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Published: Thursday, 10/29/2009

Wolverines gear up for trip to Illinois

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR - Ron Zook's boss has publicly supported the Illinois football coach despite the team's awful season. Zook hasn't been as forgiving with his popular quarterback Juice Williams.

Zook told reporters this week he will employ a two-quarterback system Saturday against University of Michigan just as he did in last week's loss at Purdue. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest will split time with Williams, who has been mired in a funk after earning second-team All Big Ten honors in 2008.

UM coach Rich Rodriguez thinks it's unnecessary to drastically alter his team's defensive plan to combat the opposition's fluidness behind center. He sees Williams and Charest as similar-style players except for, "when Juice is in there they'll run him more."

Charest (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) made his debut Saturday, completing 4 of 8 passes, including one of 31 yards.

Illinois (1-6, 0-5) has been a tremendous disappointment despite returning 16 starters this year. Its only win is against Championship Subdivision member Illinois State and all of its losses are by double digits. Zook, though, will be back for his sixth season in 2010, athletic director Ron Guenther said at halftime of Saturday's 24-14 loss to Purdue. Zook signed a one-year extension during the offseason which could keep him at the university through 2013.

"I thought they would be a more dominant team, but they still have all the players and the capacity to be that team," UM defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen said.

The Wolverines fell 45-20 to the Illini a year ago as Williams set a Big House record with 431 total yards. Williams has tailed off considerably as a senior, completing just 55 percent of his passes for 963 yards, four touchdowns, and five interceptions. He boasts a modest 3.1 yards-per-carry average. Junior receiver Arrelious Benn, a first-team Big Ten selection a year ago, has been held to zero touchdowns and 287 yards.

WEEK OF DRAMA: Rodriguez said he is not concerned his team will lose focus despite a week in which the NCAA heated up its investigation and a Wolverine player was dismissed from the program.

On Monday, the NCAA sent a notice of inquiry to UM President Mary Sue Coleman indicating it had unearthed enough evidence to move forward in its probe into whether the program violated practice rules. The NCAA hopes to conclude the investigation by Dec. 31. On Tuesday, Rodriguez gave sophomore cornerback Boubacar Cissoko the boot for violating team rules.

"I don't think the players have let anything distract them from the first week of the season until now," Rodriguez said. "There are times we haven't played well, but it hasn't been [due to] a lack of focus or preparation."

Cissoko, a former five-star recruit fromf Detroit Cass, returned from a two-game suspension to play in Saturday's loss to Penn State. Three days later the former starter was dismissed. Academics were a factor in Cissoko's initial suspension.

"It's never pleasant having to do this, but as I told the team, all I do is enforce the decisions that they make," Rodriguez said.

INJURIES: Junior Hemingway (knee) practiced Tuesday but Brandon Minor (ankle) and Martavious Odoms (knee) did not. Minor's heel that he injured Saturday is fine, according to Rodriguez.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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