Ron Zook, Fighting Illini Seeking Answers

After a frustrating loss at Ohio State, the Fighting Illini football team must pick up the pieces, look for ways of improving and prepare for another tough assignment against Penn State. It won't be easy, any more than it was easy for Ron Zook to meet the media Sunday. He didn't divulge any solutions, but he recognizes the need to improve the level of play.

Illinois coach Ron Zook says his players took the loss hard but are willing to keep working hard to correct mistakes and turn the program into a winner.

"A bunch of them actually came back and watched the tape last night. They're saying the right things and doing the right things. They're as frustrated as we are. We have to coach, and they have to play. We've got to get everybody on the same page and play the way we're capable of playing."

While there were some similarities to the Missouri loss, the Illini defeat at the hands of the Buckeyes did have one major difference.

"We've got to get things fixed immediately. But it was completely different yesterday as compared to St. Louis. Against Missouri, there was no enthusiasm. We didn't come out ready to play. But yesterday the energy was there, the excitement was there. The execution wasn't there. So half of the problem was fixed, now we have to get the other half fixed."

How do you go about fixing things?

"Number one, you have to evaluate what the problems are. Whether it be a missed tackle, whether it be a missed assignment, whatever. When this thing keeps popping up, you've either got to change what you're doing or change the person doing it. If you don't feel like you have someone else you can put in there, you've got to change what you're doing.

"Just because a system works well one time, doesn't mean it is good for somebody else. I think what coaches do is constantly evaluate what they're trying to do and what their players can do."

Zook said he is willing to make personnel changes, but he has not yet made any decisions in that regard.

"We're gonna continue to evaluate this thing. If those are some things we feel we need to do, that's what we're gonna do. I can assure you, I won't let us stay status quo. I've been in this situation before coaching. No one likes it. It's an awful situation. But I believe in our kids, I believe they'll make the changes. That's what we have to do, and they'll come out and do it.

"I won't discuss any changes at any position right now. I don't think you make hasty decisions. But when you do make a decision to improve a position, you go with it."

With many wondering if a change should be made at quarterback, Zook defended embattled Juice Williams.

"It's not all Juice. We've been on this tape now for about 8 hours. It's one here and one there. He's off because the route's too deep, he's off because the receiver doesn't run tight, he doesn't throw a good ball. All those things are an accumulation. When expectations are where they are, everybody wants results as we do. So that's our job as a coaching staff to get it fixed quick."

Is Williams' starting spot safe for now?

"Absolutely. Obviously, he feels awful because of the kind of person he is. I feel awful for Juice. The think about that position, when things go well, you get more credit than you deserve. And obviously when things go bad, you're gonna get more credit than you deserve. That's part of it. It's moreso that way than it's ever been with the exposure and so forth."

Arrelious Benn stated after the game that Williams' deep pass to the endzone was slightly underthrown and might have been a touchdown otherwise. Zook recognized how a quarterback feeling pressure to perform can err.

"Sometimes when you're pressing a little bit, it's like driving with your emergency brake on. It's not good."

Are you considering changing your system or overall philosophy on offense, defense or special teams?

"I'm confident in what we're doing, and I'm confident in our systems. There's certain things you might ask players to do. That doesn't affect your philosophy or your system.

"There's a lot of ways to do things. If we feel we are asking players to do things they're not capable of doing, that's not their best forte, then (you change it). You're constantly doing that. We have to make sure we're asking our people to do everything they're able to do."

Do you think the offense is struggling with the transition of offensive coordinators from Mike Locksley and Mike Schultz?

"I really don't. People ask questions about throwing the ball downfield, doing all those things. These are things Locks and I talked about as well. We talked about what our people do really well, and that's the things we want to concentrate on.

"I don't think there would be a lot of difference if Locks had not left. There's not a lot of difference. There's maybe some different formations. With Coach Schultz, you're gonna get a little bit of his personality in the play calling. But we haven't changed the terminology and all those things that we're trying to get accomplished."

Is Zook shocked by the downturn in his fortune?

"It's not something that I would have expected. I've been in the game long enough to know it can happen to anybody. You look around across the country."

Penn State is the next foe. The Nittany Lions lost at home to Iowa, making them doubly dangerous next week.

"Obviously, they're a good football team. They got beat by a good football team. They're gonna come in here and, like us, have to win unless you go down two in the Big 10."

Illinois players have bumps and bruises, but no one was hurt seriously in Columbus. As for their frame of mind, Zook is confident they will work hard this week and prepare to give maximum effort next Saturday.

"These guys will come out with the same attitude they've had since we've been here. They feel bad, and they're gonna come out here and try to rectify the situation. They understand it's important to them to play the way they're capable of playing and put on a show the way this university deserves. That's what these guys will try to do."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories