Zook tries to forget about poor road performance

By Jason Grodsky

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – There would be no comeback this time around for the Illinois football squad against Rutgers.

The Illini turned the ball over three times and never moved the ball farther than its own 46-yard line in its 33-0 shutout loss to the Scarlet Knights on Saturday Sept. 9 at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. The 33 point loss is Illinois’ 16th-consecutive road loss, part of a streak that dates back to the beginning of the 2003 season.

“Obviously we stunk it up,” head coach Ron Zook said. “They may have been better than us, but I don’t think they were 33 points better than us. For whatever reason we just didn’t come to play and were ready to play.”

Rutgers took an early lead over the Illini in the first quarter without scoring an offensive touchdown.

After pinning the Illini back to the its own four-yard line on a Rutgers school record 78-yard punt by senior punter Joe Radigan, the Scarlet Knights blocked and recovered freshman punter Kyle Yelton’s punt in the endzone for a touchdown.

Rutgers defense found the endzone for the second time just four plays into the Illini’s second drive on a 38-yard interception return by redshirt-freshman cornerback Devin Mcourty on senior quarterback Tim Brasic’s first interception of the season.

“We just have to come out and execute better,” senior running back E.B. Halsey said. “We had constant three and outs and even though I thought our defense played well, anytime they’re out there on the field that much it will wear on any defense.”

Trailing 30-0 coming out of halftime the Illini would give itself a chance to climb back into the game.

Illinois’ defense held Rutgers to just three points during the second half, but it couldn’t muster up any offense. In the second half alone the Illini only gained 31 yards and picked up just two first downs.

Illinois’ lone bright spot of the game was cornerback Alan Ball. The senior made his presence felt all over the field, finishing with seven tackles and an interception late in the fourth quarter in the endzone to end a Rutgers scoring threat.

“Every game you have to come out ready to play, but we didn’t do that,” Ball said. “We were waiting for that spark but that spark didn’t come in time. At halftime we finally settled down and got focused and come out ready for the second half but it was too late.”

A total of 13 freshmen played in their first road game of their careers, including quarterback Juice Williams who took over under center on Illinois’ first drive of the second quarter and after Brasic threw his second interception. Williams ended the day just 2-for-10 for 14 yards passing and -2 yards rushing.

“The butterflies were definitely there,” Williams said. “You’re used to playing somewhere where you love and having people cheering for you, but on the road it’s just like you’re all alone on an island. It was a very different experience for not only myself but for all the freshmen.”

The Illini will look to bounce back next weekend against Syracuse in the friendlier environment of Memorial Stadium. The Orange lost a 20-13 overtime heartbreaker to No.14-ranked Iowa this past weekend.

“We don’t have any choice but to bounce back,” Zook said. “I believe these guys will and maybe this game will be a blessing in disguise for us.”