Vic Koenning Looks Both Back And Ahead

The Fighting Illini resumed practice Thursday after a few days off for their first and only bye week. After nine straight weeks of action, bodies and egos were bruised and needed rejuvenation. From every indication, Illini players had more bounce today. However, for coaches like Vic Koenning, there was no rest for the weary.

Illinois football players enjoyed four days of rest before resuming practices Thursday. But Illini coaches had no such opportunity. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning shares what he did from Sunday until today.

"We went on the road recruiting. I got back yesterday and watched the better part of four Michigan games and started putting together a game plan.

"I can't speak for the rest of the coaches. When you leave on recruiting Sunday and get back Wednesday night, and then turn around and practice this morning, it's hard work, a hard job. Some of the most criticized jobs in America are politicians and coaches."

Also the most tiring. At least Koenning was encouraged by the attitude and performance of the team after suffering three straight defeats.

"In practice, it was just our base stuff. Just getting back to playing football a little bit. The guys practiced hard and with good intensity. I think they've still got a little bad taste in their mouths. We all probably do.

"Losing gives you that. When losing stops giving you that, then you're a loser. I don't think we have many of those on our team."

Someone in media asked whether changes would be made in the secondary after one player missed an assignment on a pass play late in the Penn State game that helped lead to the winning touchdown.

"I'm usually pretty good about not calling anybody out. We're gonna assess what's best for the team. We also think about the big picture, what's best for the kid and the team. Obviously, that's something that will be addressed.

"We got no pass rush on that either. For some reason, guys quit rushing as hard, or they blocked better. I know what that answer is, but I don't want to comment on it. We've just got to play better. We didn't make plays in that last drive we made earlier in the game."

Last year, the Illini defense tired late in games due to lack of depth. Koenning admitted that may be a problem at times this year also. Regardless, he couldn't be prouder of the way his players responded throughout the Penn State game.

"Our guys were awesome on the sideline. They probably had more fun in that game than I've seen them have forever. It was a type of attitude I had never seen in a few guys. It was awesome.

"I hope we've gotten over the hump and realize it doesn't matter. Just go out and play as hard as we can. Give it everything we've got, throw it out there. If we'll play like that, then that's all anybody can ask. You try to put them in the best positions and let them play. If they're good enough, great. If not, then that's partly recruiting."

The Illini will soon begin preparations for the upcoming home game with Michigan a week from Saturday. The Illini changed their defensive approach to account for swift Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson last year, and they ended up permitting a scoring onslaught.

While the Illini sought to contain Robinson's runs, UM's first play from scrimmage was a long TD bomb, and everything snowballed from there.

"We probably overemphasized that last year. That first play, everybody was looking at him, and he threw the ball. The guy's running right by us. They run that same play this year, believe it or not."

Koenning will likely try a different approach this time, out of necessity.

"I think we need to concentrate on stopping Michigan because they've got a lot of other good players. Stopping the running backs and receivers. Their line blocked us handily last year. That's who we need to concentrate on stopping."

Koenning says new head coach Brady Hoke is employing a mixture of former coach Rich Rodriguez's offense with his preferred approach.

"Some of it is the same, some of it is different. Some of it is Rich Rod's stuff, but a lot of other people run that offense too. They've combined that with power. Now they've got the two quarterback system going. We'll try to come up with a plan that fits our players best and go from there."

The Illini players got some rest, but Koenning and his fellow staffers didn't. They must continue to toe the line. There is still much at stake, and they want to do everything in their power to earn more wins.

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