Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illini Pumped Up, Don't Want Another `Mizzoury' Opener

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illini Pumped Up, Don't Want Another `Mizzoury' Opener

Article excerpt

As another Illinois football season kicks off tonight at Soldier Field, Illini fans may cringe at the memory of their last not so grand opening.

Last year's Illini made their debut at Mizzou, and were caned 31-3. They lost their first three games.

The Illini are vowing a different liftoff this time.

"We're real pumped," senior receiver Jasper Strong said, "especially after what happened with Mizzou. . ."

Strong and many of his teammates were pumped even more after watching West Virginia lose 31-0 to Nebraska in Sunday's Kickoff Classic.

"Nobody wants to start off that way," Strong said.

Making Amends: The Illini opened last year with freshman Scott Weaver at quarterback. He gave way in Game 4 to sophomore Johnny Johnson, and the Illini went 5-3 in their remaining games.

Weaver, who will back up Johnson tonight against Washington State, should not be considered the heavy.

Blame the ambitious game plan of offensive coordinator Greg Landry, who came to Illinois last year from the Chicago Bears.

The Illini were dizzy from Landry's cram course. "Everyone thought we thought too much and didn't play as hard, because we were not sure in certain areas," Strong said.

Landry learned his lesson. Even with a year's training in the offense, the Illini will keep it simple.

"I think the coaches have put in an earlier game plan," Strong said. "If there's a confusing aspect, they don't want it in there. We're going to go out and do fewer things, but do them harder than what we did at Missouri."

QB Confidence: Tepper feels much more relaxed a year later with his quarterback trio - junior Johnson, sophomore Weaver and redshirt freshman Jeff Hecklinski. None had thrown a pass entering last season.

"All three quarterbacks have improved dramatically," Tepper said. "Right now, Jeff Hecklinski would go into a game and perform better than any of the three did last year. …

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