Zook Looks Forward To Illinois' Contest At Top-Ranked Ohio State

Coach Ron Zook
Coach Ron Zook

Nov. 6, 2007

Quoting Head Coach Ron Zook...

...on this weekend's matchup:

"This weekend we've got an opportunity to play an awfully good football team and a team that is No. 1 in the nation, rightfully so. We told our team that this is a great opportunity for us. It seems like every year that I've been here when we go play them they are No. 1 in the nation. But, if you want to see how good you are then you have to compete against the best and obviously they are the best team in college football. They are in our conference so it give us an opportunity to go play them."

...on Ohio State's No. 1 ranking:

"I don't think there's any question that they are one of the top teams in the country. If you go back and look at what they've done the last three or four years since Coach Tressel has been there. Three years ago, my first year here, all of there defense went to the NFL and people thought they might not be as good last year. Then last year, they were just more athletic. This year a lot of those guys are back. They're a little bit different this year because of losing (QB) Troy (Smith). There is no question, in this part of the country, that Ohio State is one of the best."

...on Ohio State maintaining their consistency year after year:

"If you go back and look at Coach Tressel's record, he's got a number of national championships. If you go back and look at his father, he was one of the winningest coaches in college football. Coach Tressel is not only a great football coach, but he's a great person."

...on your feelings going back to Ohio State:

"We're excited about going there. If you are a competitor, you want to go against the best, and Ohio State is the best. This is an opportunity to really see where we are at this point in the season."

...on whether the younger Illini players will have the jitters:

Martez Wilson

"We don't have a whole lot of seniors, and for some of our players, this will be their first time in Ohio Stadium. I don't see that as being overwhelming or anything for our guys. For (young) guys like Martez and Vontae, that's the kind of guys they are. They want to compete against the best. They want a challenge and want to be challenged. Obviously, this weekend they are going to be challenged, and and that's what makes them who they are."

...on twhether he preparation for Ohio State is any different than for other teams:

"No. Once again, we've got to take care of us. We told our team last night that the only different thing is that you are preparing for the No. 1 team in the nation. The only thing that means is that you are preparing for an awfully good football team. We've still got to do the things that we've done to get to his point. We know that we're not were we are supposed to be, but we know we are improving. The one thing that that gives us is an opportunity as a program to see that we have made progress from the first game this year to now. Now, we have to go see where we are, and this will be a great measuring stick for us."

...on special teams:

"I have said all along since I've been here that Jason Reda is an excellent kicker. Of course, I got on him a little bit yesterday for the fact of the one that he did miss. There was no reason for him to miss it. Special teams have one play, you don't get second or third downs, you just have one play. There is a lot more pressure. There are so many things that can go wrong in the game, and Jason has done a great job. There is no one else in the country that has as least three kicks over fifty yards. Everybody involved in that operation is credited, also. Jason has the hard part of putting it through, and he's done that. Football games are hard to win, and you need every point that you can possibly get. He has done that."

...on the Ohio State defense:

"There is no question that they are a very talented defense. We felt like two years ago when they were a senior(-dominated) defense and were all going to the NFL. They came back last year and they were even more athletic. This year, even though they only had four or five starters back, they've all played a lot of football. They are all so athletic and run to the ball so well. That's why they are giving up 43 yards (per game) rushing. Usually, when you can do that, you are a pretty good defense."

...on the Illinois coaching staff:

"Our coaching staff on both sides has done a great job. First of all, you've got to have talented players, and second of all, you've got to get them in the right position. The one thing that we've done as a staff on both sides is doing the same thing over and over. We have two more guys on the defensive side, and this is their third time going through it. A lot of times your players are going to be better players as juniors and seniors than freshman and sophomores. For many of them, it is there third year, and they are playing the way we need them to play."

...on how Illinois has gotten better from week one to now:

"If you go back and look at the Missouri game, they were an awfully good football team. Obviously we didn't win, but we were in position to win like last year. Last year, we were in the position to win but just couldn't get it done. We just had to get over that hump. We talked about it in the off-season a lot--about how we think we can win and now we have to go win. We have to go do it. Now, when our guys go out on the field they have a sense of confidence that if they play the way they are capable of playing and do the things that we have coached them to do, they are going to succeed. One of the reasons of the success they have had is because they have allowed the coaching staff to coach them. That is hard sometimes when you have younger guys and older guys. They have learned how to handle winning just as they have learned how to handle losing. This year, we've learned more from the games that we've lost than the games that we have won. It's a process. Any coaching staff wants to feel like their football team has improved from the first game to the second game."

...on the feelings going into the game:

"This is an exciting thing for our program and for our players. Just like coaching against coach Paterno or Lloyd Carr. You are coaching against guys that are arguably the best in our profession. Now you get an opportunity as a football team to go play the best in our game. What more can you ask for if you are a competitor? I look at it as a great opportunity and we are going to have to play extremely well. Ohio State has one thing in mind, and that's get back to the national championship game and prove to people that they are better than they were last year."

...on going back to your home state:

"Growing up there and having the opportunity to coach's a nice thing to be able to go back to your home state. It's going to be a great challenge. When you look at the success of a program, it is done over years. Ohio State has done it over time. Coach Tressel has been there eight years. He came in and just kept it going and continued to recruit."

...on what makes J Leman special:

"The type of person that he is. He doesn't get caught up in what people think. He is a very self-confident person that has done very well in every aspect of his life. He has the God-given ability to be an awfully good football player and he's used it and done it. He plays the game with passion and excitement, and that's what makes you love him."

...on how his experiences at Florida helped him as coach at Illinois:

"Anytime that you go through your career, you want to continue to get better at everything you do. There is no question that we're better as a program and the way we do things. I'm glad I've had the opportunity to go through it. It teaches you a lot about yourself and what you can handle and what you can't."

...on Rashard Mendenhall:

"We told Rashard at the beginning of the season, if he can have the type of year that we know he can have, we have the chance to have a special season. He's done his part. We all know he's a very talented guy, and he's doing the things now that he needs to do."