Transcsript From Coach Zook's Media Luncheon

Coach Ron Zook
Coach Ron Zook

Nov. 4, 2008

Opening Statement:

It was a great win for us on Saturday. Before I get into it, everyone is aware of it. We had an incident this weekend. It is very disappointing to me, and the coaches. But I am not going to get into the facts and the details. It is like a family dispute and we are going to handle it like a family dispute. It is an unfortunate thing, but things do happen. I am not making light of it by any stretch of the imagination, but we will deal with it within the team and like I said, in a family manner. But back to the game, I hadn't had my headsets off a little more than normal this week. I said something to Coach Guenther, I couldn't believe the crowd. This was exciting, in fact my brother even said something after the game, he said, 'We are finally getting there.' This was truly an Illinois win. That was not just the football team, but the fans and everyone that was involved. You could feel the electricity, players could feel it. It was a very physical game and comparable to game against Wisconsin last year in terms of the physicality of the game. But it was a great game, I'm proud of our guys. Again, (Iowa) was a good football team and they played extremely well as well. I told the freshmen after the game, that is a Big Ten, lineup-and-knock-each-other-out type of game, with some of the hits and some of the collisions that took place. And it was a clean game too which I thought was also very, very important when you look at a rivalry like that.

On facing Western Michigan:

Obviously getting ready to play Western Michigan, and I am going to tell you, don't take this team lightly. This is a football team, the quarterback happens to be from Orrville, where my first coaching job was. I had a couple of people that called about tickets and I said, 'No way.' This is a guy who is throwing the ball close to 70 percent, throwing for something like 2,800 yards and 28 touchdowns. They just do a really good job, the offense is very similar to Indiana if you want to put them in a family tree. There are some other things we have seen here in the past few weeks. They are an even front and play a lot of quarters. But this is a game where, obviously they are going to play their tails off. Last year they beat Iowa and kept Iowa from becoming bowl eligible. The year before that they beat Virginia and got beat by Florida State 28-20 I believe, so this is a team that is going to be ready to play and give us all they've got. They have a couple of junior college guys now that are playing well. Our football team understands not only the importance of the game, but how we have to be ready to play and obviously preparation is going to give us that opportunity to play how we're supposed to play.

On facing a MAC team with the recent Toledo-Michigan game and other upsets:

I did not bring up the Toledo-Michigan or Appalachian State-Michigan games, but as the week goes along we will talk about that. But we have talked about it. All you have to do is go back to the last few minute of the Ball State game last year. That game sends chills down your back. In fact, we revisited that game as a staff last night and trust me, our guys better not want to go through that. On the same token, people have to understand this is not going to be a blowout game. We are going to have to fight our tails off and it will probably be a four-quarter game. It can come down on a field goal again. We all want those easy games, but I don't think there are that many easy games left in this country anymore, at least not on our schedule.

On Illinois' red zone defense:

No question, we tell our football team all the time, when the other team gets in the red zone, if you can hold them to a field goal, you will have a chance to win the game. It was unbelievable. Our guys did, they rose up and did the things. That is the way Illini defense is supposed to play. (Iowa) got a few yards there, our goal was to keep (Shonn) Greene under 100 yards, he had 103. But I think everyone had an opportunity to see a pretty good back. (Greene) might be better than Mike Hart, but I compared him last week with Mike Hart from Michigan, just a tough, solid, down-hill runner. He had a 15 yards when one of our guys jumped out of his gap, but really that is how you have to play."

On Illinois' running game:

"I think the opponent has something to do with it and hopefully Xavier is going to be ready to go. He didn't do much last night and we didn't want him to do much last night. I talked to Dr. Gurtler, he feels like he'll be ready to go. I think it's something where he may not get a lot of work tonight, but he'll get back into it Wednesday and Thursday. We have a rule where you have to go by Wednesday or you probably aren't going to be able to play. I just think that at any level, no matter how much experience you have you have to at least get one of the solid days of practice in there. I feel like he'll be ready to go on Wednesday. I don't have any answer exactly why we haven't won the ball the last two weeks like you'd like to. Part of it has to do with the defense and putting a lot of people down in the box. But I don't have a concern that we aren't going to be able to run the football."

On the running back situation this week:

"Mikel (LeShoure) is out for this week and it'll be a week-to-week thing but Daniel (Dufrene) is fine, Daniel came up to me last night and we talked a little bit and he said 'Thanks Coach I really appreciate it.' He's excited and he said, 'I promise you I won't let you down.' And he won't."

On the running backs' preparation:

"I think if you go back, and what everybody is trying to get at is last week we had three running backs. I don't know if that has anything to do with it. Reggie (Mitchell) has been complaining a lot all year that it's hard to get four running backs ready to play. Well, it is hard to get four running backs ready to play. There's going to be a point and time where they're not all going to get the same number of reps. It's just not going to happen. And then as you get into a game, and being in the game, that was not the plan as we went into the game. Jason (Ford) had a hot hand and ran pretty well. In terms of preparation and so forth, it's not going to change the preparation. In football we talk about adversity all the time and there are going to be guys that will go down. That's part of it. It happens at every level and your football team has to regroup and somebody has to stand up. As a coaching staff, obviously we don't want to lose anybody, but we don't look at it as 'Gosh, what are we going to do now?' We just keep on going."

On Western Michigan's top players:

"They have three guys now, the two little scat back guys who you just have to get your hands on and get them down. Numbers 81 and 11, those guys are quick-footed guys that can fly. 11 is a punt returner. 81 got dinged, we haven't heard but he got dinged pretty well last week. We haven't heard that he hasn't been back so obviously we'll prepare like he is going to be there. 27 is a guy who I believe was a running back. He didn't seem to be a burner but he's just one of those guys who just gets open. He has close to eighty catches and he's the go-to guy. He's the guy who makes a lot of things happen."

On playing in a neutral site:

"I think being in an NFL venue and in the place where the Bears play and all the NFL teams play. I've coached there and it's a beautiful facility. Our guys, once again like I told them, I know people are trying to put that in their heads, but it doesn't matter. We have a lot to play for. If you respect the game, you're going to go out there and play the best that you can possibly play anyway and that's something that is going to be very important. You brought up why we went to Syracuse to me last night because it wasn't such a great crowd. It's in a dome, I told the kickers that they don't have to worry about wind. I told Corey Liuget, I said, 'Corey you only have a chance of playing in two cold games.' I told him that after the game Saturday. I said, 'There's a chance that Ohio State could be cold and Northwestern probably will be cold.' That's not bad."

On playing Fresno State next year:

"I'll deal with that after the season. I'm not excited about it right now but I'm worried about Western Michigan. I'm not worried about that down the road."

On Mikel (LeShoure) injury:

"Like I said, I don't want to get into all the detail and the doctor stuff. A broken jaw, anything that happens like that is not good, but it's not always as bad as it sounds either."

On LeShoure:

"It's something we're going to deal with, like I said, we're going to deal with it in our house."

On LeShoure being in uniform:

"Everybody wants to speculate. Once again, this is a family matter. It's something I'm not going to talk about. I'm not trying to elude the question. In fact, I have rights really. It's a family issue. It's something that if we deemed that it was necessary that he not be in uniform, he wouldn't be."

On Troy Pollard being able to play:

"Absolutely. In fact, in the Indiana game, a lot of those carries that Jason (Ford) got were going to be Troy's. Troy is back 100 percent and ready to go."

On Pollard's physicality:

"The week before Indiana you could tell he was back. Even in the game when he scored a touchdown, he wasn't 100 percent then. Sometimes a high-ankle sprain is worse than a break. The doctors said because it's down there in an area where there's not a lot of blood flow and it takes a long time to heal."

On Palmer returning:

"Palmer should be back, yes."

On changes with the guards:

"Randall (Hunt) is a guy who needs to be able to be in there and be productive. He's playing more and more. He's practicing more and more in these positions. In fact, we even talked about moving Randall to the tackle, but I think with the fact that Ryan (Palmer) is coming back, it's going to give you a little depth there. Ryan's not going to be in a situation where he can play the whole game. He's coming back. I thought he looked extremely good out there last night running around. You couldn't tell any issues. He's been cleared to play so it's just kind of a matter of conditioning and that kind of thing on Ryan. But once again, it's going to give you a chance to spot the other guys."

On putting Jeff Allen on the left side:

"No, probably not. We keep Jeff on the right side. Corey (Lewis) could probably go back faster. Or you leave Corey at left and put X (Xavier Fulton) at right tackle. That's a possibility that could happen but I don't want to get into the game plan and what we're going to do with personnel. We're going to have those number tackles and you have to have two out there and we'll have two out there."

On Corey Lewis doing well:

"Yes, he's getting better. Once again, it's hard for those freshmen guys. Particularly when you have guys that the closer you are to the ball, the harder it is to play. We're going to be better for it as we get down the road."

On knowing what you're getting having a freshman kicker:

"I still don't know what we're getting. It was a great kick."

On Eller's edge over other players:

"It was more of a gut feeling than anything, but probably consistency. Day in and day out. Like I told the team last night, which I thought was very important, that Matt was our special team's player of the week. Without that center, without Tad (Keely) snapping that ball, without the hold, without the protection. As I told the offensive line before we kicked, 'Fellas I'm going to tell you now, they're going to bring the ranch. They're going to bring it all.' The protection was good, the snap was perfect, the hold was good and the kick was good. Even though Matt put it through there and did a great job, it was a big play on everybody's part. If one little thing goes wrong, whether it be the protection, the snap, the hold. The kicker really is at the mercy of all those people."

On Eller's potential:

"If you look at kickers there's probably a lot of guys that are walking around that could be in the NFL, and there's only 32 of those guys in the world, so it's being in the right place in the right time and persistence." On Jason Reda's impact:

"I was talking to Jason the other day in the weight room and I asked him if he'd been talking to our kickers and he said, 'It's too much pressure for me,' and I looked at him, and I know he's been out there kicking, but I don't know how much he's been with them. Jason is a true Illini and I talk to Jason a little bit about all this and how there are only 32 of these guys in the world, and to get that opportunity you just never know when you're going to get a phone call and you've got to be ready to go."

On Eller's confidence:

"That's probably one of the things that gives him a little edge, it's probably a good part of him is that he can shake things off. That's what those guys have to be able to do. They've got to have no memory."

On Eller's success this season:

The thing I told him was, 'I don't expect you to make every field goal unless we have to have it.' You have to understand that there are so many people involved for the kick to be a success. He's part of it and obviously a very big part of it, and the offensive line and the protection, the snap and the hold, Tad's done a great job, and all those things."

On Daniel Dufrene's return after missing a week:

"He was here. He didn't have the week off. He did have some conditioning, so it's not like he was completely away and everything and he's fine. He was out there and had no issues last night, and once again we've all had personal things that we have to deal with and that's one of the things that Daniel had to deal with and he's excited to be back, and he looks pretty good to me."

On the public perspective of handling team issues:

"Here's my deal on that. I try to treat these guys like they're my own kids and I'd want my own children dealt with, and I think you can ask my daughters I'm not going to apologize for the way we discipline our players. We have good kids, I've said that. We have some issues occasionally like everyone else absolutely, and every situation is different, but on that same token I think if I had a son I would want him to play for our staff because I know this: they're going to get treated fairly, they're going treated the way they need to be treated. If it's something that needs to be taken care of, it's going to get taken care of, and I'm not going to get caught up in what people think. I know what I know and the most important thing to me is those young guys' lives, and those young guys' feelings, and this football teams' feelings. If I get worried about how I'm judge that way then maybe I'm in the wrong place."

On if he's concern about team unity:

"No. Not in this case. There's absolutely not one iota that I'm concerned about right now. Like I said I'm not trying to make light of it in any stretch of imagination at all. I'm not. It is what it is. Once again, it gets brought to the forefront because of who they are, and we tell them this all the time. They represent the University of Illinois. They represent this football program. They represent themselves. They represent their families, and it's imperative that they handle themselves in that manner, but things do happen. If it's something I think needs to be dealt with I think I've proven I'll deal with it and quickly. In fact, if I've got a fault it's probably that I'll deal with stuff too quickly."

On whether he thinks playing Western Michigan breaks the momentum of the conference season:

"No, I don't. Obviously the conference is awful important, but our guys are playing for the opportunity to be bowl eligible and the higher up we can get, the better off we'll be so there's an awful lot we're playing for. Plus, they understand the importance of this game, and our football team has a lot of respect for them."