Zook said his players were understandably disappointed in the closeness of the game and their inability to put away their opponent.
"Obviously, we're not happy the way we played, and there are some things we've got to get fixed. The biggest thing is to just play with emotion. Football is an emotional game, and for whatever reason we're not flying around. Maybe the offense got their (bad) game out of their system, and we can come together for the Big Ten and be ready to go."
Zook could only speculate on the reasons for the offensive lethargy, but he says there is value to the result.
"That team gave up over 600 yards last week. I don't know if we thought, for whatever reason, that we were just gonna go out there and do it. But instead of it being a negative, to me it's a positive. We're gonna learn from that. Just like every game we lost last year, we learned more. You've got to be ready to play 60 minutes on any given Saturday."
Of course, Zook had legitimate reason to praise the Ragin' Cajuns and their coach Rickey Bustle, who coached with Zook at Virginia Tech.
"You've got to give them a lot of credit. I know Rickey, and I knew the Ragin' Cajuns were not gonna quit against anybody. They played their tails off."
Louisiana-Lafayette came into the game with quarterback Mike Desormeaux and running back Tyrell Fenroy each averaging over 100 yards a game on the ground. But the Illini defense rose up and limited them to only 87 net yards rushing for the entire game. Fenroy, who could become only the seventh player in NCAA history to have four consecutive 1000 yard seasons, was held to 20 yards rushing.
Senior linebacker Brit Miller led the defensive charge with 13 stops including 3 tackles for loss. But his biggest contribution was when he stripped the ball from Desormeaux and ran it back 27 yards for a touchdown to give the Illini a first quarter 10-0 lead. He described the play afterward.
"We knew we had to come out and set the tone, and everybody was on board. Every day, we go through the mundane drill of ripping the ball out. But that's where it pays off. I got my hands on the ball on the tackle, and luckily we had a lot of guys around him and I was able to get it out.
"Then, I was afraid they were gonna blow it dead; you know, forward progress. So I showed the ball as I was running and then put it right back away. It's a good feeling to get back into the endzone and help the team out."
A Louisiana field goal made the score 10-3 after the first quarter. Midway through the second quarter, the Illini took over on their own 4 yard line and had their best offensive possession of the day. Combining excellent running by Daniel Dufrene and two passes from Juice Williams to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, the Illini controlled the ball and clock. Juice's pass to Dufrene ate up the final ten yards, Daniel diving successfully to the pylon for a 17-3 lead.
Unfortunately, the Illini offense sputtered from then on. Inconsistencies and penalties neutralized their every advance. With an offense accustomed to scoring early and often, disruptions to their flow slowed them to a crawl. Perhaps Offensive Coordinator said it best afterwards.
"When you're making a big play and it's called back by a penalty, or if you're in position to make a play and the ball is dropped, it destroys your momentum. For a young team, it demoralizes you."
Juice Williams did not have one of his better games, completing 13 of 25 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception. And he ran for 35 more yards. These totals came nowhere near his previous games this year. Locksley believes Juice's effort was there, just not his focus.
"For the second week in a row, he threw an interception that just flat out shouldn't have been thrown. I don't think he played really well today. I don't think his decision making was good. There were times when he was flushing out of the pocket when I don't think he really needed to flush. Juice is one of the guys we're gonna have to play great for us every game."
Juice agreed "That same offense we had the last two weeks wasn't there. We've got to come out and play with a lot of intensity and emotion, and we just didn't have it today. We've got to find a way to get that internal urge to come out and play with emotion. We had only 13 points, and that's terrible."
Illinois spent most of the second half sputtering on offense. However, they did put together a drive sufficient to win the game when they needed it. After Desormeaux broke a tackle by a freshman reserve linebacker to score from 34 yards out, reducing the Illini lead to seven points, Illinois countered. A penalty stalled a promising drive, but Matt Eller hit his second field goal of the day from 27 yards out in what proved to be the game winner.
Louisiana-Lafayette wasn't done, taking advantage of a prevent defense to move down the field with sideline passes to stop the clock. After it appeared the Illini were going to stop them on downs, Desormeaux hit tight end Erik Jones for an 8 yard strike on a brilliantly deceptive play call to pull his team within 3 points. The Illini were able to recover an onside kick to close out the game.
Dufrene led the Illini ground game with 126 net yards in 19 carries, setting a new all-time high for the junior. He was supported by Mikel LeShoure with 21 yards in 8 carries. Hoomanawanui led all receivers with five catches for 74 yards, and Dufrene added 24 yards on three grabs.
Defensively, cornerback Vontae Davis was dominant and matched Brit Miller's 13 tackles. He had 11 solo tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one fumble recovery. Rodney Pittman and Martez Wilson had six tackles each, while Wilson, Will Davis, and Derek Walker each collected sacks.
Coach Zook elaborated on what his team needs to do to approach every game from now on.
"A lot of our guys don't feel too good right now. They don't really feel like it's a win. You work too hard not to feel good when you win. It's not the game plan, it's getting them mentally ready to play. I'm talking about flying around, having fun, playing with emotion.
"If you have to yell on Saturday, chances are you didn't yell enough on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Some of that has to fall on them. If you don't like to play football, you probably shouldn't be out there."
Coach Zook now has a bye week to give his players time to rest and recuperate from its bumps and bruises. But it is also a good opportunity to work out problems prior to the Big Ten part of the schedule.
"We've got three days off, and it will be good for everybody to get away a little bit. But we're gonna have to play a lot better than that, and we will."