When the opening statement by head Coach Ron Zook is an apology to the fans, you know it was a long afternoon. "I have to apologize to the fans. This was not the same team we've seen the past three weeks." For the first time all season Zook appeared to be upset with his team's effort. When Zook was asked about his team's tackling he didn't hesitate to say, "Everyone talks about tackling. Our guys know how to tackle, and it all comes down to how bad you want it," he said. "Missed tackles are a result of no emotion, and that's my fault. Show me a good tackling team, and I'll show you an emotional team."
After sitting in the press box and watching Michigan State march the ball down field, I thought maybe the sideline would be a place to actually see what was going on. What I saw was a very frustrated group playing their hearts out, but on that day just didn't have the answer. Former Illini Matt Sinclair said "You just have to take your hat off to Michigan State. They're a good team and very explosive on offense, and they are getting great pressure up front."
Ron Zook is in his first year at Illinois and his message is " I believe". Right now his team does and, for the most part, the fans. But on Saturday I saw one thing missing and this is not a knock on Zook or the current players down there. It's not the coaching. At this point Illinois doesn't have the players like most teams in the Big Ten. Sitting on the sidelines there's a noticeable difference in the size of players, speed and strength. The offensive line became overmatched. MSU's defensive line started to close in early in the first quarter, and when Illinois tried to run the ball they were stopped. During the past two games Illinois hasn't taken that many shots down the field.
The Michigan State WR, who stands 6-6, finished the day with 75 yards. He made plays that appeared easy for him, and with his kind of size and speed he's the type of player that can change a game. Zook knows how good Michigan State is. "Their offense is going to be one of the better offenses in the Big Ten this year. They've got a great offensive scheme."
Give Zook time. He's a great recruiter and knows the kind of talent it takes to win at this level. For now our kids are working hard to become better and doing the right things it takes to win games. Up next will be a hungry group of Hawkeyes in Iowa City. This may be a team right now that Illinois can go on the road against and pull off the upset.