Focus shifts for Illini football

By Derek Barichello

Head coach Ron Zook said last week that winning the first game of the season would not be a necessity, but improvements would be. In Tuesday’s press conference, he stuck to his guns.

After recording the school’s biggest comeback on Saturday, the team shifted its focus to this weekend’s game against San Jose State.

“The good teams make the most progress from their first game to their second game and from their second game to their third,” Zook said.

He said the way the Illini won on Saturday will help that process.

“We had to fight for it,” Zook said. “We want to build on this. It is going to help us down the road.”

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After Saturday’s game, there is room for improvement on both sides of the ball.

On defense, the Illini gave up 30 points and 517 total yards, with 342 of those yards coming from the air. On offense, it had problems moving the ball in the first half.

“We’re not in as bad of shape as I thought we were in the game,” Zook said. “During the game, I kept saying ‘we’re not getting enough pressure,’ but after watching the film, we had 10 knockdowns.”

The mistakes that did show up on film appear to be fixable.

“There was nothing that made me disgusted,” said cornerback Morris Virgil. “There were some times we could’ve sat in some places and made some big hits if we trusted the defense more. We could wrap up a little more.”

Zook also credited the Rutgers offense for the Illini defense’s problems.

“It’s easy to jump on the secondary, because of how many yards we gave up,” Zook said. “That team is going to throw a lot of yards on a lot of people.”

Zook said the mistakes on the offensive line could be attributed to underclassmen. Sophomore right guard James Ryan and freshman right tackle Ryan McDonald made their debuts in Saturday’s game.

Zook said he would like to work more lineman into the depth chart.

“I like to play as many as we possibly can on both sides of the ball,” Zook said. “If we have injuries, we’ll need that depth.”

Pontiac Game Changing Performance Nominee

Illinois was nominated as one of the four finalists for the “Pontiac Game Changing Performance” of the week for E.B. Halsey’s game-tying touchdown.

The winning play will be announced during the Halftime Report on ESPN’s Thursday night game.

Illini Injury Report

Zook said Tuesday that wide receiver Derek McPherson will return for the California game on Sept. 17 at the earliest. McPherson will return to practice tomorrow.

Zook also said that lineman Jim Labonte is close, but set no timetable on his return.

Getting Zookie Wit’ It

Zook said he was not informed about the Illini tradition of players celebrating with Block-I after the game, but that he would like to keep the tradition.

After Saturday’s win, Zook went over to Block-I and pumped his fist.

Slow down!

Virgil told his freshman teammates that the game would be fast, but not as fast as practices.

Fullback Jason Davis said “We go faster in practice. In the game, the referee controls the tempo. It makes it a little slower.”