Study, Learn, Forgive And Heal To Move On

After the Arch debacle yesterday, Fighting Illini coaches and players must pick up the pieces and regroup so they can reverse their fortunes and have a successful season. Illini fans must do the same. It isn't easy to look back, but Ron Zook updated media on the team the day after. It can be healing to evaluate what happened and what lies ahead.

According to Illinois coach Ron Zook, the biggest shock of the 37-9 loss to Missouri Saturday was its unexpected nature. Everything pointed to the Illini playing a great game, and they didn't.

"The week of practice was as good as it's ever been. The Thursday practice was as good as it's ever been. The Friday walkthrough, the team meeting on Saturday morning was unbelieveable, the focus and attention. That's what's got me pulling my hair out.

"We don't have a physical problem. We don't have a problem with philosophy. For whatever reason, we didn't play like we practiced or prepared. That's the thing we've got to find the answer to.

"We never played with the emotion we've had all camp and all offseason. Whether we're putting too much pressure on them, or whether they're putting too much pressure on themselves, that's what we've got to get to the bottom of.

"The thing I'm probably most upset about is we didn't fight. Missouri came in there to fight. This is a game where you'd better walk around with a chip on your shoulder. You've got to go for the jugular, I don't care who we're playing. Our hat's off to Missouri. We didn't go for the jugular, they did."

It appeared to some the team let down when Arrelious Benn and Jason Ford went down with ankle sprains early in the game. "Rejus" Benn is the star and centerpiece of the offense, and Ford was the starting tailback after senior Daniel Dufrene had to sit out with an ankle sprain. Zook is unsure whether the players let that adversity hurt them.

"If the team did (let down), then we haven't talked enough about adversity. You're gonna go through adversity during a game, and you're gonna have adversity during the season. We have adversity right now. How we respond to this adversity is gonna determine what kind of football team we're gonna have.

"In the Ohio State game two years ago, when Rejus and Vontae (Davis) were both out, everybody just kept playing. That's what you have to do. Obviously, you don't want to lose anybody. But we have enough weapons that guys have to put it out of their minds and go."

Fortunately, the news on the injury front is as good as could be expected.

"Rejus and Jason are not nearly as bad as originally thought. Right now, we would list both as probable for next week. They're ankle sprains and not high ankle sprains. Rejus was in my office here this morning doing toe raises on one foot.

"Daniel could possibly have played yesterday. We decided to hold him just to make sure we didn't take any more chances. We feel he'll be back next week as well."

Do you like the way the players have responded since the loss?

"I liked the fact a bunch of them were in there watching the tape last night. And today a bunch of them were in the team room watching the game. I like the fact they're upset and they're taking responsibility and know they can and will play better than that. I like that fact. We're gonna be as good as they decide they want to be. If they're tired of it also, then we'll reach our potential."

Overall, Zook feels the defense played well while the game was still on the line.

"I thought the defense played pretty well until the second half. We gave up a couple plays there you can't give up. They didn't run the football. I thought we tackled much better than usual for first games of the year.

"The defense will continue to improve. There are some things we have to get corrected in the secondary. If we have to make some changes, we'll make some changes personnel-wise.

"The secondary number one has to get off blocks. Number two, Donsay (Hardeman) misses a tackle which normally he doesn't do, and it goes for a touchdown. The two hole shots we work on until we're blue in the face, but once again, sometimes they have to see it to believe it."

Zook has heard from a number of so-called friends, many of whom are irate over yesterday's results.

"I don't know if I'd call them my friends or not, but I've heard from a lot of people. I don't blame them because this is their football program, this is their team. They're frustrated just like I'm frustrated. I agree we should be better."

The following are quotes accumulated yesterday in the post game media room plus today's teleconference:

* More from Coach Zook: "For the most part, I thought Juice (Williams) played pretty well. There were a couple balls he didn't throw where he needs to throw it. On the interception, A.J. (Jenkins) should have had that in his hands. It went right through his hands. (Jeff) Cumberland dropped a couple. We have enough receivers, that if they're gonna drop the ball, they're gonna be beside us."

"A.J. was down working with the machine that throws tennis balls at them (Sunday). The guys want to play well, they want to do well. It's not something we need to say to them. They're doing it on their own. I really feel they're gonna do the things we need to do to get back to where we're supposed to be."

"All the safeties made mistakes except Garrett (Edwards). Garrett played pretty well. The other three safeties made mistakes. We're gonna get those things fixed. Can we play better than that? Absolutely. Can Donsay play better than that? Absolutely. That's the first time he's played in a long time. He didn't go through spring. He'll be ok. He'll come back and be ready to go."

"I thought for the most part the offensive line played pretty well. And that's a pretty good front, particularly the nose tackle (Jaron Baston). We didn't run the ball as effectively as I felt we needed to. And we got away from it because we needed to because of the score."

"(on the 4th and one play where Juice Williams tripped) Randall (Hunt) had too short a split and stepped on his foot. I'm not a guy that's gonna point fingers at our players. It's on us. We didn't have them coached up right. Usually there's somebody at fault, so you can put it on me.

"Jon Asamoah was fine. He missed a few days there, so we wanted to keep him fresh. It was intentional we took him out a few plays. Graham Pocic came in and did a really, really good job. I'm very proud of Graham, and I'm happy that he came in and played the way he needed to play.

"It gives us an opportunity to rest Randall a little bit, and then maybe Randall won't have too tight a split in that situation. And also we'll get Jack Cornell back this week, so you're able to keep those guys fresher. Corey Lewis is gonna play even more too. He did pretty well."

"Troy Pollard is 100% now. He's got a little hitch to his giddyup and really can be a good back for us. And I thought Mikel (Leshoure) not only ran the ball well, he caught the ball well and made some big plays that way. Those guys will continue to get better and better. You can never have too many running backs."

"I was shocked we missed the extra point. The first extra points the last two years we've missed. I thought Anthony (Santella) punted well. I thought we covered extremely well. I think punt's gonna be a plus for us. We covered the kickoff well. We didn't kick it necessarily well, but that's something we can get fixed. And Matt will be all right on extra points and field goals."

"I thought Martez played well. He made all the checks, and I was really proud of Martez. I saw him get blocked there at the end one time, but for the most part he flew around and did the things we needed him to do. I think if he continues to do that, he's gonna be an awfully good football player."

* Josh Brent: "(outcome not what you were hoping for) Definitely not. We thought were real prepared coming into this game and found out we weren't.

"(handled run game better) Definitely. That was a major part of our game plan and definitely a focus this week. Stop the run first and then worry about the pass. I think we did a pretty good job, but obviously not good enough.

"Gabbert was great. Their coaches did a very good job not forcing him to make too many reads or throw too many deep balls. Mostly 7-15 yard passes. It's hard to cover those type of routes. He completed a high percentage of his passes. They were firing on all cylinders.

"We knew that was the kind of passes we were gonna see. With three step drops, it's hard to get to him. You have to bring extra pressure."

* Jarred Fayson: "We've just got to get back to work and get better. We definitely took a hit losing those guys. We have depth, so a lot of guys have to step up.

"Obviously, there was something wrong. So we just have to figure it out, get it fixed and move on.

"It is somewhat surprising. I don't have any explanations. We have to go back and watch the film and keep on pushing.

"It's a stunning loss, but I'd rather have adversity right now than later in the season when we get to Big 10 play.

"(Benn) is definitely a big part of our offense. We definitely wanted to win the game for him."

* Mikel Leshoure: "We felt like we did everything we could to prepare ourselves for this game. One of the main things our coach preached to us before the game was not to come out and beat ourselves. We felt offensively we had all the weapons we need, the talent and experience. The number one thing was to not beat ourselves. Last season, we beat ourselves with turnovers. We just didn't come out and do what we thought we should.

"(injuries) It's the game of football. Injuries are gonna come unexpected. We just hope we get those guys back as soon as possible, and we've just got to play without them.

"Not only do I think we have something to prove to our fans and the people watching, but we have something to prove to ourselves. As an offense, we felt we could have done a lot better. We were down in the red zone 3 or 4 times and didn't come out with any points. We've got some stuff to do come Monday.

"I felt like I played better than I did the first year. Some people went down, and I just had to step in and play my role. I'm not necessarily begging for more playing time, the coach will decide that. I just have to go out and play my hardest."

* Juice Williams: "It's tough when you expect one thing to happen and it doesn't. On the good side, it gives us an opportunity to evaluate our team, to see the things we need to work on and how to handle adversity. In the game of college football, you have to take the good with the bad.

"(Mizzou defensively) They played sound. They did some things a little different from last year. We still have to execute all the way down the field. We can't have 2-3-4 good plays and then have one bad one. We can't beat ourselves.

"(loss of Benn) It's tough. He's a great friend, and it's tough to see him go down so early. Very tough. I'm more hurt that he's hurt. I feel the pain he's going through, and I hope he can bounce back next week. He should be ready to go. I think it was more of a precaution than anything, but we'll see in a couple days.

"We try to avoid having all those thoughts creep into your mind. I haven't lost any confidence in this team or this season. I think we can bounce back next week, get in the film room, learn from our mistakes and keep pushing. It's not about talking about it. We have to go out and do it on Saturdays.

"(Coach said you didn't come out ready to play) I agree. We had a great game plan, we executed in practice all week, and we did the things necessary to build confidence going into this game. I thought we were completely ready to go out there and battle, but something happened coming from Champaign to here. I don't know what it was, but once we take the field we have to be all business. You can't have any mishaps out there."

* Donsay Hardeman: (disconsolate and near tears) "My performance, I was very disappointed. For our defense as a whole, I think we played all right for the most part. A couple times the first half, we held them out to three points. But as the game went on, I'm very disappointed in my performance. I made some bad plays. I know I'm better than what I am. Coach knows I'm better than what I am. As a senior safety, I must make sure that type of performance must never happen for me again.

"(did lack of spring ball make you rusty?) I'm a man of my word. I don't know the coaches' perspective, but I thought I was ready. Missing the spring might be a part of whatever, but I just had a bad performance.

"(late hit penalty) When I go back and watch film, I might see it was a little late. But during the game, you don't really see it. The ball was thrown, you're just trying to make a hit, make a play.

"As a db, you're always told to have a short-term memory. Coach always tells us we're gonna have some ups and downs. When things happen like this, you can't dwell on that one play. If you dwell on it, you'll get beat every play."


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