CHAMPAIGN — During the week heading into last year’s Michigan-Illinois game, Illini coach Ron Zook sat down one-on-one with his star quarterback, Juice Williams.

According to Williams, Zook simply told him “to relax and have fun.”

Zook’s coach-speak sounded cliché, but Williams’s result definitely wasn’t. He stunned the Big House crowd with a Michigan Stadium record of 431 all-purpose yards (310 passing, 121 rushing). Leaving a dismantled Michigan defense in the dust, he led Illinois to a 45-20 win.

Last Monday, Zook met with Williams again. The situation was slightly different, but the conversation didn’t stray far from the one the coach and his quarterback had a year ago.

“He pulled me aside Monday and said, ‘Relax, just let things happen, just let plays come to you,’ ” Williams said. “And that’s what I did.”

Williams heeded Zook’s advice once again, this time to the tune of 220 yards (123 in the air, 97 on the ground).

Struggling this season to find any kind of consistency, Williams may have needed Zook’s coaxing a little more than last year. And with the plan for Williams to split time with redshirt freshman Josh Charest, no one knew how much Michigan would see the senior. But just like last season, he exploded against the Wolverines.

For two years in a row, Williams has proven that the Michigan defense can’t contain the mobile quarterback. And the coaching staff can’t quite figure out why.

“Juice Williams got alive a little bit and they had a soft balance with the run and the pass, you know, we just didn’t respond,” secondary coach Tony Gibson said. “I mean, I don’t know what to tell you other than that.”

Michigan fluidly contained Williams in the first half. Four Wolverines — defensive end Brandon Graham, defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen, middle linebacker Kevin Leach and linebacker Stevie Brown — sacked Williams in the first half for an impressive minus-35 yards. That was four more sacks than Michigan tallied last season against Illinois. But when Illinois changed from a zone read in the first half to a more open scheme, things began to unravel for the Wolverines.

“That comes down to guys not having their gaps, something technical, some kind of technical error,” sophomore nose tackle Mike Martin said. “I know they changed their running game to not as much of a read. They were just hitting the gaps, and we were doing real well against them trying to read against us.”

The switch worked for the Illini, as they rushed for 317 yards and passed for 94 yards in the second half.

Although defensive coordinator Greg Robinson is Michigan’s third at the position in the last three seasons, the Wolverines have had trouble controlling mobile quarterbacks for some time. Quarterbacks like Texas’s Vince Young, Ohio State’s Troy Smith and Oregon’s Dennis Dixon ran over the Wolverines in recent years.

But it wasn’t as though Michigan overlooked Williams and the Illini. All week, the Wolverines noted Williams’s talent and recognized the team’s record didn’t tell the whole story. Of those who endured last year’s 3-9 debacle, no one could forget Williams’s record-setting afternoon. Even after Saturday’s loss at Memorial Stadium, last year’s defeat was still fresh.

“We had a lot of payback from last year in our stadium, so we wanted to give it back to them in their stadium,” Graham said. “I mean, a loss is a loss, but it hurt to lose to Illinois.”

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