Zook Reflects On Loss, Looks Ahead

The Fighting Illini are down but not out after absorbing their first loss of the season Saturday. Head coach Ron Zook points to correctable errors as the primary reason for the loss, although the quality of the opponent had something to do with it also. Zook expects his team to bounce back this week. There is still good reason to remain optimistic.

Illinois coach Ron Zook summarized the loss to Ohio State in his Sunday teleconference.

"We didn't play quite as well as we needed to play. Ohio State played pretty well, and there are some things we need to work on to get better. There aren't a lot of major concerns, but there are some concerns we need to fix."

Zook pointed out several problem areas.

"Obviously, turnovers is one of them. Nathan (Scheelhaase) has done a great job of protecting the football, and he's got to get back to that. Defensively, we played pretty dad gum well, but in the past, in key situations we've been able to hold them to field goals. We weren't able to do that yesterday.

"I think there were times we didn't tackle as well, and there were times we didn't run as well as we want to. There were some third down conversions that Paul (Petrino) was really upset about, and he was right. We've been making those catches. That's just getting back to the basics. If we had stayed on the field, we felt we could wear them out a little bit."

Three turnovers prevented offensive continuity, but Zook felt the defense held it's own against a strong offensive line and powerful running attack.

"I think we played pretty well. We held them to about 4 yards a rush. That's pretty good defense. There were times I felt we didn't tackle as well. #1 (Dan Herron) had something to do with that. We've got to work on angles and things like that."

Defensive end Whitney Mercilus now has 10 sacks in seven games, leading the nation. Zook was asked if he felt Mercilus would be that successful this season.

"It's a pretty good number. I didn't think about how many sacks he was gonna get. I just felt he was gonna be a pretty good defensive end for us."

Against OSU, Mercilus did more than rush the passer.

"I thought he played pretty well yesterday. He held his gap. A lot of pass rushers just want to get off the line and rush the passer. But Whitney played a complete game yesterday."

The lack of punt returns continues to plague the Illini, but Zook and staff feel Ryan Lankford is still the starter.

"Coach (Mike) Gillhamer is back there with him every day. He feels he gives us the best chance of making sure the ball is caught and so forth. There weren't a lot of opportunities. The one punt he should have caught but didn't. Other than that, I thought he did pretty well. I think he's probably the guy that will be back there next week."

Illini fans despondent over the loss may complain about the 4th and two play late in the game, or when the Illini should have called their timeouts. But overall, Zook doesn't believe he would change much about the overall effort.

"There are not a whole lot of things we would change about what we did during the game. Offensively, we need to convert some of those third downs.

"In the locker room at halftime, we were down three and were getting the ball in the second half. We thought we were in pretty good shape. Of course, we come back and throw the pick. I would have liked to hold them to field goals, but you have to give credit to Ohio State as well."

The news was encouraging on the injury front. Starting running back Jason Ford sprained his shoulder, but Zook believes he will be able to practice and play this week.

"He won't have any contact tomorrow, but other than that he should be fine. He's just got a sore shoulder, so he should be okay. I thought he was running pretty hard. It was good to see him running tough and hard like he did."

Receiver Darius Millines may be ready to get back in the mix as well.

"I think he's gonna be ready to go. We're gonna work him in slow this week. He was running on the treadmill this morning, and Nick (Richey) feels we can begin to work him in there this week."

Tackle Corey Lewis still hopes to play this season, but confidence in his surgically repaired knee is a necessity.

"We will keep working him. It's kind of on Corey a little bit, when he feels confident. It could be tomorrow, it could be next week, I don't know. I know he really wants to play; it's important to him. We'd love to have him, and we need him. Still, he has to feel confident. Unless you've had a knee operation, (you don't know)."

The Illini took the loss hard. They need to prevent letting one loss create a second one, but at least they care.

"I think the attitude is gonna be very important. They'll get better. They feel as bad as everybody; it's important to them."

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