Players hold themselves accountable after first loss, look ahead to Purdue

For the first six weeks of the season, the Illinois football team was on cloud nine. The Illini were 6-0, their best start since the last national championship season in 1951, and had climbed all the way to No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Then Ohio State came to town, handing the Illini a 17-7 loss, controlling the game on both sides of the ball in the process.

But even after their first loss of the season, the Illini still haven’t appeared to lose the confidence gained from their hot start.

“Obviously, nobody wanted to lose that game on Saturday, but it happened, and it’s what you’re going to do from there,” quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said.

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said it’s times like this that reveal what the Illini are really made of.

“We gotta find a way to shake this off, and we’ll see what we’ve got and can we respond,” Koenning said. “Everybody can do well when it’s going well. Everybody can row down the river, it’s when you get to some rapids that you gotta make some adjustments and you gotta better. We gotta find a way to deal with the adversity.”

While the coaches may not know for sure how well the players coped with the loss until their next game Saturday at Purdue, they are still impressed with how well the players have acted so far, especially in accepting blame for the sub-par performance.

“If people point at themselves first, then you always have a chance to get it corrected,” offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. “When you’re in trouble is when people start pointing (at each other).”

Head coach Ron Zook said the accountability since the loss has shown a lot about the attitude of his squad.

“I think what it says is maturity, ownership,” Zook said. “They understand that it’s about those guys. You’ve heard me say it before, a player-driven team. It makes you feel pretty good as a coach that these guys are taking the ownership in that.”

One of those players who hasn’t been shy about accepting responsibility is Scheelhaase, who said he was curious to see whether the team would continue to have the same swagger and confidence after the loss.

“It’s not gone at all,” Scheelhaase said. “It was inspiring to be out here with our guys (in practice), just the way they had a bounce in their step. … It’s good to be around a bunch of guys who have that same mentality when you step out on the field. It makes things go a lot better than maybe people expected on the outside when you have people like that in the locker room.”

Scheelhaase also made a point to say Illinois is still fully capable of reaching the lofty standards it set out to accomplish at the beginning of the season.

“None of our goals are unattainable,” he said.

“Right now, our only goal is to beat Purdue. That’s all that’s on our mind, that’s all we’re focused on, and that’s all we should be focused on.”