Weekly Press Conference

After suffering a loss to Ohio last weekend 20-17 at Memorial Stadium, the Illini will try to bounce back at Penn State. Read here for quotes from head Coach Ron Zook and his Fighting Illini.

Opening statement:
"First off, we haven't lost vision of where we're at, where we're going or how we've got to get there. We need to continue to improve as a football team and learn how to finish. That's my job, that's why I'm a part and there is no doubt in my mind that we're going to get there. There are some growing pains that we're getting through, and you get tired of saying it, but you have to stay the course and get there. These guys have tried to do everything we ask them to do, they really have. So we felt like yesterday they needed some time. They needed a day off, mentally more than anything. It's a bit of a grind. It's the open of week eight and to give them yesterday off - being around them last night at supper, they are excited to get back. You know, DaJuan Warren, I saw him going down to the locker room to lift weights and I said, 'get out of here,' and he said 'I gotta do something.' C.J. and Juice, they're down there watching tape, and you know, those are the things that get you excited--that they want to get back on the field and get going again, and I think that, as a staff, it makes us feel we have them going in the right direction.

"Injury-wise, I think Uh-oh (TE Michael Hoomanawanui) is in great shape. He's got a strained medial collateral, which I don't think is too bad, but this being the first time he's had something like this, it'll depend on how fast he comes back--some guys will come back fast. It's some of what Alan Ball had in the Iowa game and what Pierre had a couple weeks ago, as well. It will be something we won't push with him, but we'll deal with that. Other than that, we're probably in as good of physical shape as we can possibly be in. As I said, we're very excited about it and looking forward to getting back on the field. It does kind of cramp your week a little bit, but I think that's something that at this point in the season we felt like we could sacrifice for what they needed. It's kind of the reason we did the things that we did. We believe in these guys, and we're going to get there."

...on Penn State's quarterback situation:
"Yeah, absolutely, they're a very, very talented team. There's no question that those quarterbacks, all of them, and the one that could possibly play against us Saturday, played against us last year. Of course he didn't play a whole lot--I think he was in eight or nine plays. In the Michigan game he had at least seven passes - but they're not afraid to throw the ball with him. Screen passes, get him back in the game a little bit, but that doesn't matter. They're going to have somebody there and we have to line up and play. They're a good football team, a good program. They recruit a lot of guys that have been there a long time, so they'll be fine."

"Obviously there's no question - they went from a 3-8 team to whatever they were last year, and I think a lot of it had to do with him. These are basically the same players, and they settled in on him being the quarterback and he was a great, great player. There is no doubt in my mind he is a little more of a drop-back, very, very, accurate, strong-armed passer, and he can makes some things happen. Obviously, he also has some people around him that have quite a bit of talent. It depends on who you talk to as to who the best receivers are. I don't think there's any question that running back, he is as good as we've seen - a big guy, can run, strong and offensively they are very talented as well as defensively."

...on the quarterback running with the ball:
"Yeah, I think it is one less thing you've got to be concerned about. I don't mean not be concerned about, but that added threat of having a guy running like Robinson, it affects us, just like the option affects what the defense does, it affects what you do defensively."

...on special teams:
"You've got to have an emphasis on the special teams. That is something I've torn my hair out about, I get emails about 'Is it this scheme?' You know if there was one scheme on offense or defense or special teams that was the best, we'd all be using it. The system has got to be flexible enough that you can utilize the people that you have, these systems we're using are proven. They're proven, they work, they're good, but once again, the consistency factor--and, as I said, that's my job--get the right people in there and get it corrected, and we're going to do that."

...on (TE Jeff) Cumberland:
"He was excited about it (his catch last Saturday). Jeff is a funny guy, doesn't say a whole lot, and when he does, he's got a very good sense of humor and I think once again as you can see--and I said this a few weeks ago--you've seen him continue to improve, and I hope this doesn't set him back either because he's doing the same thing continually, continuing to improve and he's going to be a guy that we try to get more and more involved in the offense."

...on using (freshman lineman Jon) Asamoah on offense:
"Johnny's a guy who we kind of fooled around with the idea, do we want to play him? There's no question in our minds that he's going to be a very, very talented guy. He is a talented guy, but he's going to be a very good football player for us. My experiences have been, if a guy goes and plays now, next year is so much easier. John's a pretty smart guy; he's an intelligent guy, so he's going to be good there. God forbid, if something does happen to him, he'll have a red-shirt year. If you watch him on tape, he gets excited, he runs around. He was a little nervous in the beginning, which most of them usually are.

"Our young guys are excited to go up against Penn State. Everyone talks about the noise. I haven't been there since they remodeled the stadium, but everyone I've talked to who has played there talks about how loud it is, how noisy it is. Once again, our guys are excited for it. I was talking to Juice, and he's looking forward to it. We've got guys that want to go compete and play in the big arena against a great football team. Jon is one of those guys who I think will be able to play both sides, but I think that's down the road. He going to get the opportunity to go out there and play, no question."

...on Penn State's defense:
"They line up and come after you. Their front four are probably the best that we've seen, very physical. They took the one starting linebacker, number 20, now he's the starting defensive end. They're very, very physical. 92 did not play last year and he's back and he's a force, a big guy, can run, makes things happen. They always have good linebackers, those guys are all back and playing extremely well. I think that's one of the reasons why they moved #20 to defensive end. They wanted to get the guy in the middle on the field, a talented guy. The secondary, particularly the corners, can fly, run extremely well. They're just talented. They put pressure on you with the running game. There's a reason why they are one of the best run defenses in the country."

...on experimenting with other freshmen:
"I think we're probably done. I think, barring any injuries or anything, we're probably maxed out there with the freshmen. If you do have injuries, it may come into effect. As I said earlier in my first statement, I mean we haven't lost track of where we're going and what we have to do, we're going to continue to prepare and improve."

...on how well he knows Coach Paterno:
"Pretty well. My wife calls him her second-favorite coach. I love being around guys who have been there and done that. I mean he has been around for a long time. There is a reason why he has won as many games as he has. He's a great person, a great football coach. If you talk to any of his players that played for him years and years ago, the respect they have for him. It's hard to stay in this business as long as he has."

...on Penn State's offense:
"Offensively, they're doing the same things. The same things they did last year, and to that matter, they're doing the same thing they did two years ago. I could remember from looking at them two years ago when we were preparing for them last year, and a lot of the same guys are doing them. So, obviously, the more times you do something, the better you're going to get at it."

...on finishing:
"That's our job, and my job as a coach, and why I was hired. We have to learn how to finish. If we're holding on, we have to learn how to finish, and if we got to come back, we've got to learn how to finish. I think that's all part of the learning process. Once again, when the season is all over, we'll look back at the emotional swings that we've been through here in a half a season, it's really been quite a bit."

...on turnovers:
"We're always talking about turnover margins as a football team. One of the things we talk about offensively is that we can't turn the ball over, and what we talk about defensively is we have to get the football. It's something you continue to stress and you've got to stay with. Usually it does run in cycles. You've got to continue to coach it and stress it. You've got to have the ball, that's what we talk about to the defense all the time. The only focus is to get the ball back to the offense and we'll score. It'll come. There are a lot of things that aren't coming quite as fast as we'd like them to, but you just have to continue to stress it."

...on quarterback pressure:
"There's the old cliché that the quarterback gets too much blame when they lose and too much credit when they win. Sometimes if he's going too deep, there is no offensive line in the country that's going to protect him. Sometimes if you just sit in there and let it open up, it's going to be there, and we keep track of pressures."

...on the team's excitement about playing Penn State:
"Our guys are excited about it. They're looking forward to it. This is a great football team. I remember one time when I was at Tennessee, and Coach (Johnny) Majors started yelling at me because I was kind of just standing around and looking at the stadium and we were playing Alabama in Birmingham. You think of all the great players that have been in that stadium. It's the same thing, all the great players that have played in this stadium. We've got some football junkies on the team. They're excited to go up there. Like I said, it's going to be a great challenge. It's going to be a great environment. Maybe a bit of a hostile environment, but they're looking forward to going up there and playing."

...on (LB) J. Leman:
"J looks like a guy that's been around there for a while. The thing I love about J is, and I told him this on Monday, don't try to do more than what you're supposed to do. J is such a great person; he is such a leader that sometimes, like all of us, he'll do everything he can do and then some, and if he feels like he could do more, he'd do that, and sometimes that could get you in trouble. I cannot say enough about where he is at. I can't say enough about his leadership. He just makes plays. He reminds me of some guys that have played in the NFL that quietly made a whole bunch of plays. Not real flashy, but just makes tackles. I think one of the most important things that J does for us is being our leader. He's a guy that gets everyone lined up. I said this last week - when J says something, everyone listens."

Press Conference made available by the SID office.

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