Big Win Over Wolverines Deserves Another Look

That warm glow still hovers over Memorial Stadium and the Illini Nation one day after the Fighting Illini football team resurrected its dormant season with a rousing triumph over the Michigan Wolverines. For a change, it was fun for players and coaches to meet the media and discuss specifics afterward.

Illinois coach Ron Zook was obviously relieved to face the media in the Michigan postgame press conference. Some of his thoughts follow:

* "Wins are hard to come by. If you could see their faces, see the excitement in their faces and the emotion they showed. They had to fight for it.

"Terry Hawthorne's play, holy smokes. We talk about letting the plays come to you. Terry goes down there and makes an unbelieveable play. A lot of guys would have quit. Terry didn't quit, he kept going and made the play of the game, maybe the play of the year. And then the defense rises up and has a goal line stand. It's a good feeling.

"Terry can run. Terry's a lot like Vontae Davis. Vontae has no idea how fast he is. He just runs as fast as he needs to. Terry ran as fast as he neede to run. He got a bunch of experience today, and he's gonna continue to get better and better. He's gonna be a good football player.

"(Goal line stand) I think there was an array of emotion. First of all, it's third and seven. Walt (Aikens) lets the guy get inside of him, and they throw the ball down there well. Terry finishes it off by stopping the guy on the one. Right then, it was like I've been preaching all year. It's a 100 yard field, 60 minute game, keep playing. The score doesn't matter til the game's over.

"(Meaning of beating UM two games in row) Obviously it means a lot. I'm just glad to win finally. We can't go around and beat our chest like we're it. We've still got a lot to do. The good thing is we can build on this and get better. This is the shot in the arm we needed.

"(Chris James took advantage of opportunity) I think he's one of them. He's one of the guys that's been around here a long time.

"(Halftime adjustments) Yeah, we did a couple things. You always try to do that. You always try to put your players in situations where they can be successful.

"I know there were some people upset at the end of the half, why we were running the ball. Every play you call you want to be successful. But sometimes it's not. Maybe you don't want to put the defense back out on the field and take some time off the clock. Those are the things you have to think about as the game goes along.

"I thought the offense played great. Other than a couple series, they were moving the ball. They felt good, they felt confident. And the goal line stand, that just ignited everybody.

"(Why Jacob Charest didn't see time at quarterback) For all intents and purposes, we planned to put Jake in the game. Other than the last two series of the first half, we were moving the ball on offense. I said at halftime, 'Let's see what happens the first series of the third quarter, and we'll make a decision then.' I just felt we were in a rhythm, so I left Juice in there.

"(How hard has the losing streak been for you?) For coaches, this is our job. We buy into this thing, so whatever happens, the negative publicity and so forth... But those guys don't understand. When you play college football at this level, it's what you buy into. It's been hard on them.

"(What this game means for the future) This game doesn't mean everything's okay. We've still got four games to go, and they're games that are gonna be very important.

"(On the injury situation) They decided Thursday it would be best if Oh-Oh (Michael Hoomanawanui) didn't go. It's his ankle. Sooner or later, we've got to get it better. He's frustrated. Jarred (Fayson) is very close. I thought Jarred would play this week. Donsay (Hardeman) kind of tweaked his neck on Thursday, so he was out.

"When Rejus (Arrelious Benn) went down there, he tweaked his ankle today, you know what? Guys gotta play. When your opportunity comes, you've got to take advantage of it. Those guys stepped up.

"(Why not before today) It's a funny game. I just felt like a blanket was lifted off of us finally. I've always felt good about the preparation. They prepare every week. It's been there, we have it. But it's hard to explain why. We finally had to convince ourselves."

* Offensive coordinator Mike Schultz:

"(What clicked today) If I knew that, I would have tried to click it a lot earlier than the third quarter today. The kids kept playing hard. I'm excited for the kids. I'm excited for Juice Williams. I thought our running backs played hard today. They don't get much credit, but they made some huge runs. I didn't call them better, the kids played better. I was wrong sometimes, and the kids made me right.

"Let me tell you something. Our kids have been resilient. They kept playing, they kept practicing. I'm just very happy for the kids."

* Co-Defensive Coordinator Dan Disch:

"You don't want it to be as big as it is, but the reality is these things give you hope and keep you playing. We had some plays that changed momentum today, and it was good.

"All week he (Zook) was real positive. He just wanted them to continue to play hard. They were focused on doing something special (long time beating UM at home). When we've had the type of year we've had, that was appetizing. It was good.

"You saw some of the things we can do. Hopefully, this will start us in the right direction, getting back to where we think we can be. We know we've got good players. They play hard and they're with us. They just needed something good to happen. Hopefully, this will get us going a little bit.

"(linebackers more aggressive today) Yeah, they played hard. That's always been our goal.

"We had a few breakdowns, but I thought the defense as a whole hung in there and gave us a chance to win. I thought the biggest thing is we created some turnovers which we hadn't done.

"Once this thing starts going downhill, it is a confidence issue. The coaches talked about it for weeks. We just needed good things to happen, and more than that for the kids to play their butts off. They did that today."

* Quarterback Juice Williams:

"(How does this game rank for you personally?) It's up there. I had the ability to sit back and watch my teammates have a chance to win and be happy. It was a great job we did out there. I've got to take my hat off to Terry Hawthorne. That play really gave us the boost we needed. And the way the defense had that goal line stand. I take my hat off to my teammates.

"(Pressure knowing other qb might be coming in) There's no pressure. If you need another quarterback to come in, you can't do anything but respect it. You're trying to win at the end of the day.

(What differences in play calling from the first half?) There were some very similar things called out there in the second half. As I said, I think the play by Terry produced what we needed. The first thing I told the offense, we've got to pay Terry back and the defense. They stood tall for us at the one yard line. You don't see that very often in college football. I think that really gave us the edge. It was the play of the game.

"(Leshoure's 4 yard run for a first down before his long touchdown run) Every time you convert a first down is always critical. It got to the point that on third down, I didn't panic. When they called running plays, I didn't panic. And somehow we usually got it. I think we did a great job today.

"(Rough go) It feels good. I'm blessed to be in this position. It's a great way to fight back. A lot of teams in this situation usually give up and quit. But we made a pact among ourselves. We're not gonna quit until the end of the season. That's the approach we had coming into this game.

"(Hearing cheers after the game) It was a different experience we haven't heard in awhile. But we have to start somewhere. I think this was the boost we need to go out these last couple games we've got and hopefully get the same results we did today. We've just got to take one game at a time.

"(Do you want Hawthorne as a receiver?) Naw, he's fine on defense. We can use that speed offensively, but he's helping us over there.

"(Chris James' catch) That was bigtime. Obviously, he's one of my closest friends. We grew up together. It was huge seeing him go lean over his shoulders and catch the ball. All those plays were very critical. I think we did a pretty good job today.

"(What it means to you to get Zook a win) It means a lot. Coach Zook has been through alot. I can't imagine what he goes through, waking up every day wondering what people have to say.

"He has to stand up to it every day. He has to take the blame for everything that goes wrong. The win today will give him some sort of relief, but it's not the end of the season. I'm pretty sure he knows that. But I feel great to be part of this team right now.

"(Were you playing for Zook's future?) We try not to thing of it that way, but I'm sure it's probably crossed guys' minds. We're just trying to take one game at a time, one play at a time. Hopefully, that all works out in the end for everybody.

"(What was different about today?) It was just essentially relaxing. Coach Zook and me had a talk last year before the Michigan game. He told me just to relax and have fun. We had the same talk this week. Just relax, let things happen, let plays come to you. That's what I did. I tried not to be too much of a playmaker and let things come to me. And it worked out."

* Mikel Leshoure:

"(Did Hawthorne and goal line stand boost offense?) I think Terry Hawthorn had the play of the game. A play like that was real big. Not only did he make a stop, but he gave the defense energy. They got going to make the goal line stop, which turned the game around for us.

"They gave the whole team energy. Just him showing to never give up on a play. Like Zook told us, just play one play at a time. We did that on that possession, which carried over to the rest of the game.

"(Fighting hard for extra yardage) They always preach a good running back gets yards after contact. Coach Mitchell tells us to make the defense tackle us. We just want to keep our feet moving. Whether we get touched behind the line of scrimmage or in front of it, we just want to make the second guy make us go down.

"(Why was the team more fired up today?) We get pumped up for every game, but this week the coaches expressed to us how the last time we beat them here was in 1983. The whole team wasn't even alive. We wanted to come out, not only for ourselves but for the fans and alumni, and get this win. It was real important for us.

(Effect of J Leman's Friday speech to the team) I think that speech helped us out alot. He basically gave us his perspective. He was on both sides. He was here when they were 1-11 or 2-10, and then he was here when they went to the Rose Bowl. So he told us to keep our heads up. We've got to stick together and feed off our own energy, don't think so much just go out and play. That's exactly what we did today.

"(Imporance of the win) This win gives us a bit more confidence. Regardless of who you are or how the coaches are talking to you, when you lose you lose confidence. This game was a confidence booster. It made us realize exactly what we can do, and the type of team we have if we don't beat ourselves. I think that's gonna carry into next week.

"I wish the previous games could have been different, but it isn't. We've just got to go from now to the future.

"(Did a light go on today?) I wouldn't necessarily say that. Coach Zook preached to us all week to just play. Do the hard work on the work days Monday through Friday and then just come out and play and not think as much. We were actually able to play today. A lot of guys were flying around, lots of celebrations, and that's what we need to win."

* Chris James:

"(On seeing close friend Williams have success) Oh, man, this is big. It's a lot of weight lifted off his shoulders just to get a win. Even though we're 2-6, just living in the moment, I just feel so good for him. It's a big relief for us. All quarterbacks take a lot of pressure, so this is big for him."

* Garrett Edwards:

"It's indescribable. It's a great feeling. We knew we could go out there and win. They're a great football team, and they're gonna continue to win games. We played with emotion, and we played loose. We fed off each other's energy, and that really showed. That was big.

"(Goal line stand, his 4th down stop) It started with Terry stepping up. They executed the play real well. Terry has unbelieveable speed as it showed. He got down the field and caught the guy, made a great play. We bowed up on defense. We stopped them when we needed to. On the fourth down, I knew he was down when I hit him. I'm glad the challenge went our way.

"(More comfortable at safety with more experience) Absolutely. There's no more time to make mistakes and play tentative. Now we're playing loose. I try to feed energy to everybody and get everybody with me. We fed off each other today, and I haven't really seen that from our defense all year. Just the energy and emotion was unbelieveable out there.

"(Can it continue?) Absolutely. I think we can definitely get this going week for week. We just have to work hard and continue to get better. This was just a huge win. We knew we could do this all along, but we finally just stood up and did it. It was all just a matter of us playing loose. We didn't have much to lose obviously.

"(Minnesota) Minnesota's a great team, and we're gonna go out there and study hard and prepare for them. It will definitely be nice to come in tomorrow and watch film on them off of this win. We're gonna continue to build on it and keep going."


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