For 60 minutes, the Illini and Buckeyes will be on a ‘Journey’

Coach Ron Zook has a word with Will Judson during the Illinois-Missouri game at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Aug. 30, 2008. Erica Magda

Coach Ron Zook has a word with Will Judson during the Illinois-Missouri game at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Aug. 30, 2008. Erica Magda

By Laura Hettiger

Saturday’s matchup between the Fighting Illini and No. 10 Ohio State will be a commemorative day. Illinois’ seniors will be honored and recognized. It will be the last home game at the renovated Memorial Stadium for nearly 10 months. It will also be a 60-minute game.

The new catch phrase for Illinois football this season is “a 60-minute game.”

“We get to play in front of our fans, show what we can do,” said defensive lineman Doug Pilcher. “It’s a chance to show the fans what they deserve and get a big win for them, but it’s still the same game. It’s still a 60-minute game, you know; you’re playing a good team no matter what, if they’re No. 1 or not ranked, they’re still a good team.”

The significance of playing a 60-minute game for the Illini is less mathematical – four 15-minute quarters does equal 60 minutes – and more symbolic.

Head coach Ron Zook regularly uses the descriptor to emphasize playing through every minute of every game, and giving 100 percent to every snap.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

Although there have been five games the Illini didn’t show effort in for a full 60 minutes, Zook wants to end his home season on a positive note.

“I want to play the way we are capable of playing for 60 minutes,” Zook said. “These guys deserve it and they’ve worked hard. I want them to fight through what we’re in. Its part of life, it’s the way it is, and it doesn’t make it easy. I feel bad for our fans, but it is what it is and we have to go play. Whatever happens, we’ll talk about that after the game.”

Tressel won’t be making his own “Journey”

The Big Ten Network has been following the Illini football team all season. From Camp Rantoul, to every home and away game, even to the new Fat Sandwich Company – which allowed everyone in America to see redshirt freshman Jack Cornell throw up a “Fat Ugly” on John Street – “Illinois Football: The Journey” cameras have been there every step of the way.

The new reality show, however, has not had a negative impact on Zook and his staff. Instead, he said it has added to his recruiting effort and has given Illini Nation a chance to “get to know our players off the field.”

“The surprising thing for me is how little I even realize that they’re around and that was something I was very concerned about before we decided we would do it,” Zook said at his Big Ten press conference. “It’s not really my style, but I think the reason we did it served the purpose … (The Big Ten Network’s) done a great job, very, very professional, and they understand that there’s certain times they’ve got to lay low and they’ve done that for us and respected our feelings which I think is very, very good.”

Even though it’s worked for the Illini, don’t count on Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel inviting the Network cameras in his locker room anytime soon. To Tressel’s credit, he’s led the Buckeyes to two consecutive National Championship games without a reality television show.

“Anything that could distract what we’re trying to do, I don’t think helps,” Tressel said. “So most of the time I try to keep things we do toward how can it help us and I don’t know as I analyze, maybe long term something like that could help us because more exposure and all that, but I think about what’s going on here now and what’s the best thing for us today, so I probably wouldn’t, but I’m old-fashioned, everyone knows that.”

Illinois’ offense vs. Ohio State’s defense

Quarterback Juice Williams has put up some of the top offensive numbers in the country. Ranked seventh in the nation and first in the Big Ten in total offense, Williams is averaging 334.6 offensive yards per game.

Ohio State, on the other hand, is known for its explosive defense spearheaded by All-American senior linebacker, James Laurinaitis. With these two prolific players on both sides of the ball, Saturday’s game promises to be a challenge for both teams.

“I think our defense flies around and creates pressure on any kind of quarterback,” Tressel said. “To me, the quarterback that adds the problems is the one that can pull it down and run with it, which that, to me, is why Juice – he’s another dimension … We haven’t faced anyone like him, so it will be a good challenge.”

Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley stressed consistency in practices this week, regardless of going up against the No. 10 team in the nation. Musing how their “backs are kind of up against the wall,” Locksley said they will find out Saturday if everything they have stressed all year has made a difference.

Freshman wide receiver A.J. Jenkins is excited to face the Buckeyes.

“We have the No. 1 offense in the Big Ten, they have the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten, it’s going to be a very good challenge for the both of us,” Jenkins said. “We’re going to show up, we want to play hard, we want to see what happens.”