Ron Zook Faces Media After Tough Loss

One of the toughest jobs for a major college football coach is meeting the media after a tough loss. But that was Ron Zook's task again Sunday after the defeat at the hands of Western Michigan. Zook answered questions about the offensive line, the mental and physical health of the team, the seniors playing their last home game, and Ohio State in his teleconference.

Question: With injuries on the offensive line, how are things shaking out?

Illinois Coach Ron Zook: "That's been part of the problem really. Every once in awhile, we have problems running the football. In the Wisconsin game, we got behind the chains a little and we couldn't.

"I think Xavier (Fulton) is better now. He made it through the game without reinjuring it, and he feels better. I want to talk with Ryan McDonald. Ryan's still having a few issues. We'll try to nurse him, although this morning in the training room he said he might be feeling a little better. Hopefully, these guys will be getting healthy at the right time with this group coming in here."

Q: What about your tackle situation?

Zook: "We have Ryan Palmer back. For being gone, he played decent. I think the two freshmen played pretty good. They're doing some things freshmen do, and that's something you have to live with. There's nothing we can do about that.

"You have to do some things to help them, which we've done. Which has kind of changed some things people expected us to do. But alot of times we're making decisions based on how to help those guys. I think Jeff (Allen) and Palmer both will play depending on how they practice this week."

Q: What do the Ohio State Buckeyes bring to Champaign this week?

Zook: "I don't think there's any question they're one of the better teams in the country. It's gonna take a great effort on our part. We've got to worry about ourselves. We're back to that stage. We have to make sure we take care of us for us to even have a chance this week.

"They're a great football team. Obviously, they're gonna have a chip on their shoulder from last year. It's gonna be important our guys are ready to go."

Q: Talk about the seniors who will be playing their last game at Memorial Stadium.

Zook: "I told them yesterday I feel bad for those guys. They've done everything they can do. They've played an awful lot of football around here and have gone through some tough times. They were fortunate to go to the Rose Bowl.

"But they said they were not gonna be the class to let this thing slide back. They've done everything in their power to not let that happen. We have 14 days left, and they're gonna do everything in their power to help us come out of this thing."

Q: How do the players feel today?

Zook: "They feel a lot like us. It hurts, it's painful. Anytime you invest as much as you invest mentally and physically, it hurts. Everybody's searching for answers. I don't think this group will point fingers. They understand that we win as a team and we lose as a team."

Q: With Ohio State being so good, there shouldn't be any issues on getting ready for the game, should there?

Zook: "They shouldn't have any issues and should get ready for anybody. But everybody does. Why is that? I don't know. I think when we get to the point where we don't have issues with anybody, I think you can say the program's finally made it."

Q: Looking at it again, what do you think of Dere Hicks' play.

Zook: "The same thing I did at the time. I thought it was a good play."

Q: Are you worried about the guys having something left for the rest of the season?

Zook: "No I'm not. These guys are great kids. This is a tough time obviously. But if you're a competitor, if you're a winner, you circle the wagons. Have we met expectations, no we haven't. But there's still two games to play. We've got to take care of ourselves and get ourselves ready to play.

"This is the same football team that played a really good Penn State team toe to toe until the end, played a good Missouri team toe to toe to the end, beat a good Iowa team that beat Penn State. We're not that far removed. It's the emotional part we've got to make sure is ready to go."

Q: What is the status of Rahkeem Smith and Ian Thomas at this point?

Zook: "Right now, I'm gonna talk to them to decide when they'll be back. They were suspended for violating team rules."

Q: How is Juice mentally and physically with all that's happened?

Zook: "Physically, he's sore. But most of the games he's sore on Sunday and Monday. Mentally and emotionally, he's excited about this game. He's usually played fairly well against this team. With all the negative things that have happened, we can right the ship. Obviously, we'll have to put everything into it."

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