Zook: Congrats Guys, But We're Not There Yet

It was moments after his biggest victory at Illinois, one of his biggest as a head coach. Illini players had gone into the stands to celebrate with their classmates. Friends and family and about everyone with an I on their clothes was delirious. It was then that Ron Zook issued reminder: we're not there yet. And with that, the head coach assessed a magical moment in Illinois football history.

"I told the team right after the game I'm so, so proud of you guys," Zook said. "And I really am. They have worked so hard, they deserve this. But at the same time, I reminded them, we're not there yet. Not yet. This season is just getting started."

"There is much, much more to do. We have to get better. We are not there."

And with that, Zook, fresh off the Illini's 27-20 victory over 19th ranked Penn State that gave Illinois its first 2-0 Big Ten start in 16 years, began to reflect on a day nobody involved will soon forget.

"I'm proud on so many fronts," Zook told me. "Number one, our fans. Did you see our fans? They have been through two rough years -- a lot of rough years -- and they have never quit believing in what we are trying to do here. They have given us all they have. They were a big factor in this game. I really, really appreciate these fans.

"And I appreciate Juice (Williams). You know what, he never pouted (when we took him out), never worried about it. He was rooting Eddie on as hard as Eddie roots him on. He just wants us to win."

Zook made it clear Juice is his starter. McGee will come off the bench if needed, and it is clear coaches won't hesitate to make that move if it is necessary.

"We're going to need them both," Zook said. "And they understand that. Juice is missing some guys, I know that. But he sure is doing some good things -- management of the game -- running, running the option, hitting some throws, that I hope people realize how well he is doing some of that stuff.

"I told him when I took him out to be ready to go back in if we needed him to. He was fine. We were just bogged down there a little and wanted to see what Eddie could do."

It also is clear that some of Zook's top recruits are making their presence felt already. Arrelious Benn, who may be as good a receiver as there is in the Big Ten, scored two of the Illini's three touchdowns in dramatic fashion --a long kickoff return and a pass reception in which he broke a host of tackles.

"And you know what," Zook said. "He is an even better person. I really mean that. That kid is a special, special person. That is why everyone is happy for him it is turning out like this."

But Benn isn't alone. Sophomore Vontae Davis is becoming one of the nation's best shutdown corners, Josh Brent is providing more and more quality minutes at defensive tackle every game and Martez Wilson continues to show his brilliant athleticism with each passing game. His tackle behind the line of Derrick Williams on a reverse was a play some NFL linebackers wouldn't have made.

"We're closer," Zook said. "Definitely better. But we're not there yet. That is what I have told our players. You guys have earned this, so truly enjoy it. But understand we aren't there yet.

"Understand everyone now knows who we are. Everyone is paying attention. We'll now get everyone's best shot. Starting with the next one."

With that, Illinois begins to prepare for what now is the best team on the schedule -- highly regarded Wisconsin, who comes in Saturday.

"This was a tremendous, tremendous win," Zook said. "But it's time to start thinking about the next one. That's how this business works."

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