Ron Zook Press Conference Mentions Changes

Fighting Illini football coach Ron Zook met the media Tuesday. He discussed the Missouri game, changes he may make to get the best players on the field, and a number of other topics. He has not given up on the season, and neither have his players.

Illinois coach Ron Zook opened his press conference with a statement about the game with Missouri last Saturday.

"What a difference a week can make. I asked the team last night, 'What is the difference how you feel right now, and how you felt four weeks ago when we started?' Because as a coaching staff, we still feel the same way we did four weeks ago. Obviously, the feeling you have when things don't go the way they're supposed to go, want them to go and thought they would go (is different).

"Do we have to coach better? Absolutely. Do we have to play better? Absolutely. But this is still the same football team we said four weeks ago had a chance to be a good football team. When you talk about adversity, you're gonna have adversity. There's gonna be adversity in a game, there's gonna be adversity during the year.

"I really believe this. How you handle adversity, how you stand up and come back from adversity are gonna be the determining factor in the type of team that you're gonna be.

"Things are gonna go wrong. I don't know how many people thought we were gonna go undefeated this year. Obviously, we have some things to correct, and we'll get them corrected. We didn't play this last game the way we wanted to play.

"Do we need to make a few changes? Absolutely. There's gonna be some changes made. There's gonna be some guys who are gonna be challenged. I don't want this to come out like we are upset with our players. But we need to make some changes to get guys to play the way they're capable of playing.

"I'm not one to sit around and wait. If there's some things that need to change, I'll change. We'll do the things we have to do. But I don't believe in making changes just to make changes.

"I went back and looked at everything we did the whole camp. Those who covered us in camp would have thought we would come out and play great. There's just certain plays. Of the 150-160 plays in the game, they weren't all bad. There were a lot of good things. But we can't have the bad plays, or as many anyway."

What might be some of those changes?

"Cordale Scott is gonna play. C.J. (Chris James) is gonna play. Fred Sykes is gonna get in there and is gonna play. Those guys have worked hard, and they deserve it. There were three balls that were dropped. That doesn't mean those guys (Jeff Cumberland, A.J. Jenkins) aren't gonna play or that we're done with them. Players play. Competition is what makes you better as a player. That's gonna stretch you and make you the best you can be.

"We're gonna look at Dere Hicks some at the nickel. So right now, we have Travon (Bellamy) and Tavon (Wilson) at the cornerback spots. It's a little harder to run the bubble screen on a big corner than it is (a smaller one). After the second or third time, Dere played it pretty well. But you have to be able to get off the receiver blocks.

"I don't want to push a panic button, but we've got to play better at the safety spot. I think for the most part Donsay (Hardeman) will. He understands he can't make the mistakes he made.

"If you took all the plays Donsay did, he made a lot more good plays than bad plays. He does try extremely hard, and he does get hyped up a little bit. He only played 8 games last year. That was his 9th game, so he hasn't played a whole year of major college football. His first two games of major college football, he played in front of 218,000 people.

"Donsay understands he has to get better. He knows he can't give up big plays. He missed that one tackle, but the way he hits he normally isn't gonna miss that tackle.

"On the personal foul, in my opinion it wasn't a foul. But they're gonna call that. It's a point of emphasis this year. He hit him with the shoulder pads, he did not hit him with his head. But they've told us, if there's any question they're gonna call it. He has to be smart about those things.

"We're gonna look at Walt Aikens a little more at safety and possibly Terry Hawthorne too. They're freshmen, and you get a little concerned with young guys back there. But they're guys who can run and make some things happen. So we'll take a look at them.

"Terry just wants to play. He'd play left tackle. With these young guys, it's so hard. They want to play, and they're used to playing. That's what you want. That frustration is what makes you better if you use it in the right way. You work harder, you push harder, you put more into it. He made a play last night in practice where he jumped up and grabbed the ball with one hand. He's pushing himself to be the best he can be.

"I said we MIGHT try him at safety. He's put two weeks in at corner and is starting to get a feel there. It's a little easier there in terms of the checks and so forth. So when you move him to safety, all of a sudden the wheels start turning sometimes and the movement and reactions slows down. We have to make sure we do the right thing there."

How is the health status of the team?

"In terms of injuries, I feel pretty confident that Rejus (Arrelious Benn) will be back out there. He was running around out there yesterday and catching the ball. Jason (Ford) and Daniel Dufrene should be back and ready to go. Otherwise, we're pretty healthy. Martez had a stinger, so we'll probably withhold him tonight to make sure he's ok down the road."

How do the injuries to running backs Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford plus the one game suspension of Mikel Leshoure affect the playing time for Justin Green and Troy Pollard?

"Justin showed us he can play. And also Troy Pollard. He did a nice job, and I have no qualms with having Troy in there. With our running back depth, we should be in pretty good shape.

"Troy has great vision and great hands out of the backfield. He's a great guy, I love him. He's a good running back, he really is. He sometimes looks like he's taking little small steps, but somehow it's different when you go to tackle him than it looks."

Do you plan to use quarterback Juice Williams more in the running game?

"If you were to ask Juice what he would want for his first play, he would probably want to run the ball. That's something he does well. It gets him going. Obviously, we've got to be smart. But we want to make sure we use all our weapons.

"Offensively, we've got to push the ball down the field. We can't be afraid to run the ball more with Juice. We're gonna do the things we feel we can do the best."

What was your impression of the special teams?

"I was very pleased with Anthony Santella. I've been very happy with him the last four weeks. I thought for the most part our special teams played pretty well. We have to continue to improve and get better."

How does the team feel after the loss? How do you respond to all the fan criticism?

"Our football team feels bad. They're embarrassed. They know we're a better football team than what we played. I think you've got to give a little credit to Missouri too. They're a pretty good football team.

"I told Coach (Ron) Guenther last night, five years ago no one cared. Now, the expectations have been raised, and that's what we want. I want our football team to be as good as anyone else's. Part of that is taking the bad with the good.

"I'm one of the fans. I want our team to play the way they are capable of playing, just like our fans. We need to play with the energy and excitement we talk about."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories