Coach Zook Updates The Media On The Fighting Illini

Coach Ron Zook and the Fighting Illini look to get back over the .500 mark when they take on Iowa Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Coach Ron Zook and the Fighting Illini look to get back over the .500 mark when they take on Iowa Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Oct. 28, 2008

Opening Statement:

"I think somebody might have sensed a little frustration, which I think is probably normal. It was obviously a very highly competitive game we were in and obviously it's going to be a very good game coming in here this week. Iowa is a good football team and I think everybody has got a lot of questions about why we're not doing this, why we're not doing that. As I said last night in a not very nice tone, I wish I had the answers. I'm not going to go back on the fact. We have good kids. We do have good players, and now it's our job as a coaching staff to get them to play the way they're capable of playing. For knocking that obviously falls back on myself and our coaches. They understand we're back in a corner and I challenged them a little bit last night. I said, 'Fellas, that's one of the things about college football. That's one of the things about life. You're going to get backed into a corner, how you come up and how you come out on that thing is going to depend on what you're going to be all about.' We talked about it last week at Wisconsin and last year going to Iowa. Things have kind of reversed a little bit. This is a very good football team coming in here. You look at their offensive and defensive lines, which a lot of times has to do with the success you have as a football team. But they are one of the better offensive lines and one of the defensive lines that we've played all year. They're running the ball extremely well, their tight ends really make everything go, and they're very physical and sound, especially in the special teams. You hear me talk a lot of times about the middle of your team, about the depth in the middle of your team. They're very solid and sound in that regard. It'll be a battle. Our guys understand it'll be a battle but I still think it comes back to us. We've got to make sure we take care of us. We're prepared to play the way we're capable of playing, and if you're not, it's obvious we're going to be in for a long day. It'll be a great day, the weather is supposed to be decent. We're back home and we're ready to play."

On Iowa's Shonn Greene:

"How old is that guy? He played against us my first year. Then he went to prep school, and then he went to junior college and came back. I'll tell you what, when I start watching tape of him, the guy he reminds me of is the guy at Michigan last year (Mike Hart). One cut and just a good back. They don't do an awful lot of things, and once again, like everybody, they force your defense to make the adjustments you have to make there. He's a one cut, downhill, tough, strong, powerful running back. They settled in on the quarterback and he's done a nice job. He gets better and better every week, but the running back is very impressive."

On how Iowa has changed since the season began:

"It's a very thin line between playing where you want to play and not playing where you want to play. The guys hung together and the coaching staff I'm sure did a great job. That's a staff that has been through a lot of wars together. They've rode the ship and they're playing extremely well right now."

On Iowa's defense:

"The one thing about their defense, and Coach Parker has a reputation and has been around an awful long time, is that they're not going to trick you. You're going to pretty much know where they're at. They're going to line up and do the same thing over and over again. Their defensive line is definitely one of the best defensive lines in the conference. They're going to line up and get after you. Linebackers run and chase the ball extremely well. Secondary, I think they're leading the conference in interceptions. They are very stingy, it's hard to get them out of what they do. Obviously they play with an awful lot of confidence, they run extremely well and they are obviously well coached."

On Iowa's Ricky Stanzi replacing Jake Christensen at quarterback:

"You don't know all the details but I think what's happened is that he's a guy who's just gotten better and better. You've heard me say it many times, coaching is putting players in positions where they can be successful. He's a guy who does the things that they do well. I think the running game opens up the play action and the bootleg series. The biggest part of their action game is play action and bootleg. You have to obviously respect the running attack and it gives him an opportunity to come out and put the ball in there. The more play he plays the more confident he gets."

On Stanzi's running game:

"He's not a runner like Juice or Wilson or one of those guys but he can run. He can get out of trouble and make some things happen, He's a guy you have to respect."

On being backed into a corner as opposed to desperation:

"I don't think it's desperation but I don't think it's any question that we've got our backs backed into a corner. Once again, if you're a competitor, I know that our coaching staff is. I think our guys have a pretty good feel. If you've been around here this week, yesterday in particular, you know that we're going to get ready to play. There's no reason to think that were not going to be ready to play. Once again, football is a game where you're going to do it, you can't talk about it."

On Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz playing for his job against Illinois Coach Mike Locksley:

"I don't think they're playing for his job. I think Coach Ferentz has proven that he's an awfully good football coach with what he's done with the team. He's been in this league a long time. I think they're just out playing well. If that had anything to do with it in the beginning, I don't know. Coaching and all those things that sometimes come in question, that's never been a question. They're out there playing as a team and playing together and sometimes it's just a little thing here or there that gets you out of sync."

On conversations with the older Illini football members after the Wisconsin game:

"One of my faults is that I wear my feelings on my sleeve. Once again, I think you have to hold players accountable. That's the nature of this game, that's the nature of this level. They have to understand, and we tell them, that it is college. It's not the professional level and so forth. There are certain things that go on that your seniors and your leaders have got to step up. I talk about it all the time. Your great players have got to play great and the rest of them will follow. If we're doing things that maybe we've let slip or maybe they've let slip- now we'll find out what it's all about."

On the game last year against Iowa:

"They're tough guys. They coach tough, they play tough, they are tough. Obviously an emphasis with our guys is that we've got to block on the perimeter. That is the one game last year where we struggled running the football and it came down to perimeter blocking. Our outside guys are going to have a test."

On the veterans on Iowa's defensive line:

"They're solid guys. They have done the same thing there for ten years and those guys grow up in that system. I think that's what makes you have the opportunity to have the success that they're having."

On Illinois versus Iowa being a healthy rivalry:

"There's no question it was a rivalry long before I got here for whatever reason. It's just like people talking about the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference or the Pac Ten. Until we beat them we just have to keep our mouths shut and go play. I'm not in any position to say anything. Right now they've had the upper hand and it's our job to go do the best we can."

On next year's schedule:

"I just found that out last week I think."

On being ok with next year's schedule:

"Nothing you can do about it."

On Juice Williams' maturation process over the past years coming off a rough game:

"Obviously it's going to be very important that he does that again. A quarterback sometimes gets too much credit and he gets too much blame. If a receiver doesn't run the route quite deep enough and if somebody doesn't get the guy down tackle when he's got to throw it high, that's not necessarily Juice's fault. Although it is because the ball left his hand and it was overthrown. Those are things that a lot of times people don't look at. The one thing that Juice has got to be able to do, it's just like anybody else and we talk about this all the time, is put the play behind you. There's nothing you can do about it. Forget it. The way you do that, and we talk about this every Thursday, is you have to be mentally prepared. Going into a game, you're going to have adversity. You're going to have adversity in a game, you're going to have adversity in a season, you're going to have adversity in life. How you handle that adversity is going to depend upon what kind of player you're going to be. The only way you can handle it is by being prepared to handle it. When those things happen, you got to control your mind and if you haven't prepared yourself to do that, then you're going to struggle."

On Juice getting better at dealing with adversity:

"No question. I think just through experience and confidence you get better."

On the difference between this year and last year success-wise:

"I don't know the answer to that. I wish I did. That's something that we've all been searching for. Number one, arguably we could possibly be 6-2. Maybe we won a couple games last year that we shouldn't have, who knows. I think it all evens out in the long run. I still believe we're a better football team but I think it goes back to what we tell our players all the time. It's not always the best players that win, it's the best team that wins. When those guys are all playing together, I'm kind of rambling I'm not sure what the reason is. We have a sophomore and a freshmen class who think that you come to the University of Illinois; you go to the Rose Bowl. That's not the way it is. You're going to have to go through some growing pains; you're going to have to go through some maturity. I think if you remember, one of the first things I said when we came back from the Rose Bowl, is that we're not there yet. We have a long way to go. We all want to be there now. Trust me, no one wants to be there more than this coaching staff. We've got to keep believing it's going to happen and there's no doubt in my mind we're going to get where we're supposed to be there. This is a fun time for the doubters and they're enjoying themselves. There's nothing we can say about it. You just got to shut up and go to work."

On the comfort level of playing so many true freshman:

"Well, honestly, your players are going to be better players as juniors and seniors than they are as freshman and sophomores so to answer that question you would prefer not to have to play that many guys, but once again it is going to payoff down the road."

On handling the burden of expectations for Saturday:

"I don't know the answer to that but I know this; we have to go out and take care of ourselves. You can't get caught up in the expectations. I made the comment after the Indiana game that I was proud of our guys and that they didn't get caught up in that stuff and they just went out and played. We're going to have to do the same thing. We're going to have to go out there and play we can't worry about the things that we can't control. It's one play at a time. We have to make sure that we're ready to play. In the Big Ten Conference, anybody can beat anybody on any given day. We have to make sure that we are prepared to play the best game that we possibly can."

Freshman place kicker Derek Dimke

On Derek Dimke...

"He had a really good day. The first kickoff was out there a little further out there than I would have liked but we had two guys that got to get off blocks. We'll keep tweaking there, but I feel like the kickoff coverage, knock on wood, is beginning to play like they're suppose to play.

On the importance of touchbacks:

"One of the reasons they moved the kickoff back to the 30 yard line was so that everyone could stop a heart beat once or twice, particularly for the team kicking off. It's hard, particularly late in the year when the ball doesn't go as far, and it makes for a big play. Kickoff is one of the purest forms of the game of football. It is run real fast, run into someone real hard, and tackle. It's a heck of a play."

On the kick return game...

"It's two things. Number one, which we talked about even before the one A.J got, about a few weeks in a row we were just one guy here or one guy there, or if one guy just holds on a little bit longer then you got a chance. Obviously your return guys have a large role. Your return game, punt and kickoff, has a lot to do with the guys that get their hands on the ball. I've been around guys that have taken it back for touchdown and didn't block a soul, they just have a knack and they get there."

On returners:

"A.J. and Rejus both. I think Rejus was the one who popped it this past weekend, but both of them when you get them going fast north-south they're big enough, even A.J., to break a tackle. It's a confidence thing as well."

On considering A.J. Jenkins as a return man when he was recruited:

"You like to have offensive guys back there cause they're used to carrying ball. The one thing we stress to our offensive guys is to take care of the ball. Obviously, we haven't done as good of a job as we need to. For the most part for the offensive guys since they're used to doing that everyday and they're used to getting hit with the ball in their hands, they usually have a better chance of holding onto it, but that's not a 100 percent rule."

On stressing to the players to not try to compare this year and last year's seasons: "With you guys, that's hard to do. I've absolutely talked about that, from the very beginning. Expectations are there. We talked about it before Rantoul and we talked about it at Rantoul. There is nothing you can do about it. You want to have expectations, I mean let's face it. It's a lot better than that first year or second year in terms of people caring about the program. I've kind of chuckled a couple times. I get some these emails and I got a text and at first I kind of got mad, but you know what I don't blame the guy. Here is a guy that cares about the program and it is important to him. Obviously, a lot times they make comments without knowing the whole story but that part of it. It's important. The University of Illinois is a great place and they deserve a great program. We're not playing the way that we're capable of playing and we're not making the progress that we need to be making so that's what's going to happen. That's why they get upset."

On opportunities still there...

"We have four games left. I think the one thing you find out about the coaching staff, the team is what kind of people are you now? What are you about? What is this program about? Right now we're average, .500. Now, I think all of us in here and the coaching staff included, think we could be better, but we're not. Now, what are we going to do about? Are we going to walk around and point fingers? Are we going to cry about it? Are we going to feel sorry for ourselves? No one feels sorry for us. Let's go out there and play the way that we're capable of playing and stop worry about all the noise in the system and have fun and do it."

On the possibility of a distraction by The Journey:

"We have more problems with Frank than we do with The Journey. Frank thinks because he played here that he can do whatever he wants to do and everyone scared to say anything to him. I put a lot of thought into in the beginning and they have done an unbelievable job of staying out of the way. I don't even notice them. When they are around, Cassie and I have had our share of arguments about it but they've been super. There are plenty of distractions out there. The camera crew has nothing to do with it. There's distractions with expectations, but you'd rather have it like that than the way it was the first couple years."

On concerns about any distraction with Vontae Davis' older brother Vernon:

"I talked to him a little bit this morning, but I don't think that is going to have any effect on Vontae. He sees it, hears it, knows it. I feel bad for Vernon. I heard Coach Singletary say early this morning in a headline, now that he's probably calmed down, that maybe it wasn't quite as bad as maybe it was made out to be in the beginning. I don't know. In fact, I didn't see what happened. But, in the article that I did see, Coach Singletary said that Vernon is not a troublemaker, Vernon is a good guy, and he is a competitive guy and sometimes competitive guys do get a little overzealous. Trust me, I'd rather have a guy that is too competitive than the other way. It seemed to me like he was making a stand and showing that this is his team now, and Vernon just happened to be the first guy that something happened."

On relating to Coach Singletary's thoughts:

"Well, it's hard for me to comment cause I don't know the situation. I know Vernon, I know Vontae, and I know that they are good people. They are both competitors and want to win, but there are so many things that get involved and I don't know about all the details to even comment about it."