Zook Convinced Illini Problems Can Be Fixed

One of the hardest jobs for a college football coach is facing media scrutiny after a frustrating loss. Fighting Illini coach Ron Zook has now done it four times since the Ohio State loss, and he continues to believe his team can regroup and have a successful season. He discussed the mistakes that plague the team and the struggles of the offense among other things.

Illinois football coach Ron Zook provided an opening statement to assembled media Tuesday.

"First of all, let me start by saying that obviously we've played two games that no one is happy about. Our job is to get this thing corrected, and that's what we're going to do.

"Obviously, we have another great test coming in here this weekend, and that'll be a great atmosphere, a great situation. Like I've told the coaches and players, we've worked too hard to get to this point to go backward now. Do we have some things we have to get straightened out? Absolutely.

"It's our job as a coaching staff to get it fixed. It's their job as players to do the things that they're coached to do. As I told them again last night, I haven't lost faith in these guys. I haven't lost confidence in these guys. We just have to keep doing the things more consistently that we're able to do. As a coaching staff we have to do a better job and go from there.

"As I said, this will be another great test this week. There will be improvements made. I think we've gotten better from the first game."

Quarterback Juice Williams is receiving his share of blame for the failures of the Illini offense. Zook had plenty to say on that subject.

"I'm not going to say his mental state is the way you'd want it. There's no one who cares more about being successful and cares more for this university than Juice. He understands it's his job as a quarterback. He understands also that when things are good he gets too much credit and when things are not going the way you want them to he probably gets too much blame.

"That's part of the position, but Juice is a fighter. He's been there, and I'm very impressed with the way he talked to his football team last night and the way he practiced. He'll come out and prove that he can be the kind of quarterback that we all want him to be."

Specifically, Zook talked about Williams' ability to handle adversity.

"I've talked a lot about it to him. It's hard. It's hard for anybody to handle adversity like that. I've told him many times, he's been there as a freshman and he's been through it and he'll come out of it.

"He understands that he has to perform better. We have to put him in situations where he can perform better. I really believe that he's matured in a lot of ways. Like I told him, you come through the fire and you'll be better and stronger for it."

Is Williams losing confidence?

"I hope not. I don't think so. I think, once again, you get to play this position and you have to be the type of person where you can put it behind you and go. He's not the only quarterback out there in this country that's struggling a little bit right now. He understands that."

Is Williams someone who can demand better results from the offense?

"He is, he's going to be a little bit more demanding. I think we as a coaching staff have to be more demanding. We can't continually ask him to live outside his comfort zone.

"I went through the first two series on both sides of the football. If it was just one thing you can fix it, if it's a guy here, a thing here, a thing there. That's what we have to do is get the consistency. That's all of us. That's the coaches. It starts with me and the players as well."

Zook has spent sleepless nights analyzing the play of his team, including the transition to new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz.

"I've thought about this many nights now. What would you do differently, or would you do anything differently? I thought it was important as we started this thing to keep it the same as much as we possibly could. Maybe we should have been a little tougher on them and not take it for granted that we had a chance to be pretty good.

"We're going to be okay. We have to get it done, and we have to get it done now. We can't wait. I think our players understand the sense of urgency, our coaches understand the sense of urgency, and I understand the sense of urgency.

"You can't panic. If you panic, you're done. If you worry, it's a concern. The one good thing is that we have old enough players. We have some guys with experience that understand that's part of it. If we were all young like we were four years ago, then it's a little bit more of a concern. But we have guys who have been through the fire.

"I sit back and I look at them, I watch them. I want to see how they're reacting as well. To a man, they are hurt and they are frustrated with themselves, frustrated about the way things are going. Like I told them last night, we're the only guys that can change. No use looking outside, let's get the things changed and lets do it now."

Zook also addressed the abnormally high number of penalties.

"My complaint is foolish penalties. You're going to have penalties. Penalties are a part of the game. It frustrates you when you have foolish penalties, and that's the thing we can't have. We can't have a situation of one guy running on the field and one guy not coming off the field. We can't have a motion.

"I think holding sometimes is in the eyes of the beholder. You can't have holding, but still on the same token, I think you're going to have them occasionally. The foolish penalties like the motion and things like that, we can't have. Line it up wrong, can't have it."

Dere Hicks was called for a late hit out of bounds. Zook thought it was Supo Sanni's penalty.

"He's holding on for dear life. Somewhere along the line, you have to understand you're out of bounds and let go. That was a penalty because they called it a penalty.

"He was a yard inside when he wrapped up on him, and he's a guy that we stressed to all week long that you have to wrap up, you have to hold on and you have to go down with him. That's all he heard all week. I saw it on the replay. I looked at it many times, and I didn't see any pushing or shoving."

Zook said Martez Wilson came through his neck surgery well.

"On the injury outlook, everybody's healthier. Martez's surgery was a success. He should get out of the hospital today. Everything looks good there so obviously he'll be getting his rehab within the next couple weeks, and it should be a speedy recovery. Now it's on to the business of getting ready to play a good Penn State football team this week."

Who has stepped up their leadership with Wilson lost for the season?

"Ian Thomas is probably the guy that's stood up the most. Donsay (Hardeman), it's his personality, he's a vocal guy. He's struggling a little bit. Doug Pilcher is the guy that's just a steady force. He doesn't talk a lot, but he's just a steady force and him and Garrett Edwards have been the two guys that have led through the way they play. Ian has done a nice job, he's just an emotional guy and he plays emotionally."

Did Evan Frierson show enough to warrant increased playing time at middle linebacker?

"I think so. I was very pleased with the way Evan played for his first game. I told him before the game, you won't remember the first series, the first few plays. That's just the way it is with the excitement and so forth. I thought he played well.

"You can't judge by the number, I think he had 27 plays maybe, a pretty fair amount of plays. You can't judge how he's playing by the personnel that you have in there. In other words, if you have your base personnel or your nickel personnel or your dime personnel or your quarter personnel, that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how he's playing. It's what you're trying to match up defensive-wise."

Zook agreed that defensive end Clay Nurse played well against Ohio State.

"Clay probably played his best game. I'm really proud of him. Obviously you can't have facemask penalties, but he was going for him. Actually the offense can facemask, they can hit you in the facemask, and when he did that he kind of grabbed. You can't have it but sometimes that does happen. It wasn't malicious or an on purpose type thing. You have to let go.

"I think he's done a remarkable job and continues to get better and better. Clay has always had the ability. The one thing is that Clay tries to play his own game. But he's gotten more disciplined from that standpoint, and that's why he's going to see more playing time."

Arrelious Benn played a great game against Penn State two years ago. Is he ready to have that same type of game Saturday?

"Regus is everything we all know he is. He's a competitor, and he's looking forward to this game. He can't stand to lose either, and he's going to do everything in his power to do everything he can do in this game."

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