Illini staying the course despite rough patch

In each of the past two weeks, football head coach Ron Zook and the rest of the Illinois coaching staff had raved about the great practices the team was having. And yet, in both weeks, the Illini have fallen behind early and failed to rally late, losing both games after an historic 6-0 start.

In fact, the coaching staff said it saw none of the signs that usually foreshadow a possible letdown in that week’s game.

“No sir, not at all,” defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. “We practiced really well the last two weeks.”

Even the defense, which drew a lot of criticism during Camp Rantoul as well as through the early part of the season, has been practicing well enough to satisfy Koenning.

“It’s a lot better than it was early in the year. Some of that’s because it’s not 85, 90 degrees out here, but it’s a lot better,” Koenning said. “And when they start slacking up a little bit, then we get back to pushing it again. We could probably practice longer, but I don’t know that we could practice harder.”

Despite the recent struggles, Zook and the rest of his staff have yet to make a change in the team’s practice habits, saying they don’t see any reason to start panicking.

“We just gotta keep working through it,” Zook said. “As long as we’re doing the right things, it will work out.”

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said the team’s success through the first half of the season makes staying the course that much easier.

“We won six games with the routine and lost two with it, so it’s nothing with our routine or anything like that,” Scheelhaase said. “We know how to work, we know what we need to do from a week to week standpoint, it’s just taking care of business on Saturday.”

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said he believes that as long as each player keeps practicing hard, the end results will eventually improve.

“We have practiced good. Not everyone, not all 11 guys, and that’s what we gotta get,” Petrino said. “We gotta get where all 11 guys have a great week of practice all week. I believe in the way we’re practicing. I believe in what we’re doing. … We’re not gonna change a whole bunch of things, we’re just gonna keep grinding and keep working hard and get better.”

As far as Scheelhaase is concerned, working hard isn’t going to be an issue.

“All I know is work,” Scheelhaase said. “I work hard after a win, after a loss, it doesn’t matter. I’m just putting my nose down and working, and eventually good things will happen. You can’t change anything as far as what you’re doing in practice. If you’re practicing well, you gotta keep that up. You just gotta keep working and keep grinding, and when it comes to Saturday just take care of business. I think that’s what we gotta do a better job of.”