Illinois Players And Coaches Speak About Win

Illinois' big victory over Iowa Saturday pushed it closer to a bowl game, reengaged the Illini Nation and helped balance a horrid loss last year at Iowa City. Coaches and players were happy to discuss the game and its significance afterward. Highlights of their thoughts follow.

Illinois head coach Ron Zook:

"I was fortunate enough to be with the Pittsburgh Steelers when Slash (Kordale Stewart) was there. There's a whole playbook out there for Eddie McGee. He's such a competitor and such a fiery guy. He wants to play, and he wants to help this team however he can. We know he's a heck of an athlete, and when he gets the ball in his hands he can fly. We talked about it. He's a good player, so let's let him win.

"I can't say enough about Sam (Carson). He's been around here a long time, and this game was very important to him. He'd never beaten Iowa. We knew this was gonna be a run game, and that's what Sam does best. I'm so proud of him. He played extremely well.

"Like I told the freshmen. That's a Big Ten game. It's a 60 minute game and you line up and knock the crap out of each other.

"Our defensive line did a great job and got stronger as the game went on. We lost contain a few times, but we did put pressure on him (quarterback) and kind of disrupt his rhythm. Obviously, an awfully good quarterback, a good offense and an awfully good football team.

"We got some turnovers, although we've got to get that corrected on the other side of the ball. Sometimes you go through those spells. It's not that you don't work on it or stress the importance of it. You've got to keep grinding on it.

"I called the time out with 24 seconds left. I probably should have milked a few seconds off the clock. (tongue in cheek) I wanted to give Vontae a chance for an interception.

"I'd rather not get into Daniel Dufrene. You saw Daniel out there, you saw him coaching on his teammates. He was involved in the game. I think we're working through his personal problems which I'm not gonna discuss. I expect Daniel to be out there Monday and ready to go.

"A. J. Jenkins kind of got dinged on a helmet to helmet collision in the first half. He'll be fine. Xavier's shoulder injury is the same one he's had before, so he knows the deal there. We will have to wait until tomorrow to be sure, but hopefully he'll be ok."

Receiver Fred Sykes:

"(first Illini touchdown) It felt good seeing the ball come up like that to me. I knew there was a possibility I could score because I didn't see the safety come over the top. They were playing cover 2, and I guess there was a miscoverage. The safety came down and the corner let me get outside. It was open. I feel good to be able to bounce back to help the team after the game last week. I'm just working hard to get better, and Coach Zook is pushing me to get better."

Defensive tackle Josh Brent:

"Once we stopped Greene, it forced them to pass more than they wanted to. We were definitely fired up. They are a great team, and they're gonna get some wins after this. We felt one got away from us last year at Iowa, so we were sort of playing for last year and this year. It was redemption.

"They're a physical team, and they make you play physical just by their demeanor. You're gonna have to step your game up. With Corey absent, we had to step up and fill his spot, and I think we did a pretty good job today."

Offensive guard Eric Block:

"That was tough. Those are two of the best if not the best defensive tackles in the Big Ten. We had our hands full all day inside. It was a tough day. They were all over the place, constantly twisting, moving. They're real athetic guys, they're strong, they've got everything going for them.

"This is my fourth year, so it's great to get a win against Iowa. Last year was a heartbreaker. There's a rivalry there, and it's a tough game every year. Eddie McGee really gets you motivated in the huddle. He's so competitive and yelling all the time, he's one of those guys you like to go to war with every time. It's awesome having him in there.

"I have a lot of confidence in those guys (freshmen tackles Lewis and Allen). Before the season, we didn't know. But Corey and Jeff are awesome. Me and Jon (Asamoah) played as freshmen. And they are leaps and bounds ahead of us our freshman year. They're great. I feel as comfortable as can be with Corey next to me. I can't believe it. We've got a guy, a quality senior in X (Xavier Fulton) go out, and we don't miss a beat. Unbelieveable. It's awesome."

Co-Defensive Coordinator Dan Disch:

"Corey Liuget couldn't play, and we had to have some other guys step up. Some guys had to play that hadn't been. Sam Carson played a great game. He played a lot at the WILL linebacker in first and second down situations and did a heck of a job.

"Donsay (Hardeman) is starting to understand the defense, and he had a couple big hits. Except for the penalty on the sideline, he did a nice job. He got himself a pick. I was happy for him."

Quarterback/receiver Eddie McGee:

"When I was told during the week I would be out there as receiver, I was told I couldn't do the signals from the sideline at the same time.

"It meant a lot (to be named a captain). The coaches see me as a leader. I've just been giving everybody confidence. Talking to them, telling them that the season's not over. We have our backs to the wall, but it's how you bounce back.

"In the back of my mind, I'm thinking about next week. I want to blow them off the map so we can get to a bowl."

Defensive back Dere Hicks:

"I give thanks to God, man. All week, Coach Zook said I needed to be in position to make plays with this defense. I think I've been solid all year, so he moved me into the nickel. I had a nickel blitz off the edge. When I saw it was a pass, I attacked the shoulder like the coaches always told us. I hit the ball and picked it up to score."

Safety Donsay Hardeman:

"I was told nobody from Illinois had beaten Iowa. It was a big statement to the world. We came out with a big win. It was just a field goal, but a win is a win. We had to be hungry for it. We had to be greedy and fight for it. Coach always told us it wasn't gonna be easy. It's a 60 minute game and anything can happen. He talks about being like a rubber band, stretching until you're popping. That's what we did.

"(helmet hit penalty) Honestly, the person hitting the guy doesn't actually know if it's helmet to helmet unless you go head to head. I felt like I went with my shoulder. I had some people come tell me it was shoulder, and I had some tell me it was kind of close. I'm gonna be aggressive. I'm a hitter, that's what I'm gonna do.

"Honestly, I come from a junior college, and I have two years, so I've got to make a statement and have fear in my opponent. If you come my way, I've got to have you have fear to come through the middle. You come into my zone, I've got to hit you. Coach tells me I get better week by week, and I try. I'm not trying to be better, I'm trying to be great. The interception was a blessing. I'm trying to get a pick 6."

Quarterback Juice Williams:

"The two minute drill is something we do in practice. We did a pretty good job on it all week. We've been in that situation before, so we came out and kept our composure and got the win.

"It's always good to get a win against a quality opponent. It's one of those teams that you hate to play because you know you're gonna get beat up and have bumps and bruises after the game. It's a good win for the program. It can be a springboard for the rest of the season."

Linebacker Brit Miller:

"Overall, the d-line had it under control tonight. We were able to blitz sometimes and get some pressure and some hands in his face. We kind of got the feeling he wasn't really liking that. But he's a good quarterback, and he managed the game well. Turnovers are momentum changers, and we could have had more. Donsay could have had one, I got my hands on one."

Defensive end Will Davis:

"I was just playing hard. They're a very good offensive line. They run a good scheme that we don't normally see alot. They get you out of your gap easy because they're running so hard. You take one step and they go this way. And Greene has a good way of finding that because he has great vision. He sees the gap and cuts back into it.

"Our backs are against the wall. We believe every game is a must win. We have to go out there and play with passion, like we want it more. When we came in at halftime, that's what we talked about. All the seniors told them we have to get up and stay up. We definitely can continue that, and it's up to the seniors to make sure it happens."

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