Controversy always provides stimulus for mental ruminations. Winning and playing well has the opposite effect, as Illinois coach Ron Zook is finding out. After two straight convincing wins to open the 2011 season, Zook must field fewer questions in his teleconference. That is, unless you enjoy praising your favorite team.
"I think our guys did a great job, and our coaches did a great job of preparing for the game," Zook summarized from the South Dakota State game. "You have 12 regular season games, and you have to be ready to go all 12 regular season games.
"We talked extensively this past week about getting better, making the improvements and corrections we needed to make from the first game. We scored on every other drive except the first drive. If A.J. (Jenkins) had caught the ball on third down, (we might have scored on the first drive).
"I thought from then on we played pretty good offense. Our focus was getting better, and I think we did. Obviously, we're gonna need to get better this week too."
Arizona State invades Memorial Stadium for a 6:00 pm contest Saturday, and it will likely be ranked this week. So indeed, the Illini must continue to improve. While it is difficult to judge a team after a convincing 56-3 shellacking of a Division 1-AA opponent, the first week win may be a better indicator of what the Illini have cooking.
Arkansas State rebounded from its 33-8 loss to the Illini by trouncing Memphis 47-3 yesterday. Zook took note of that result.
"The team we played in our first game was a lot better than people thought, and I think that helped us. It told us a lot more about us than maybe yesterday did. But I thought yesterday we did excellent some things we needed to get cleaned up. There's still some things we've got to get cleaned up."
Freshman running back Donovonn Young had an impressive day, gaining 65 yards in seven carries and scoring his first two college touchdowns. It would appear he is earning more playing time, but Zook prefers the flexibility of going with the hot hand.
"I think Donovonn's done a great job, but we're gonna need them all. They're all gonna play, and they're all gonna run the ball. We did that before with Mikel (Leshoure) and Rashard (Mendenhall).
"With Rashard, it was like the fifth or sixth game before he took over. If you get a hot hand and get somebody going, you feel it during the game. All of a sudden, they're able to get more carries."
Zook was especially excited for senior back Troy Pollard, who enjoyed his first 100 yard game and second career touchdown for the Illini. Pollard was teased about being caught from behind on a 61 yard run and admitted he wasn't the fastest back on the team. But after all the health problems he's endured, having success was especially important.
"Yeah, Troy had a big game for us. I'm really happy and proud of him."
Zach Becker was the lone Illini casualty yesterday, breaking a bone in his ankle area. Zook hedged somewhat on his initial prediction Becker's year was over.
"They did an MRI this morning, and we probably won't know the results until tomorrow morning. Whatever, it's gonna be awhile, if we're fortunate enough to get him back at all."
With Becker out indefinitely, the Illini needed to prepare a second freshman for service at tight end. Jon Davis has been in both games and caught a pass for 5 yards yesterday. Now teammate Matt LaCosse joins the ranks of freshmen receiving playing time.
"That was something we talked about at halftime. With Zach being out, we were probably gonna need him. I think he played pretty well. He played pretty hard."
"Barring unforeseen circumstances, that will probably be it."
Zook already received questions about upcoming opponent Arizona State. More will be discussed about the Sun Devils as the game draws nearer.