Zook Updates Reporters At Weekly Media Luncheon

Coach Ron Zook and the Illini have plenty of respect for 10th-ranked Ohio State.
Coach Ron Zook and the Illini have plenty of respect for 10th-ranked Ohio State.

Nov. 11, 2008

Opening Statement: "No one ever said it was going to be easy. Obviously it's not. It's a great football team coming in here this week, it really is. They're obviously coming in here with a chip on their shoulder. We don't have to worry about them looking past us to Michigan, they're going to be zeroed right in on us and they're a very good football team as we all know. It's senior day, it's something these seniors are going to remember the rest of their lives. It's a big day. You think about what this senior class has been through, a few of them have been through a coaching change. A bunch of them have been through what life is really all about, some of the really lows and some of the really highs. I think that's probably as much of a learning experience as you can have. Nonetheless, it's going to be a great atmosphere I don't think there's any question about that. The place will be rocking and as I said, we have a great football team coming in here and it's important that we play the way we're capable of playing. Obviously we haven't done that every week but it's one more opportunity for us and our guys are looking forward to it. We're healthy. Ryan Palmer played about 30 plays last week which was good, other than a little bruised ego and bumped up a little bit I think we're in pretty good shape."

Freshman RB Mikel LeShoure

On Mikel LeShoure:

"Mikel is better. He's back in school and going to class. I talked with him a little bit yesterday, he was up in the office and we spent some time together."

On seeing LeShoure:

"I don't know, I think it's up to the doctors. I don't know the answer to that."

On scheming for Ohio State:

"I'm of the school where we don't care who we're playing. I honestly believe that anybody on our schedule can beat us any day so you have to prepare the same. Obviously our guys understand not only the importance of the game but also how good of a football team this is. This is a football team that's one of the better teams in the nation, one of the best if not the best. Last year when we played them they were the number one team in the nation and once again, I asked our football team last night. I said 'What's the difference between our football team right now as we're getting ready to play Ohio State, and the Monday before when we were getting ready to play Penn State?' We're a better football team right now than the Monday we were getting ready to play Penn State. But why? It's all the mental part that goes along with athletics and sports and football in particular. In terms of preparation, offensively, defensively, kicking game, they're as talented as anybody you're going to play. They're very well coached and I think right now they're hitting on all cylinders. They had an open date and then they played one game, so they're fresh and ready to go."

On Illinois' overall record against Ohio State:

"If I had the answer to your question, I would have fixed a whole bunch of things this year. I think if you go back in any high school or college in the national football league, you're going to find certain teams that play certain teams better for some reason or another. I don't know why that is. It was like that when I was in the NFL, it's been like that in college. I think some teams do play some teams better for some reason or another."

On playing better against Ohio State:

"If I knew the answer to that I'd fix a whole bunch of things that need fixing. I don't know the answer to that. That's gone on for years and years. I'm just worried about Saturday right now and this game. We want the seniors to go off on a good note. Like I told our guys, it's not so unlike a year ago when there was not one person in the world who gave us the opportunity to win the game. that doesn't mean we're going to win this week, but I think our guys will come out and play the way that we all want them to play."

On giving up a lot of short completions:

" Having coached in the secondary most of my coaching career, I want to stop the run. I think that more often than none, if you stop the run, and it's not a 100 percent rule by any stretch of imagination, but if you stop the run you're going to have a chance of winning the game. Obviously you're going to have to be able to stop the pass and so forth, but it's the way offenses are I think a little bit now too. It used to be that when you run the ball for four or rive yards, and now it's second and five or second and six, and now you can throw the ball for four or five yards. People have the same confidence in being able to throw the ball like that as they used to have running the toss sweep or running the trap. I think that's changed football a little bit but it still comes down to being able to run the football. You have to be able to stop the run, I think overall. I think for the most part you have to be able to stop the run and people are going to. The offense is changing. In 1991 I was with Coach Spurrier and that was kind of the first college offense that came out where we threw the ball all over the place. But Coach Spurrier still understood the importance of being able to run the football. When we would get into big games where we couldn't run the ball, those are the games that we had some issues with. But I think now it's changed to a point where - with the spread, with the guys wide open, with opening up the offenses and so forth, the four, five, six, seven yard pass is like a four, five, six, seven yard run. I think that's one of the ways maybe that the game has changed. When you get into big games, more often than not the defenses right now may be a little bit behind also. You're seeing a lot of points being scored. Whether that's true across the country I don't know."

On Brit Miller and senior day:

"I think Brit has learned an awful lot this year and we've been able to benefit from that. Here's a guy who started as a true freshman at middle linebacker so he kind of learned it the hard way, the tough way. He's been through the tough times and he's also had the opportunity to play alongside J Leman and Antonio Steele and guys that were really good players and obviously he had the opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl. That's why I said it earlier, he's had an opportunity to be in the lows and also in the highs. A lot like life. Knowing Brit and what he thinks of this university and what he thinks of the University of Illinois and this football program, I don't think he would change it for anything. He's going to be out there Saturday doing everything in his God-given power and ability to be the best player he can be."

Senior LB Brit Miller made a whopping 17 tackles last Saturday against Western Michigan.

On Brit Miller being one of the most reliable players:

"Absolutely. If there are some things that Brit maybe wasn't perfect at, it would be trying to do too much. You can't fault a guy for that. In the first game, maybe being out of his gap or being somewhere trying to make plays. Those are the kind of guys you want. I'll take all the Brit Millers that you can have, but on the same token, not only has he settled down, but he got everybody else to settle down and play the way we're supposed to play. That's what a leader is. That's what a competitor is. It's all the things you want in a guy and that's what he's done."

On Brit Miller's prospects for playing at the next level:

"In my opinion, there's no question that he'll have an opportunity. They look at different things in the NFL. I thought that about J (Leman) as well. They only take eighty to camp now, that's 32 times six or eight, whatever that number is, less players going to camp. I think numbers-wise there isn't any question. It'll be important how he is in the combine and how he works. But he's an athletic guy. He's a competitor. He's a winner. He's smart. He's about people. He gives back. If you had a son that's what you'd want. I think all these seniors really. I apologized to them last week. These guys want it so bad and we want to give it to them so bad. For whatever reason, everybody's pushing and trying. We just have to stay on course and we'll be alright. They understand that. I think they're excited about this week. They're not excited about it being that last game at Memorial Stadium, but I think they're excited about this opportunity."

On how the team came off of the loss:

"I'll let Cassie answer that, she was in the meeting last night. Like I told them, 'You can walk around and feel sorry for yourself and no one cares. All we have is us. The best thing we can do is get ready to play a great football team that has a chip on their shoulder and they're going to come in here and we're going to get their best shot. Let's go see what we're all about'. I think that's what it's all about. There's no use feeling sorry for ourselves because no one cares. That's the nature of the game."

On Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor:

"Not only is he a great player, I'm very surprised at how accurate he is throwing the football, but I think the other thing too is what they've done as a coaching staff. They're putting him in situations to win the game. They're not asking him to win the game. They're just letting him play. He's got obviously enough of a supporting cast that he's able to do that. They have a great offensive line and they have great receivers. Beanie (Wells) and the guy from Iowa are two of the better backs I've seen in the last few years. He's able to use his God-given ability and make things happen. That's why he doesn't throw interceptions, he doesn't make mistakes, and that's a great job of coaching on their part."

On Western Michigan's blitzing:

"They blitzed more than I thought they would have going into the game and obviously, it was a problem. Our offense knows and Juice knows more than anybody that you can't turn the ball over. It doesn't make a difference who you are because if you turn the ball over it's going to make it tough. I don't think you can blame it all on Juice. Sometimes the quarterback gets way too much credit and sometimes he gets way too much blame. We did a better job of protecting him, but getting the heck knocked out of you makes you not as accurate as you need to be. It's not just one guy, it's all of us. It's a breakdown of the whole football team, but that doesn't mean we don't have talent because we do. It's our job as coaches to get that thing corralled and get everybody to play the way they are capable of playing. That's going to give us the best chance to be successful."

On the status of Rahkeem Smith and Ian Thomas:

"They're back practicing and I expect them to play."

On how Terelle Pryor fits into Ohio State's offense:

"After watching him, I don't think it would have made a difference what kind of offense he went in. I have been very impressed with his accuracy and the strength of his arm. I think the coaching staff has done a great job of doing the thing that he does, not putting him in those situations is why he looks so good. The spread offense gives him the option to run and makes it a little bit more difficult for defenses to defend."

On what a win this weekend would mean for the program:

"I want to play the way we are capable of playing for 60 minutes. These guys deserve it and they've worked hard. I want them to fight through what we're in. It's part of life, it's the way it is, and it doesn't make it easy. I feel bad for our fans, but it is what it is and we have to go play. Whatever happens, we'll talk about that after the game."