We've heard it from coast to coast: the media, fans and even some coaches have said Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook isn't the greatest coach in the game. Saturday Zook had a game plan and not only showed the Illini faithful that he plans to get things done in Champaign, but that the rest of the Big Ten should take notice.
During the middle of the second quarter starting quarterback Juice Williams went down with an injury (eye) that left him sidelined for the remainder of the game. That meant redshirt freshman quarterback Eddie McGee from Washingon, D.C. (H.D. Woodson) took over quarterback duties. Immediately the reaction was: "Who is this kid?" and "Now the game is going to be over." Former Illini Head Coach Ron Turner was a master at protecting younger players and scaling back on the offense and play calling. Not the Zooker. "No, we have a game plan and we're going to stick with it. Nothing's going to change here; we have confidence in Eddie," said Zook. Late in the second half Missouri fumbled and the Illini regained possession. McGee dropped back and threw a 41-yard TD to junior WR Kyle Hudson. That's having faith in the talent on this year's team. The worst thing for the Illini and McGee would be to just hand the ball off and throw the ball once every ten times just to keep the defense honest. I've covered too many Illini games when I was in the press box and then journeyed to the field, where I could clearly see the talent and size of the Illini players were just out-manned. Now they're on an even playing field. They have the players to compete and this will win some games this year. As a matter of fact, I'm changing my predictions. I think if they play with the same intensity level the way they did last weekend, this team should win six games without a doubt.
The play calling was great. It kept Missouri guessing all game long. Zooker mixed it up with a little run and pass. Doesn't matter who the coach is or what school, there will always be naysayers, after the play is over of course. For example we all know stud Arrelious Benn was open on the last play of the game, but McGee threw into double coverage and was picked off. That's not on Zook. It was a young athlete in his fist Big Ten game trying to make something happen. No disrespect to Notre Dame or Michigan fans, but I sure wouldn't want to be Charlie Weis or Lloyd Carr. They have the talent and both came up short on Saturday.
The Illinois football program is in good hands with Zook. His kids play hard. They're as athletic as anyone in the conference and as Zook stated, "They will win games this year."
Zook has never been able to see his hard work through at the DI level as the head man. Not once has he been given the chance to have five years at a big time institution, so for all those who feel he's just a "recruiter", I think he's proven to most of Illini Nation that he's the man to turn things around in Champaign. One thing is for sure - he will never be outworked. With that mentality Illini fans should be at ease.