Big Ten match up gets primetime coverage

 

 

By Laura Hettiger

The Fighting Illini football team is sure of one thing: Indiana is going to give it their best Saturday night.

“In the three years that I’ve been here, we always get their best game and there’s no reason to think that we won’t get their best game Saturday night,” head coach Ron Zook said at Tuesday’s press conference.

During their last match up at Memorial Stadium in 2006, Indiana kicker Austin Starr nailed a field goal with just seconds left as the Hoosiers beat the Illini 34-32.

But Illinois is hoping history doesn’t repeat itself. In another home game, the team is focusing on making improvements on both sides of the ball and trying not too look too far into the future.

“I know it’s going to be a critical game,” linebacker Brit Miller said. “Every game is; you try to not put any more importance on one than the other, but for us this week, it’s the only game we got. We definitely need to win this one.”

Entering Saturday’s 7 p.m. kickoff, the Illini (3-3) are still upset about their Homecoming loss to Minnesota, while Indiana (2-6) is hurting from its lopsided loss to Iowa, 45-9, in Bloomington, Ind.

Regardless of what has been happening to their eastern neighbor, Zook and company have been concentrating on themselves and on the game at hand.

“Obviously taking care of the football, trying to become more efficient and effective in the red zone,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said about preparing for Indiana. “Minimizing the mistakes that put you behind the chains and gets you in the third and long and then just overall execution of our offensive schemes.”

One new offensive scheme the Illini have been working on is getting wide receiver A.J. Jenkins more playing time. During the Michigan game, Jenkins caught his first collegiate pass from quarterback Juice Williams.

Just seven days later against Minnesota, the freshman caught three passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

Although having his career-high that day did not help the Orange and Blue secure victory, the Florida native did gain valuable Big Ten experience.

“Who’s A.J. Jenkins?” Locksley said with a laugh. “It was good to see that out of A.J. He’s a very talented guy, a guy who made a conscience effort to try to get him in the game a little more … He’s been doing a decent job returning kicks, and so as the season’s worn, we’ve gained a little more trust in him and his capabilities.”

As the offense continues to make changes and improve, Zook believes his defense “played their best game to date” against Minnesota. The coaches have seen a sizeable difference between the defense’s play against Missouri and its most recent performance, holding the Golden Gophers offense to 315 yards.

But the players themselves are their biggest critics. Miller believes the secondary needs to cause more turnovers, whereas the defensive line has another plan of attack.

“We always have to stop the run, as long as we stop the run we can get after the pass and get a good pass rush, but, you know, stopping the run is the biggest thing,” junior defensive lineman Doug Pilcher said. “We did that pretty well against Minnesota, but it’s always our priority and we’re working on that this week.”

Locksley said the team is ready to get back on Zuppke Field’s turf and “make amends for a poor showing on Saturday” against Minnesota.

Indiana, however, has a different goal in mind – snap its four-game losing streak and get fired up for the remainder of the season.

“I know (Illinois) lost a tough one last week, but they’re a very, very good football team,” Hoosier head coach Bill Lynch said at a Tuesday press conference. “But obviously going on the road, going to Illinois, yeah it’s a big football game for us. Like I said, it’s a great environment. If you can’t get juiced up by going and playing in front of 70,000 people in Champaign on a Saturday night on national television, then we’re in the wrong business, and I think our players feel that way as well.”