After Further Review, Illini Have Work To Do

Last night's win over the Illinois State Redbirds was important for morale. It was a stepping stone for the Fighting Illini football team after a frustrating loss versus Missouri. Coach Ron Zook discussed the good and bad from the ISU game and what lies ahead.

Illinois coach Ron Zook met the media immediate after the ISU game and again Sunday afternoon by teleconference. While there were a number of mistakes, the overall result was improvement over the first week.

"I do think there is a lot more positive to build on than negative."

Zook liked the attitude of the team to begin the game. He tried to prevent a second half letdown, but he was not surprised there was one.

"First of all, we played with a lot more emotion. We talked at halftime about coming out in the third quarter and playing with emotion, and I thought we would be when the offense took the ball and went down and scored. You always worry about a lull where the game can turn on you."

He was pleased with the effort of backup quarterback Eddie McGee and the running attack.

"I thought he did well. He threw a couple bad balls, and a couple times he ran the ball when he should have handed off. But that's the most he's played since he's been here. He'll get better. This will help him down the road.

"Eddie was 13 for 17. He had the one pick, which was a long ball down the field. I thought for the most part Eddie threw the ball well. The receivers caught the ball well. I thought other than Rejus' holding call they blocked pretty well on the perimeter. For our running game to take off, particularly our option game, the receivers have to be able to block."

Did you consider giving third team quarterback Jacob Charest some game action?

"Nope. Obviously, he was the next guy to go in. Eddie's the backup quarterback. Eddie had an opportunity to play in the game, and I think he deserves that (to finish the game)."

Zook got what he wanted from the game, although he was aware star receiver Arrelious Benn didn't get any official touches.

"I think so. We came out of it without any injuries. Even though Rejus (Benn) didn't touch the ball, we had some plays called where we thought he was gonna get it, and there were a couple misreads. But the fact he didn't have it, we didn't have to worry so much about somebody falling on his ankle.

"But you saw that he was ready to go. You don't design the offense to get the ball to #9. The quarterback has reads. Juice's first year we did that, but hopefully now we're beyond that and he throws to the guy he's designed to throw it to. When he came back in the backfield, he was gonna get the ball, and Eddie really should have given it to him twice. But when he didn't, it didn't bother me too much."

Those who either missed the opening game due to injury or went out during the Missouri game were healthy enough to play Saturday.

"All the guys who were nicked up got back out there and played and got game experience. Obviously, that's gonna be very important for the next game."

Zook says Juice Williams has a minor injury and should be ready for Ohio State in two weeks.

"Juice is sore today. We're doing some lifting and light running today, and he'll probably be on the bike. They feel like he'll be sore a couple days, but they don't feel like it's something that's gonna linger too long."

Initially, Zook thought middle linebacker Martez Wilson would play, but they decided to err on the side of caution.

"I really didn't think he would miss the game, but he has a strained neck. Obviously, that's something we're not gonna mess with. But you could tell we missed him out there. Hopefully, we can get him back in two weeks.

"He was better every day, and he's better today. I was surprised they decided we probably didn't need to play him. If Martez had played, we would have played the same packages. When you're playing spread offenses, you play the extra defensive back in there."

Fred Sykes sustained the only other injury in the game, and he should also recover within two weeks.

"He had a hip pointer. He got an elbow. They're really painful. It's not necessarily a serious injury, but it's a painful injury."

Will the suspensions of running back Mikel Leshoure and safety Ashante Williams be just the one game?

"I will talk to them tomorrow for sure. We want to make sure they're on board with us and will do things the way they need to be done. If they agree to that, we'll probably bring them back."

There was the inevitable question about the play of the Illini secondary.

"You go back and look at the first half. The secondary probably played as well as it possibly could. There were a couple things, particularly when they hit that hole shot in there. Actually, it wasn't all Dontae's (Hardeman) fault. He's got to get some help from the corner, so we need an adjustment there.

"Every time they complete a pass, it's the secondary's fault. They were throwing the ball extremely quick, and the quarterback was on. We were pressuring, and we weren't gonna get there. The second half, we were a little sloppy in the first series. Back there, you can't relax.

"(Hardeman) He missed two tackles, and you can't miss tackles. We'll help him on the hole shot. But the missed tackles I'm upset about."

Zook might have preferred to have a bye week a little later in the season. But the team needs to improve some things.

"Ideally, we would probably like another game or two (before an open date). But it's the way it is. I just think it's a good chance to regroup a little bit. There are a lot of things we've got to get better at, and it's important we get better. When you're game-planning, it's hard to work on the things you really need to work on. When you're game-planning, you're working on their stuff.

"We've got to get better this week. Open dates are a time you can give them a little time off. But on the same token, we've got to work. Usually, we don't work on Sunday. We're working today, and then we'll take next weekend off."

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