Illini Football Press Conference

Most fans want to see the "Juice" play more and head Coach Ron Zook is giving the talented true freshman another start. Isiah Williams didn't get much help from starting receivers but Zook addressed that issue as well. Read here for more on Illini football.

Opening statement:

"We are going to continuing to start Juice, but I think it's very important that we understand that we need Timmy (Brasic), too. We need both of those guys.

"It may happen where Juice needs a break, and that's why I respect Timmy so much because his attitude has been unbelievable. It shows what kind of winner and competitor that he is. He understands the situation and he wants best for this team, he wants to win. He knows that he has to be ready to go; he can be the calming force to help Juice because they are some times where Juice needs to settle down."

"I guess one thing, if you want to talk about improvements, that's one part of our football program (that has gotten better). We didn't have a back-up quarterback last year that we felt we could put in and have an opportunity to compete."

"I think we are continuing to improve. Obviously it's not as fast as we all would have like to have, but I think if you go back and look, defensively we are getting better, we are chasing the ball, we aren't giving up as many big plays. That's an area we put a lot stress in from the end of the season on that we couldn't give up big plays. If you look at any good defense, you can see that."

"We are tackling much better, although we didn't tackle quite as well--there were certain parts of the game Saturday where we didn't--but we went in at halftime, where they had 39 yards rushing. I think that's something that, you ask any defensive football coach, if they have to beat you throwing the football, usually that's going to give you an opportunity."

"This obviously will be a great test for us this week, the way they (Michigan State) can run the football."

"I think offensively the biggest thing we're doing is that we've cut our penalties. We've cut our margin of error for us to have an opportunity to win. Margin of error for us is unforced mistakes. Two weeks ago, we were 32 percent. Our game before last, we were at 28 percent. We're at 17 percent and we feel like we have to be at 12 percent for us to have an opportunity to be successful on offense. We're getting better in that regard."

"Third downs, we're playing better both offensively and defensively. We had a pretty decent, respectable game in the third down category."

"Drops, which is a big concern that we all have...if I had the answer to it, we'd have it fixed. We are getting better."

"When I was at Florida, we had a player by the name of Ciatrick Fason who plays for Minnesota now. We worked him and we've begun to do some of these things with the rest of these guys with tennis balls, and so forth. It turned out (that) he became a guy with as good a (pair of) hands as anybody on the football team. It was funny, when we beat LSU the year they won the national championship, he was the guy that caught two big balls out of the backfield for touchdowns. Once again, here's a guy, who in the beginning, was much, much worse than any of these guys that we have (here)."

"I think some of the things also that you look at Juice--he throws a little different ball than Timmy. That's not an excuse, but it's something, that the more and more that Juice plays, I think the less drops you're going to see. As Juice plays more, there are certain times he has to learn to take a little off the ball. He's getting better and better at that. Sometimes maybe they have to put their hands up for protection because that ball zips in there. When he gets more experience, that part will go down as well. From that standpoint, we're going to continue to make progress there and get to the point where we all need to be and be much better there."

Injury-wise, you'd have to consider Akim (Millington) as questionable-to-doubtful this week. I think sometimes you think you see him in a boot and you think 'Well, that's not a good sign.' Anytime you're in a boot, that's probably not a good sign, but a lot of times that's just for healing faster. At least that's what Adrian tells me. Precautionary more than anything, so he's not on the sidewalk slipping and re-injuring or something like that. I think D-Walk (Derek Walker) and Alan Ball are both guys that probably we'll hold out during most of practice today, but we feel pretty confident that those guys will be ready to go, to be able to practice tomorrow, which is kind of my cutoff to be able to play. Basically, for the most part, we're pretty healthy. We've been very fortunate from that standpoint this season. Jim LaBonte will start at the left tackle spot and we have to do some things offensively to help Jim. That's what coaching is--putting guys in positions where they can be successful. We'll be fine. We'll get on down the road from there."

...on Monday's practice:

"The practice last night, I was very, very pleased with and happy with. You've gotta keep going. We're getting better. We're making improvements. We all want to win. That's why they keep score. I think this will be another great test. This is a heckuva football team. It will be another great test to see exactly where we're at; we're continuing to improve."

...on decreasing penalties from the Syracuse game to the Iowa game:

"I want to take a lot of responsibility for that. I don't play, obviously. There comes a point in time where they have to stand up and play, but as a coaching staff, we've coached so hard and we've pushed so hard. These guys, they want to win and they want to do well. It becomes a point where you're pushing and pushing. Maybe we've gotta play a little bit tight. We've gotta go play, we've got to have fun, we've gotta play as hard as we can play with as much energy as we can. Have fun, fly around then let it happen."

...on the players possibly playing tight:

"I think that was one of the things that Coach Okruch had mentioned to me--that he felt like maybe we're playing tight. As I began to think about it and how much pressure we put on ourselves, obviously that kind of transpires to them. Football is hard enough. You've got to make it fun. No one wants to get a holding call, no one wants to jump offsides. There's going to be penalties. That's going to happen, but you can't have the foolish ones."

...on Akim playing this week:

"If there's a chance he can play, then yeah, we'll take him (to East Lansing). Sometimes I don't see this. Adrian (Melendez) knows what's going on on the sideline--I'm so focused on the game. These guys are beginning to help each other. The defense helps the offense, the offense helps the defense. I turned around one time and saw Tim talking to Juice about some things that were going on, and that's invaluable. I mean, what person better to tell you than the guy that plays the same position, that sees it, knows it and knows what's supposed to happen the same way? The way Tim's handled it, I'm proud of him."

...on Michigan State:

"I think when as you look at their team, skill-wise when they're hitting on all cylinders, they're maybe good as anybody. Drew Stanton is a great guy, he's a winner. As they go, he goes. The running backs, when they're hitting on all cylinders, they're the real deal. That's the great challenge for us. Let's go play it. They've got a lot of new faces as well. They kind of went a different route, more junior college guys than what we've gone."

"The thing that's impressed me is that a lot of times, first-year junior college guys, it takes them awhile to get in sync. We were very fortunate with Justin (Sanders) and Antonio (Steele) that those guys got into sync. They're playing really well and the same thing with Michigan State."

"They'll be ready to go. It's a Big Ten game and it's their first Big Ten game. I don't think you have to worry about whether they're going to be ready to play or not. I think it's homecoming. That's one of the great things about football. Next week you can redeem yourself and start over."

...on the Michigan State series:

"I've only been here one year. They dominated us last year, there's no question about that. I think if you go back and you look at series in any league, it kind of goes like that. The one I remember is last year."

...on Michigan State running trick plays:

"They have a lot of guys that can do it. Everybody has a responsibility and a key. There's going to be certain keys when that balls snapped that they have to be able to stay with. With Vontae, if he doesn't keep his eye on his man, I would guess they're going to have a double-move on Vontae, just because they see he is aggressive, breaks on the ball and things like that. What they see has to register and that comes with experience. Vontae said something to me last night. He was in the study room till about 10:45 and he said, 'The game's starting to slow down.' I said, 'it will continue to slow down. It as slow as it's going to get hopefully. That's the biggest thing they have to get is trick plays.'"

...on Jacob Willis:

"One of the things you like about Jacob, you see this all the time in sports, he didn't exactly take the easy path to get here. He kind of took a round-about way. I think you have to credit his mother and father for making him stay the course and making him do the things that he needed to do to get back here. He's never complained, he's never done anything but just give you everything he has. We talked last year about maybe putting him on special teams. The one thing he said was "Coach, I'll do that if that's what you want, but I really don't want to waste my year." I thought to myself, "Here's a guy who's thinking ahead. He's planning on being around here for a while, so I said 'if that's how you feel, then obviously we'll hold you.' He is an athletic guy. He's tough and those kind of things."

...on redshirting players:

"The redshirt year is not a year. It's a couple of months. That's the thing, sometimes these guys are used to playing, they're used to being part of something. Now all of a sudden, they think about a whole year. It's not a whole year. That just means they're not going to play 12 days. Sometimes, maybe, when you're a little bit older, you can realize that, particularly what he's been through, going to junior colleges, and so forth."

...on players not having immediate impact:

"I was talking to CJ this morning down in the weight room. He's always got a smile on his face, a great kid. I said, 'CJ'--I'm always teasing him--I said, 'At one time in the recruiting process, did I ever tell you that this was going to be easy?' He said, 'No, you never said that.' I stopped him right there and said, 'All the things I always said was that you have to go through it. I promise you, next year it's just going to be so much easier.'"

...on getting the tight ends involved more:

"It's a little bit the way it's shaken out. I think you'll begin to see that, and I know we keep saying that, but they're only going to come along as fast as they can come along. As they get more and more experience, they're going to get better and better and they'll get more and more involved in the offense. Both of them are very, very talented young men. They don't back down. In fact, I was talking to one of the academic advisors about Jeff, about how he really seems like he's beginning to come out of his shell a little bit. The only way you can do it is to go through it. There's no class, there's no tape. They've got to go do it."

...on scout team players:

"When you've got good scout teams, you know that you're making progress there and you've got guys who are kind of waiting in the wings and are going to do an awful lot of playing for you. That's really the way it should be. You want to have a bunch of good, young athletic guys down there competing."

...on how the margin of error calculations are made:

"There's a lot of things. Penalties, for example. Drops, anything that would negate a positive play that's unforced."

...on the dropped passes:

"If they couldn't catch, that'd be one thing, but they go out there and you play catch with them. They've got the hands, they catch in their hands. Then, all of a sudden, when the ball's in the air, what's going through their mind? 'Oh, I've gotta catch this ball.' You've just gotta relax. You've got to make an issue of it, but on the same token I want them to get confidence that they can catch the football. Otherwise, they wouldn't be at that position."

...on the quarterback situation:

"Juice will start, but Timmy will be a very, very important part of what we're doing. We're going to need Timmy to be ready to go."

...on easing the pressure on Juice:

"It's easier said than done. We all know what he should think and how he should be. Last week I got the feeling that he felt like he was carrying the city Public League of Chicago. I said, 'Juice, you've just gotta go play. Be you.' He's a prideful guy. He wants to do well and he's going to do well. I don't want the poor guy going out there and feeling like he's got the city of Chicago on his shoulders."

Story courtesy of the U of I Sports Information Department.

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