback to play here," McGee stated. "I think it was his first time back."
Williams was also grateful for the opportunity.
"That was a great experience. I heard a lot about him, and it was a pleasure to meet him. I was kind of down from the game, but once I saw him, I realized who he was and it got up my spirits. That's one of those moments you can never forget. You've got to cherish it."
Williams believes Zook may know who his starter will be prior to Saturday, but he may not share it with anyone right away. Both quarterbacks say they will be prepared regardless. They care about winning, and either decision is fine with them.
Williams says Zook was accurate when reminding the team the formula for winning.
"Coach Zook reminded us to have fun. A lot of times, we forget and get away from that. Why we play is to have fun. Once we do that, we can come out and have an excellent day."