Illini try to stay focused during bye week


Illinois’ Jason Ford (21) rushes the ball during the game against Illinois State at Memorial Stadium Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. The Illini defeated the Redbirds 45-17 to improve 1-1 on the season.

By Anthony Zilis

In week one against Missouri, the Illinois football team’s main, self-reported problem was a lack of focus.

The Orange and Blue seemed to regain some of that focus in a 45-17 romp of Illinois State on Saturday. They’ll have to maintain it for two weeks as the Illini have a bye week before taking on No. 11 Ohio State in the Big Ten opener on Sept. 26.

Head coach Ron Zook plans to give his team a three-day weekend in which he’ll be able to rest a host of semi-injured players, including quarterback Juice Williams, linebacker Martez Wilson, receiver Arrelious Benn and running backs Jason Ford and Daniel Dufrene.

As for the non-injured Illini, defensive end Clay Nurse said there’s only one thing they need to do on that long weekend — prepare for the Buckeyes.

“We’re going to sit down, we’re going to watch the Ohio State film, we’re going to watch the Ohio State game that’s coming up, and just try to stay as focused and as locked in as we can,” he said.

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But while the Illini can watch film to their heart’s content, Ohio State will be receiving real game experience this weekend against Toledo.

Nurse is worried that the Buckeyes will be more focused than the Illini come time for the game in Columbus.

“We don’t like layoffs, because with layoffs, it takes you a while to get into the groove of the game,” Nurse said. “So while they’re coming in as sharp as the week before, we’re coming in with a little time off, so we’ve got to re-acclimate to what’s going on.”

This week will be the first of two bye weeks for the Illini. The next Saturday the Illini will not have a game will be on Nov. 21, the week after their final Big Ten game against Northwestern.

The Illini elected to have two bye weeks in order to lengthen their season into December, pushing their final game closer to bowl season than in the past.

Zook may want to tinker with this schedule format in the future but sees the benefit of having an extra week of practice.

“You’d like to have one or two more (games), but that’s the way it is, and I just think it’s good that you have a chance to regroup a little bit,” Zook said.

But the Illini have to play the schedule they have in front of them, and quarterback Eddie McGee doesn’t see a problem with it.

“I don’t think our focus is going to deteriorate at all,” he said. “We know that our opponent is a good team, and we need to stay focused and practice hard every day. We’ve got to go out there and bring it for the rest of the season.”