Zook Addresses The Media

Coach Ron Zook and his assistants will hit the recruiting trail later this week, since the Fighting Illini don't play until Sept. 26 at Ohio State.
Coach Ron Zook and his assistants will hit the recruiting trail later this week, since the Fighting Illini don't play until Sept. 26 at Ohio State.

Sept. 15, 2009

Opening Statement

"I've been asked the question a bunch of times about having the open day this early, if I would rather have it later. I'm obviously a proponent of the open day. I think it's very important. It's just hard to go 12 straight weeks, it really is. It's hard for the coaches and it's hard for the players. Would we rather have it later, maybe two weeks later? Yes, maybe. I like the fact that it is coming at a good time. I think it gives us an opportunity for us to get better, which we obviously have to do. We have to make some more progress. We have to continue to make progress. We have to get healed up and I think it's important to get some rest to before this gigantic challenge that we are getting ready to face in not only the next game, but the stretch of games that we are getting ready to play. I'm kind of glad that at least we have an open day, that's important. In terms of the game last week, I think the first half of the game we played a lot closer to the way we would expect us to play. As a coaching staff, I liked the way our offense came out in the first series of the third quarter when we went down and scored. We had too many penalties and stuff like that that we need to get corrected, but on the same token I think we made progress. Do we have to continue to make progress? Absolutely. Health-wise, everyone practiced yesterday. Martez (Wilson) was out in a red jersey running around and he would bite at the bit. Hopefully we will be 100 percent by the time Monday comes around. For players of the game, Jason Ford was the offensive player of the game, Doug Pilcher was the defensive player of the game, and Aaron Gress was the special teams player of the game. Aaron had four tackles on kickoffs, two solo tackles and two assisted tackles. He did a great job. Once again, do we have some work to do? Absolutely. I told them Sunday night that we are going to get better this week and we are going to get rest this week. We are going to use it to full advantage."

On the practice schedule during the bye week:

"Normally Sunday is our day off, because you have to have one day a week off. What we did Sunday was we lifted, we ran and we watched tape. We put the game behind us. We practiced yesterday, we practiced today and we are going to practice tomorrow. Normally on Mondays we will go out in shells, but yesterday we went out in shoulder pads and thigh pads. Today and tomorrow will be full pads. Then they will be off Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They will get four days to catch up and regroup. I think once again that it's good for them. It keeps them from getting stale, particularly for the younger guys. I had a lot of freshmen tell me yesterday that they were understanding what I meant when I talked about hitting the wall. And I told them this is a bit too early to hit that wall. But I said, `How would you like to be Juice (Williams) in his freshman year when he was the starting quarterback and there were no open dates?'"

On what the players are focusing on during the bye week:

"Academics. Obviously we are giving them time off of football but not time off of school. It's important for them that they get that stuff handled. We set this up a couple weeks prior to this, knowing that it was coming. If their schedule is such that they can get out of town Friday or Friday afternoon, then I'm all for it."

On the next three games:

"We haven't talked a lot about the three game swing. Obviously we talked about the schedule in camp. We all know the next game is going to be a great challenge. But once again, like I told them in the first meeting, I haven't changed my thinking that this football team can be a great team. Do we have some work to do? Absolutely. But that is part of the game. You are usually better at the end of the season then you are in the beginning. It's just that the bar has been pushed up a little earlier for us."

On the health of the team:

"Juice (Williams) is going to be fine. Martez (Wilson) is going to be fine. Arrelious (Benn) is going to be fine. Juice could have come back in the game. He was all over me. He was mad at me. I went to the doctor and said, `Give me your opinion,' and he said, `You are risking the possibility of hurting it worse.' It's a quad strain and he's going to be fine. He was fine yesterday. He was a little stiff, but I called him going home Sunday night and he said `Coach, I'm going to be fine.' He felt pretty good. Injuries are like Miami Thomas. I went to visit him Friday after the surgery, and that's an injury. That poor guy is lying there, and that's an injury you hate to see. The rest of the injuries are just bumps, and they are going to come back."

On the progress made since Missouri:

"The emotion is a big thing. That really was a big thing to me. I pointed it out to them on Doug Pilcher's interception. You saw the sideline. They were jumping. The offensive coaches were jumping, Jarred Fayson came down and he was jumping over people, Woody (Mike Woodford) got ran over. In football, you work too hard not to enjoy it. Guys make big plays. You watch Dere Hicks, he's running down and getting blocks, getting in front of people and sprinting down the field. To answer your question, I think we have made a lot of progress. We are not there yet, obviously, but we have to continue to make progress. I think we played more in the first half like how we are supposed to play."

On whether the gap between Division 1AA and Division 1A teams is closing:

"Absolutely. I don't think there is any question. There is parity in football, I've said it a thousand times in any given day. They are going to play their best. You have heard me say this many times, there is a very, very small line between playing there and playing here. I said it after the Missouri game, they played that day and we didn't. When you are a good football team and you play a good football team but you don't play with good energy or emotion, then that's what is going to happen."

On the players playing with more emotion:

"I think it was them doing it. As bad as we all felt after the first game, they felt worse. That's when I knew we had a chance. If it didn't bother them and they didn't care, then we would have some issues. I don't know if it got out last week or not, but Rejus had a team meeting on Monday after the first game. I'm not sure what they talked about, but I know they watched some tape. But those are the things you have got to have."

On if any of the running backs have separated themselves from the group, either positively or negatively:

"No I don't think anyone has, for sure not negatively. Because we have been bummed up a little bit we haven't been able to. But I think everyone is going to see that we are going to be okay at running back."

On the defense:

"I'll be honest, when I left here Saturday night I didn't have concerns because I've coached secondary for a lot of years. I've been on both sides of the fence. But I came in and I watched the tape. I watched every single play. I came in at 6:30 Sunday morning. Did we play perfect? No. But everything bad that happened can be very easily corrected. The thing that upset me more than anything, more than the pass coverage, is missed tackles. You take away the three missed tackles and you take away 110 yards from their passing game. Those are five-yard, four-yard, or three-yard pass plays that turn into big plays. Now, occasionally the shot they hit for 18 yards twice, that's going to happen sometimes. If they throw the ball and catch it and if the corner doesn't hit the guy, it's a timed route. It's like I tell them, they are throwing that route and we have 10 guys on the field if the corner doesn't get a jam on the receiver. Those are things we can get corrected, and those are things we are going to get corrected."

On Illinois State's game plan:

"Their game plan was to come in here and throw real quick three to four yard passes and take a long shot occasionally. Cut the defensive line, chop, mass protect. Anytime we got to the quarterback - you saw the percentages - the quarterback wasn't really accurate. They came in with a good plan. I think they had maybe two pass completions for negative yards, and I think those were like a running play. I'm assuming they felt their best chance was to chop the lineman, throw quick passes and get their hands down."

On his reaction to mistakes in the game:

"I called my wife and I said `Honey, we are going to be fine.' I don't listen to the noise in the system, but I have the same concerns everyone else does. The difference is I am able to evaluate it, see it and watch what happens. I can assure you when a pass is completed, a run is completed, a ball is dropped, or we get a holding call, my gut hurts. I'll give you a perfect example. Did any of you watch the Ohio State vs. Southern Cal game? The Ohio State guy is wide open and all he has to do is take the ball off the guy's foot and they win the game. I mean, it's a game of about that much. Like I told the (defensive backs), if you make a mistake that big it gets exaggerated. If you miss a tackle or a charge or if a linebacker doesn't take his man, those are just little mistakes. But you can't have those mistakes. Those are the things that as a coach you have to try to correct. You have to make sure the system is simple enough so you aren't trying to do too much. But we are going to continue to get better. Everyone wants Terry Hawthorne in there. I do too. You want good athletes out there. But the thing you don't want to do, particularly back there, is guys getting thrown in too early and they lose their self confidence. It can happen back there. It's a mistake that you make, it's a very little mistake. One step is three yards. You have to make sure you're not losing steps, but that you're gaining steps."

On Donsay Hardeman:

"Here is what is going through Donsay's mind now. Donsay is a hitter. That's what he has grown up on. When he was in high school in Jacksonville, Florida that is what he did. I said, `Donsay look, just get them on the ground. There are two reasons why. I care about your safety and they are going to call you on stuff.' Like the call they made in the Missouri game. It wasn't, but they are going to call it if it looks like it. There was no head-to-head, he didn't even lead with his head. He's trying to change his style with a little bit of tackling. We will get that corrected. It's just a different style he is going to have to come up with."

On penalties and turnovers:

"I looked at the penalties pretty closely. We can't have motion and there are some things there. The officials in the first part of the season are trying to emphasize certain things. You don't want to have penalties. We didn't really have penalties that hurt us in the first game, but we had a bunch in the second game, the holding penalties in particular. With the holding, they could probably call holding every play. It's hard for me to understand how we can have four and they can have none. Once again, we have to take care of us and correct our game. Penalties and turnovers are always things that you have to be on the positive side of."

On the suspended players (Mikel LeShoure and Ashante Williams):

"They are going to work their way back on the team. They practiced yesterday. They have a few more things that they have to make sure I feel good about. Other than that, they should be back on the team. Probably for the Ohio State game."

On Miami Thomas: "When I first saw him, he was just getting off the anesthetics so he kind of smiled at me. The last time he came out of the anesthetics I was in the bed right beside him. I talked to him Sunday, and Miami will be fine. It's just an emotional thing for a guy. He has a chance to be one heck of a football player. He's had to pay the price. He's got every joint now, both shoulders and both knees. Hopefully we have him ready to go, and he should be ready next year."

On how he will spend the bye week:

"I'm going to try and get on the road a little bit on Friday, but Saturday I'm going to watch some football. I think it's important we get a little break, too. We'll be out two days - on Thursday and Friday the coaches will be out and I'll be out Friday."

On Dere Hicks:

"Dere just had one step (on Pilcher's interception). He might have gone the distance. The thing that excited me first of all was how far he had to come to get the football. Then you saw the people take off and the sideline's reaction - that's a team. Jarred Fayson - he ran over somebody. You expect the defensive coaches to be fired up but the offensive coaches are fired up and that's what you have to have.

On Doug Pilcher:

"The thing about Pilcher is that he is a guy who is quiet and not as flashy, but he's where he's supposed to be placed with great leverage. He's strong and he just makes stuff happen."

On Clay Nurse:

"Clay will get on that edge. He was offside one time, but Clay is getting better and better. We're able to rotate those guys, and we can bring him along slowly. I think he has a chance."

On Justin Green:

"I think Justin is doing well, he really is. Justin played 26 plays and he'll get better every time. It's so different for a freshman. I mean you look at Jason Ford and Mikel (LeShoure) now, one year makes such a difference in what's going on and how they feel about themselves. I've said this a bunch of times, but football is a reaction game. If you're thinking, you're probably not moving too fast. I think every time he gets on the field he's going to get better. He is tough. He had a penalty on the punt return team, which sometimes they call sometimes they don't, but he was getting after it and he was playing hard. He's getting physical."