Zook Proud Of Effort, Must Correct Mistakes

The result was the same as the last few years in St. Louis, but there was a different feeling for the Fighting Illini after the Missouri football game Saturday. Coach Ron Zook felt the team played well most of the game and responded positively to the challenge of competing against an excellent team. There was much to build on for the rest of the season.

Illinois coach Ron Zook talked with the media Sunday about the Missouri game, after the dust had settled and he had a chance to review the game film. He appreciated how his players responded to the setback.

"They responded exactly how I wanted them to respond. They're hurt. We had a team meeting when we first got back. We talked for a few minutes, and they responded exactly the way I would want them to respond."

Is it usual to call a meeting after a game?

"No. We've done it before I think. I just thought it was important that we talk. We talked about the team and what we've got to do."

While the Illini defense gave up significant passing yardage to the Tigers, Zook found reason for optimism.

"I thought there were a lot of good things and a lot of bad things, things we've got to get fixed. I thought they played hard. Even on the last play of the game, they were playing just as hard as they can play. I think when you've got that, you've got a chance."

The Illini were forced to use three offensive performers on defense as last minute replacements for injured teammates, and Zook felt all three asserted themselves in the game.

"I thought they played excellent. Justin Green played exceptionally well. I thought Steve Hull played well. Jack Ramsey didn't play much back there because he was cramping up, but I thought he played well. I thought the new guys really did a nice job.

"I talked to Steve last night. I was very proud of him, very proud of the way he played. He showed a great toughness. I saw him in the training room this morning. I was kind of laughing and said, 'I bet it's been some time since you felt this sore.' He had a big smile on his face. He's all in, I know that."

All six of the Illinois special teams were outstanding Saturday. It was a pleasant contrast to some of the inconsistencies of previous seasons.

"I thought we played special teams about as well as we've played since I've been here, in all phases. I thought we kicked the ball well and covered the ball well. We had a 52 yarder (field goal) in a mayday situation. The clock was running and we had to run out there and kick the field goal. I thought that was all good."

The offense was good at times but sputtered in the second half. Some of that was due to the fact redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase was playing his first college game. Zook still believes in his young quarterback.

"I think he's gonna play his way through things. It's one of the things we're excited about him. He's not gonna make the same mistake twice. I thought he showed great toughness and effort.

"He'll be the first to tell you that you can't turn the ball over, and a little bit of that comes from pressing too much. A couple of the high throws were from pressing too much. But I think that will all come with experience.

"He texted me last night at 9:30 or 10:00 pm, and he was watching the tape, which I figured (he would do). He was down there this morning watching it some more. He'll do everything in his God-given power to get better and to help this football team."

Zook discussed how Mizzou was able to stifle the Illini offense second half.

"I think number one, they crowded the box. They put as many guys up there as they could, and they made it hard that way. And Paul (Petrino, offensive coordinator) got away from some of the things we were doing the first half.

"We probably should have stuck with those things. Make them stop those things before we tried other things. Do exactly what we were doing first half and not worry about trying to change until they stop what we were doing.

"I understand exactly where Paul was coming from and what he was trying to do. Hindsight is 20:20. It's easy to call plays after the fact."

Zook lamented the Illini's inability to sustain drives on their first couple possessions of the second half. On the first drive, Scheelhaase had an open receiver on third and six but was sacked before he could throw the ball. On the second one, A.J. Jenkins dropped a pass on another third and six.

"You get those things going and make those conversions, then who knows what happens. We probably got away from what we were doing because we were going three and out. We tried to find something to make something happen."

The offense was also hurt by four false start penalties in the game.

"A little bit of it is the crowd noise. It's something that's hard to practice until you get in there. Some of them I'm not exactly sure they were false starts. But that happens in noise. It's something people have trouble with when it's loud. Maybe we didn't practice that enough."

Illinois deployed three tight ends in the game. With starter Zach Becker out with a stress fracture, freshman Evan Wilson, redshirt freshman Justin Lattimore and sophomore walkon Ed Viliunas were all seeing their first varsity action. No passes were thrown to the tight ends, making one wonder if that was to take pressure off them.

"I don't know if that was the reason why or not. You do the things the defense gives you."

Zook is not looking to make major changes in the depth chart for the Southern Illinois game next Saturday.

"I don't know if there will be so many position changes. I think for the most part everyone played hard. They gave us all they have. We've just got to correct some of the mistakes we made so we don't give up as many big plays."

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