Bye week gives Illini chance to catch breath

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Derek Barichello

Assistant sports editor

With a four-game losing streak at hand, head coach Ron Zook is relieved to have a bye week.

Zook was so relieved he started the press conference Tuesday by having a little fun.

“We’re gonna win this week,” Zook said smiling. “I can guarantee it. Dee (Brown) is going to start at wide receiver.”

But even with the idle weekend ahead, Zook said he is still working hard to get the team ready for the rest of the season and No. 8 Penn State on Oct. 22.

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Zook said one of the keys to the rest of the season starts with keeping the team positive.

“The worst thing they can do is listen to what other people are thinking and saying,” Zook said. “I believe they are stronger than their first practice. “

Zook pointed this out to the team by showing them only the plays on film that were executed properly.

He showed the offense about 50 plays and the defense about 40. And he said it was only 10-15 poorly executed plays that cost the Illini the game.

“I didn’t want any negative plays shown,” Zook said. “All I wanted was hard-played plays. These guys are to the point in the system where they have a pretty good idea when they make a mistake, what they’re doing.”

Re-evaluating the


One of the things Zook is working hard at this week is re-evaluating where the team stands.

“We’re going to look for any tweaking we can do,” Zook said. “Just like the offseason, the offense will be doing cut-ups to see if we have to cut back on some plays. We want to make sure we are doing the right things.”

One experiment Zook wants to try is placing back-up redshirt freshman quarterback Kisan Flakes at wide receiver.

“We’ll take a look at him there,” he said. “He’s quick with the ball in his hands.”

But Zook said he wants Flakes to make that choice for himself.

“In the spring, he can go back to quarterback,” Zook said. “But I’d say it will be impossible for him to get him enough reps to play quarterback this season.”

Another area Zook said he is looking at closely is the linebacker position. He has been impressed with freshman Brit Miller’s play on special teams.

“He searched me out when he ran out of his lane on punt coverage and explained why,” Zook said. “He’s an athletic guy.”

Safety Kyle Kleckner continues to impress Zook as well. He wants Kleckner to be a rover linebacker in dime coverage.

Zook said he will put the players on the field that show a passion to play.

“If we have to change here, or change there, to put in more energy, we’ll do that,” he said. “We’re going to suffer some growing pains, but it’ll pay off down the road.”

Rebuilding the Illini

With only six days alllotted in the fall for recruiting by NCAA regulations, Zook said this week will be an important recruiting week for Illinois.

He will be looking at seven players starting Wednesday night.

“We’ve spent a little time to clean up on Illinois,” he said. “With the bye week, it’ll give us a little time to branch out a bit.”

Zook is not concerned about Illinois’ performance this season deterring recruiting plans.

“We have a great product,” he said. “We have everything we need. We have a great nucleus of young guys that are going to be here.”

Running up the phone bill

Regarded as one of the nation’s top recruiters, Zook admitted that he has spent a lot of time text messaging potential Illini.

“I almost got ripped in my car the other day, because I was text messaging.”

The NCAA does not regulate coaches from text messaging recruits on their phone, so many coaches across the nation have used this as a way to stay ahead.

Phantom Touch

In last Saturday’s game against Indiana, Illini punter Steve Weatherford appeared to recover an onside kick, but referees called it an illegal touch. The call gave Indiana the ball in Illinois territory, allowing them a short field to score a touchdown. On Tuesday, Zook said he looked at film and did not see an illegal touch.

The play was reviewable, but officials chose not to review the play. He said the official who made the call was one of the farthest from the play and pointed out that he was the same official that made a controversial pass interference call before halftime.

“I can’t see where he touched it on the tape,” he said. “I could tell you if I had one of those little red things like they do in the NFL, I would’ve been throwing it.”

Illini injury report

Sophomore fullback Russ Weil sat out the end of the Indiana game with a sprained ankle … Offensive lineman JJ Simmons played 60 plays against Indiana after hurting his knee and rode the exercise bike on Monday … Zook said safety Morris Virgil’s shoulder was feeling better after he re-aggravated a previous injury against Indiana … overall Zook said the team is in good shape.