There's Still Two Chances For Illini Wins

The Fighting Illini football team lost it's last chance for a bowl bid by losing to Northwestern Saturday. But Ron Zook refuses to give up on the season. There are two games to play, and he wants to see his team, especially the seniors, enjoy their last few days of college football and win more games. He discussed this and other things in his teleconference.

Illinois coach Ron Zook is nothing if not resilient. He has taken one shot to the chin after another this season, but he is still determined to produce victories in the last two games. He owes it to the seniors to help them go out on a positive note.

"We've still got two games to play. For these seniors, they have two to go. This is their last 20 days of football. This is what they will always remember.

"Some of them may think they're gonna play at the next level, but most of them are not. So we've got to try to get them to understand this is it. You've been playing this sport for an awfully long time, you've put alot into it. Let's do this thing the way you're supposed to do it."

Zook was asked if he would continue to rest quarterback Juice Williams, whose ankle sprain is healing quickly.

"No, I don't think so. He may not do too much tomorrow, but I expect him to practice Tuesday and Wednesday and for sure next week. He had his rest yesterday."

He says Jacob Charest did well against the Wildcats, especially in the second half. But Williams will be the starter against Cincinnati.

"We'll go into this game with Juice as the quarterback if he's healthy. We owe Juice more than that. I think Juice is a warrior, he's a fighter, and he'll be ready to go. He probably could have played yesterday if we'd forced the issue. But the doctors didn't feel like it was in Juice's best interests. That's what you try to look at.

"We're gonna try to do our best to win these next two games. In my opinion, Juice will give us the best chance to win these next two games."

Zook discussed the injury situation.

"Dere (Hicks) got clipped on the one play along the sideline. He got hit in the ribs. But I think he'll be okay. Jack Ramsey got a sprained ankle. He may not be able to go full go tomorrow, but he'll be okay as well.

"Donsay (Hardeman) tweaked his neck again, so that will be up in the air again. I would be shocked if Oh-Oh (Michael Hoomanawanui) doesn't play against Cincinnati. Completely shocked."

Zook was asked his thoughts on the play where many felt Jarred Fayson caught a fourth down pass and was down before the ball was stolen from his grasp. He had to be cautious with his response.

"I saw it up close and personal, but I'm not supposed to say anything. In my vision, it was a catch. He was on the ground, and he had it in his hands. I haven't seen the replay."

With Matt Eller in a prolonged slump, it appears Derek Dimke will kick field goals against Cincinnati.

"Right now, I'd say we'll probably start with Derek. Derek has done a good job of kicking off, and I want to make sure that doesn't affect him in that regard.

"Matt's not done. He's eventually gonna get out of this slump that he's in and be hitting it. I talked to him about not kicking this week, just taking the week off. He didn't want to do that. We have a luxury in that we have two guys that can kick pretty well."

It is unusual to have a bye week this late in the season. It is also unusual to play a Friday night game like the one at Cincinnati November 27. Zook has to be creative in scheduling practices.

"Today will just be meetings. We'll go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. And then they'll be off Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then we'll be back in Sunday. Sunday is kind of like Monday."

He may give the younger players some practice time this week, but his primary focus will be preparing for one of the top ten teams in the country in the unbeaten Bearcats.

"We may do some of that toward the end of practice tomorrow. But Tuesday and Wednesday, we're gonna get ready for Cincinnati. I'll worry about next year next year. I'm more concerned about Cincinnati right now."

Zook was asked if there was any one area of the team that got away from him this year. It gave him the chance to provide his overview of Illinois' football future.

"I don't know if there was any one area. I think that's something we'll evaluate at the end of the season. We'll fix the things we need to fix.

"It's not like it was five years ago. We've still got a pretty good foundation here. We may not be at the summit, but we're definitely at Camp 3 or Camp 4. It's gonna take another surge of energy, which we'll get, to take it to the top."

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