Illini football’s plan for 2009 season



By Laura Hettiger

There is no need to reiterate it, but Illinois’ football 2008 season fell short of nearly everyone’s expectations. After shocking the country by earning a bid to the coveted Rose Bowl just one year ago, the Illini were unable to become bowl eligible this season, ending with a dismal 5-7 record.

Head coach Ron Zook looked for an answer to his football team’s puzzling play all season, but even he was unable to pinpoint what exactly took this team from a Big Ten contender back to a middle-of-the-road team.

“There’s no question there’s something that’s been missing,” Zook said after the Illini’s final 27-10 loss at Northwestern. “We worked hard. They gave effort. They did everything that we asked them to do.”

But somewhere along the line, the players’ “everything” just was not enough. Maybe Illinois’ failures came because there weren’t enough experienced players lining up on both sides of the ball. Maybe the filming of the Big Ten Network’s “Illinois Football: The Journey” was a distraction. Or maybe the Orange and Blue constantly faced better teams. Whatever the reason for the unfortunate turn around from last season, the players and coaches are already promising a positive change for the 2009 campaign.

“Good teams come out and show their talent on Saturday,” quarterback Juice Williams said after the Northwestern game. “We can’t be inconsistent. We have to come out Saturday and perform. We are going to attack next year.”

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In the offseason, however, the football program will face another change: the absence of offensive coordinator Mike Locksley.

Last week, Locksley was named the new head coach at New Mexico, signing a six-year contract to call the shots for the Lobos.

Locksley, whom Zook brought with him from Florida, has been a key to Illinois’ recruiting success, especially in the Washington D.C. area. He also played a large role in Williams’ impressive offensive numbers this season.

Regardless of what has happened, Zook is already looking to the future. He never said 2008 was a lost season and he is guaranteeing that 2009 won’t be either.

“People are going to say the program slipped back,” Zook said after the team’s final game. “It didn’t slip back. I promise you this program’s still running full steam ahead. Now is when we’re going to find out what we’re made of.”


The last year a Big Ten team finished with a losing record the season following a Rose Bowl appearance (Michigan)