Photo credit: Brett Moore/Illinois athletics
The last time Illinois had a quarterback named Isaiah Williams, he was called “Juice”. The second time around having a quarterback named Isaiah Williams, they call him “One”.
Both were considered four-star prospects out of high school. Juice led the Fighting Illini to a Rose Bowl appearance in 2008. We’ve yet to see what the other Isaiah Williams will lead them to.
The current Isaiah Williams was a four-star recruit out of St. Louis just two years ago. Williams had offers from powerhouse programs including Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State, and Oklahoma, just to name a few. Ultimately, he chose to stay close to home and commit to Illinois.
Williams was the type of get that everyone imagined Illinois could land when Lovie Smith was hired as head coach. After all of that hype, Williams redshirted his freshman year.
He appeared in a few games last year but didn’t do too much to impress. He actually finished last year playing wide receiver in the Red Box Bowl against California.
First Career Start
Fans came into the game last week not knowing who would be under center. They had a pretty good idea, but it was between Williams and Coran Taylor. Taylor came in relief against Purdue when the three quarterbacks in front of him were out. All signs were pointing to Williams starting at quarterback, but if we know one thing about Coach Smith, he doesn’t like to give too much information out about his team.
Well, Williams got his first career start Saturday against Rutgers. He didn’t disappoint. He led the Illini to a 23-20 win in Piscataway, against a much-improved Rutgers team under head coach Greg Schiano.
His passing game was nothing to write home about. Williams finished just 7-for-18 for 104 yards. It wasn’t the passing game that was needed on Saturday, though. Williams finished with 192 yards rushing and one touchdown on the ground as well.
He led the Illini rushing attack, which finished with 338 yards rushing. Oh, it should also be mentioned that Williams set the program record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback. Not too bad for the former four-star recruit.
The Perfect Fit for Rod Smith
This should have Fighting Illini fans excited about the future of the quarterback position. The dual-threat quarterback is exactly the type of player that offensive coordinator Rod Smith needs to run a successful offense.
Smith has helped coach quarterbacks such as Pat White (West Virginia), Denard Robinson (Michigan), and Khalil Tate (Arizona). Smith hasn’t necessarily had that type of quarterback yet at Illinois.
In 2018, he had A.J. Bush, the former Virginia Tech and Nebraska signal caller, but he struggled mightily in the passing game. In 2019, Smith had Brandon Peters, the former Michigan Wolverine, who was a major upgrade to the quarterbacks room.
Don’t get it wrong, Peters is a great quarterback. He just doesn’t have the scrambling capabilities that a lot of the great quarterbacks have had under Rod Smith. Peters did rush for 75 yards against Wisconsin to open the year, so we might have been wrong about him all along.
Bush was definitely an upgrade from what the Illini had before and Peters was even an upgrade to Bush. Williams, however, is perfect for Rod Smith’s offense. He can run the read option, as he did against Rutgers for just under 200 yards, and he can throw the ball.
Although he needs to work on his passing game a bit, just look up his high school highlights. He no doubt has the arm strength to be a great college quarterback.
At 5-foot-10, Williams is a bit undersized, but his accomplishments throughout his high school career showed that was no issue. He won back-to-back Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year awards and was an Under Armour All-American.
Williams passed for 8,108 yards and 103 touchdowns. He added 2,752 yards and 35 touchdowns on the ground at Trinity High School.
Although Peters will likely start the rest of the season, which he has rightfully deserved, one has to be excited about Williams’ future. Next year, Williams will be just a redshirt sophomore and in his third year at Illinois. The future looks to be very bright for Illinois under center.
Trinity to Champaign Pipeline
Trinity High School has treated the Illinois football program very well over the past few years. The smartest thing Lovie Smith ever did was hire former Trinity head coach, Cory Patterson, as the tight ends coach for the Illini.
Patterson’s players loved him while he was the head coach at Trinity. He coached at Trinity for three successful years. Coach Patterson has helped bring multiple studs from Trinity, including James Frenchie Jr., Reggie Love III, Shammond Cooper, and now, Williams. Patterson and Williams seem to have the deepest relationship.
They’ve known each other since Williams was just six years old. Patterson is also very close with Cooper’s dad, which played into his decision to committing to the Illini.
The reason this is all so important was because of the image that was going around Illini Twitter circles after the game. After James McCourt nailed the game-winning field goal with three seconds left on the clock, Williams and Patterson were seen hugging on the sideline.
After everything they’ve been through together, it was neat to see those two together for Williams’ first career win, which came in his first career start. For Illinois fans, here’s to hoping these two can win a plethora of games together.