Illini football faces adversity

By Derek Barichello

When Ron Zook was hired as head coach, he said the Illini would face adversity, but their success would be determined by how well they handled it.

At Tuesday’s press conference, he said the Illini will face their first true test this week.

“How we bounce back, how we handle it, and how we compete against a good Iowa football team will determine what kind of football team we are and where we are at,” Zook said. “We didn’t coach very well; we didn’t play very well Saturday. The good thing about the season is that you get to go out there and hopefully redeem yourself.”

In last Saturday’s loss, the Illini did just about everything wrong, giving up 705 total yards on defense, missing tackles and posting the worst performance in Memorial Stadium for an Illini team.

“I couldn’t even watch football on TV the rest of the night,” running back E.B. Halsey said.

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    The Illini are anxious to get the bad taste out of their mouth and have responded to Zook’s challenge. Halsey said he had spoken to team members about the 61-14 loss.

    “We expect a lot from the guys on this team,” Halsey said. “Coach Zook is not going to ease up on us. If they don’t give it their all, that’s going to be a problem.”

    Zook said he liked the team’s attitude at Monday’s practice.

    “I think that the players are usually a little more resilient in most cases than the coaches,” Zook said. “Most players at this level are prideful people, and they are embarrassed.”

    After Saturday’s game, Zook said he would look at the game film and see what changes needed to be made, but Tuesday he said it was not a personnel problem as much as a lack of effort.

    “We’re having competition in practice at linebacker and in the secondary,” Zook said. “There are not a lot of changes that are possible, but there are some things we are looking at there. It’s just a matter of taking what happens on the practice field to the game field.”

    As far as pinpointing what went wrong, Halsey said there was too much to list.

    “There were a bunch of things that went wrong, but it all comes down to settling down and playing football,” Halsey said. “Our guys are coming in too emotional and forgetting the simple things.”

    Halsey said the team will use the 61-14 loss as motivation throughout the year.

    “When coaches don’t feel the energy or they feel like guys aren’t giving it their all, as a leader on this team, I’m going to constantly remind guys about that,” Halsey said.

    Family Feud

    Illini kicker Jason Reda grew up in Rock Island, Ill., and knows first hand about the border war between Illinois and Iowa because his family worships the Hawkeyes.

    “My family loves Iowa,” he said. “My brother goes there and he told me, ‘I’ll cheer for you when you’re kicking field goals, but other than that, go Hawks.'”

    He said the Quad Cities are Hawkeye territory.

    “Everyone would tell me I had to be an Iowa fan.

    “I didn’t cheer against them,” he laughed, “but I was never as big of fans as my family.”

    He said there will be some added distractions this week with family and friends calling to razz him, but that it would not affect his kicking.

    “We need to win,” he said. “I’m not looking at anything differently because I do not want to get out of my rhythm.”

    Think Pink

    When the Illini suit up at Kinnick Stadium this Saturday, they will be surrounded by pink.

    When Hayden Fry coached at Iowa in the ’80s, he had the visiting locker rooms painted pink to demoralize opponents.

    When Zook was asked about the trip, he said the pink locker rooms were the least of Illinois’ worries.

    “They have a pretty good home field record,” he said. “So I imagine it works. Right now, we have to worry about our football team.”

    Injury Report

    The one thing the Illini could not use as an excuse for their poor play against Michigan State was injuries.

    Zook said the team is in good shape.

    Defensive lineman Josh Norris is questionable for Saturday’s game with a bruised back.

    Defensive back Morris Virgil is day-to-day with a sprained shoulder and is expected to play on Saturday, while offensive lineman Jim Labonte is also listed as day-to-day with sore hips.

    Quote of the Day

    “If you’re going to let someone take your lunch money, they are going to take your lunch money. Sooner or later you got to stand up.” – Ron Zook