Transcript Of Coach Ron Zook's Media Luncheon Remarks

Coach Ron Zook and Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez are well acquainted.  It will be their first meeting while coaching at their respective schools.
Coach Ron Zook and Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez are well acquainted. It will be their first meeting while coaching at their respective schools.

Sept. 30, 2008

Opening Statement:

"If you like challenges you've got to love these next few weeks. Really, it's kind of like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Coming off of Penn State and going to Michigan, obviously everyone knows that Michigan had a big win this past week against Wisconsin. They were down 19 to nothing. We got an opportunity to see a little bit of it before we left for our game and when they told me in the locker room as we were getting dressed that they'd come back and won, I knew right then that they were all that we thought they were going to be. Now, I think it tells you two things about Michigan. Number one, they're just as talented as they've ever been on both sides of the football, a little bit younger maybe on offense than on defense. Their defense is a very veteran, skilled group, tough group of big defensive lineman that have been around here and played an awful lot of football. I think the other thing it tells you is that Rich and his staff have done a great job. They're a great coaching staff and they're going to be good just like you would always expect Michigan to be.

With that being said, still I think it's important that we focus on us as well. I think there are some things that we've got to get cleaned up, particularly on the defensive side of the football. For one, I think we've decided that we're going to play some more people on defense. We've got to help our guys out a little bit. Russell Ellington has really made some progress, and other than that one play in the Louisiana game where he didn't make the tackle, I think he's made a lot of progress in special team and so forth so we're going to get him and Sam Carson on the field more and give those guys a little bit of a rest there. I think in the secondary, with Donsay back, Donsay for playing his first college game in front of whatever crowd that was, I thought he played an awfully good game. He'll just continue to improve, it's important to him, he's got a feel for what he's supposed to do and with him being there and having him back, we'll take Travon Bellamy and let him play both where he can also play corner and safety. Travon's a guy that since he's been here, has always played an awful lot of plays. I can remember his freshman year one game, that might have been his first or second, excuse me his first scrimmage of his freshman year, I think he played 94 or 95 plays, so he's a guy who's always been able to handle a lot of plays and done a pretty good job there.

Tavon Wilson is another guy that, just like Miami, it was about this time last year that Miami Thomas showed that he can play. Corey Liuget, he's a freshman and once again these guys they get better and better as the season progresses, so we're going to get them in there and be able to spell those guys a little bit, keep them fresher and hopefully end up playing a lot better on defense. I think at times we did play well but obviously we got to stick a fork into the big play things that cause you problems. When you play good football teams like that, you can't allow those things to happen. The coaches are doing everything we can do, we're working our tails off, we're grinding on them, and you know, it's our job as a coaching staff to get it fixed. There's no doubt in my mind we'll get it fixed. Like I told them last night, it's another great challenge, another great opportunity to play in front of a hundred and whatever thousand and on national television. That's why you're playing in the Big Ten. Let's put what happened behind us, let's learn from it, and let's go back to work and they did that last night."

Corey Liuget (93) and Brit Miller (44) put the clamps on a Louisiana-Lafayette ball carrier.

On how Corey Liuget played:

"I thought Corey played extremely well, I mean he just gets better and better. He's a guy that's very athletic, at times he'll get high which is normal for a young guy, but I've just been very impressed, in fact he's further ahead than I thought he would be. At camp I thought he was going to have the chance to be an awfully good player and we felt early in camp that he was going to be a guy that was going to play for us as a freshman, but I think he's intelligent and understands the game and loves to play the game, and all those things help him."

On Corey Liuget's attitude:

"Great attitude, and the other thing that's great about Corey is that he understands the importance of academics. I had a little talk with him last week and he was kind of coming back off the open date and I told the coaches, all these freshmen, the hardest thing about an open day if there is a hard thing about it, I'm a proponent of it and I think everyone knows that, is that they get away for a little bit and when they come back it's like 'oh man' and it takes that couple hours to get over that. But I was talking to Corey and he was talking about academics and it's the same thing they all go through, and that's one of the reasons that the open date is so important."

On playing Sam Carson more:

"We've talked about it, there's a chance of that. There's a chance that Sam could play inside, but what you got to look at there is do you take Brit and do you take and change two positions, although Brit's played two years outside so he should be able to handle that. And this is a nickel game, this game anyway, more so because of the spread-you-out type thing. When you get into the Wisconsin's and the teams that are more basic formations, then you're going to play a more base personnel and have three linebackers in the game."

On playing more linebackers this game:

"No, this is a more of a nickel-type or two-linebacker-type game because of what they do personnel-wise. Their base personnel is three wideouts and one tight end, one back, or three wideouts and two backs. It usually puts you in more of a nickel-type situation, at least in long yardage situations, or longer yardage, it doesn't necessarily have to be third and long."

On how Brit has been playing:

"The only thing that Brit did in the first game, for example, he was maybe trying too hard, which, how can you fault a guy for that. Trying to do too much, maybe take care of his responsibilities and somebody else's too, but he's settled down now, I think he's playing well. He didn't tackle very well that first game, but as I said before, that was my fault. I think right now he's doing everything he can do. It's important to Brit to be the best player he can be and to have the best defense that he can have. He wants to be on the kickoff team, he wants to be on the punt team. Those are all things that are good."

Jeff Cumberland (17) hopes to resume being a major factor in Illinois' passing game after returning from an early-season injury.

On how Jeff Cumberland has been playing:

"I've been very impressed with Jeff. I told Jeff right before the game, right before we came up for the prayer and so forth, I told Jeff the same thing I told Miami, just like playing at Gately, just act like you're playing at Gately and at Memorial Park, just a few more people. But I thought he played well and he'll continue to improve and get better. I think once again, if there's a plus for coming in January, that's definitely a plus right there."

On Cumberland being ahead of where they thought he'd be:

"Absolutely, that's not to say that they still don't have a long way to go, but I think it's a good feeling knowing that these are good, young guys that are going to be awfully good players for us."

On what Michigan's win can do for their program:

"I know Rich pretty well and he's a great football coach, like I said. The thing that I did say that I was glad that we're playing Michigan early, I didn't necessarily want to play them right after Penn State but play them early because, they're going to get better and better as the year goes on. I think the thing that they came back from being down 18 to nothing and it gives them confidence, it gives them a little momentum. They feel good about themselves, they know that it's a sixty minute game and they're not out of it until it's over."

On Zook being happy that Michigan won their game:

"It doesn't make any difference what I wish, I mean, I probably would have been happy with the one and three to be honest with you. I wasn't concerned about it. I know the kind of talent they've got number one, and I know the kind of coaching staff that Rich has. He's a competitive guy just like myself and I know the things they do on offense cause you problems."

On how long it took Michigan to put in a new offense:

"Well, I don't know, I think the one thing they've done is they've kind of settled on the quarterback, and here's a guy who ran that offense in high school. We recruited him a little bit, and he ended up going to Georgia Tech first. So he understands it and knows what he's doing and I don't know if there's a time table but it looked like they were getting it out pretty good in that second half."

On Michigan's quarterback's game by game growth:

"Absolutely, and once again, I think that's one thing that shows you the staff, I mean they're confident, they know what they're doing, there's no panic going on there. They know they're going to be alright."

On recruiting freshmen:

"I think Zach, once again, it just goes to show you that the recruiting is not an exact science and we all miss some guys right there in our backyard and I'm glad that Zach is here. He's not only going to be a very good football player, but he's a great person and he's a great student and all the things you want in a student-athlete. You talk about being proud about the University of Illinois, he fits that mold."

On the kick coverage and possible changes:

"Well, you know, it's frustrating. I just, in fact this morning went back to all 25 of them that we've had this year, and outside the three of them, we've had pretty decent coverage, it's just the ones that stand out are the ones that, for whatever reason, we're not where we're supposed to be. To answer your question, yes we are going to make a few changes there and get a few more people in there. If you go back and look at the personnel we had on there last year and the personnel we have on there this year, we're probably, if you put it on paper are more athletic this year. But we're not getting it done. Part of it's the kicking and part of it's the coverage and the thing that was frustrating about Saturday night was that you could read their return and the one that we didn't read, when we didn't go where we're supposed to go, is the one that hurt us."

On kick coverage:

"No question, you're 100 percent right and there's nothing I can say about that. We've got to get it corrected and we can't let it happen. As I said, we came back for the one after that one and everybody went where they're supposed to be and it was great coverage. It goes back to guys doing the things that they are supposed to do and that's my job; our job as coaches is to get them to do that."

On running backs approach:

"Once again it was about a year ago when Rashard made the push but up until that point we were running back by committee as we are now. I've been very pleased with Daniel. He's a good running back and he's a hard guy to tackle. He had almost 100 yards on a pretty good defense. Jason came in and got his first touchdown and those guys are just going to continue to get better. Troy Pollard is a guy that's about 98 percent. His high ankle sprain has kept him from being 100 percent but he's another guy who can go in there as well. We'll be ok at running back and in most instances you mean more than one anyway."

On if running backs have different strengths:

"Yes, that's kind of what I said in the beginning. Jason's the only one we hadn't seen when we started fall camp, but everybody else we had an idea of what their strengths were. It was important to the coaching staff that we get the right guy in there are the right time. Not that Daniel can't do it all, or that any of them can't do it all, but I think it does give you an opportunity to keep guys fresh. It's very similar to what we did last year."

On changing lineup:

"I don't foresee starting lineup changes but I do see guys that are going to be held accountable. First of all it's not scheme. The scheme has done it, the scheme has proven, it was good last year. Sometimes it's the players you're playing, particularly the first game and this last game had pretty good offenses. Occasionally things will happen, but I think one thing too is that you can talk about guys playing 60-80 plays, but somewhere along the line, particularly if they're young, they're going to run out of energy. They're not going to play with the same enthusiasm and intensity. Whether that's the case or not, I don't know but I do know this. We're going to play more guys and our job is to make sure we fix it. We're not going to be status quo. I told our football team 'I can't stand to lose' and neither can they, so it's our job as a coaching staff to make sure we do whatever we've got to do to make sure things are fixed.