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Game Thread Game Ten: #1 tOSU 17, Illinois 10 (11/4/06)


Zook is positive about his Illini
Coach Ron Zook has struggled in his first season and a half in charge at Illinois, which plays Penn State this week, but says things are on the right track. By Rich Scarcella
Reading Eagle

Ron Zook has been on the job at Illinois for 1? seasons and owns just four wins in 18 games.
The Fighting Illini are coming off back-to-back, last-second losses at Memorial Stadium to Indiana and Ohio, not exactly powerhouses.
Yet Zook somehow managed to be positive this week when he spoke about the future of Illinois (1-2 Big Ten, 2-5), which plays Penn State (2-2, 4-3) Saturday at noon (TV-ESPN2; WRAW-AM/1340) at Beaver Stadium.
?We haven't lost vision of where we're at, where we're going or how we've got to get there,? Zook said. ?We need to continue as a football team and learn how to finish. That's my job.
?There is no doubt in my mind that we're going to get there. There are some growing pains that we're getting through. You get tired of saying it, but you have to stay the course and get there.?
Illinois faces a rugged stretch over the next month, facing Penn State and Wisconsin on the road and then No.1 Ohio State and Purdue at home. The Illini suffered a 63-10 home loss to the Nittany Lions last year, a defeat that Zook contends was a turning point for the program.
?We've come light years since then,? he said. ?I told our team it won't get any worse than that game. It has been the worst point. We've made little strides here and there since that night. The attitude is completely different.?
The Illini have used 16 true freshmen, second-most in Division I-A behind Temple (20). Led by freshman quarterback Juice Williams (6-2, 220), they are bigger, faster and stronger than they were last year.
?We're a much more athletic team,? Zook said. ?That's where it has to start.?
Three on the corner: Three Penn State players alternated at left cornerback last week against Michigan, but coach Joe Paterno said it wasn't because starter Tony Davis was struggling.
True freshman A.J. Wallace entered the game in the first quarter and sophomore Lydell Sargeant in the second quarter. Wallace was beaten on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Adrian Arrington in the second quarter.
Davis finished with four tackles and a pass breakup, and Wallace and Sargeant each had two tackles as the Wolverines passed for 196 yards.
?We had made up our minds that we had to start getting some younger kids in games,? Paterno said. ?We were going to play Wallace and Sargeant, but not because Tony wasn't playing well. We wanted to get them in there. All three of them did well.?
Posluszny, Kapinos recognized: Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny has been selected as one of the 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, presented to the nation's top lineman or linebacker.
Posluszny, a finalist last season, leads the Nittany Lions with 57 tackles and is just the third player in school history with at least 300 tackles.
The other semifinalists are linebackers Buster Davis of Florida State and Patrick Willis of Mississippi; offensive tackles Justin Blalock of Texas, Dan Mozes of West Virginia and Joe Thomas of Wisconsin; defensive ends Gaines Adams of Clemson, Mkristo Bruce of Washington State, Quentin Moses of Georgia, Brian Smith of Missouri and LaMarr Woodley of Michigan; and defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock of Ohio State.
Four finalists will be announced early next month.
Kapinos was chosen as one of 47 candidates for the Ray Guy Award, which goes to the nation's top punter. He's averaging 41.7 yards per kick this year. The finalists will be announced early next month.
New tradition: More than 125 former Penn State players lined the south tunnel at Beaver Stadium as a sign of support when the Nittany Lions came onto the field for the Michigan game last week.
Former players ranged in age from Wally Triplett (1946-48) through Mike Pawlikowski and John Royse from the 2005 team. Former All-Americans Ki-Jana Carter, Shane Conlan and O.J. McDuffie participated in the first-time event.
?Coach Paterno told us they were going to be out there,? linebacker Dan Connor said. ?It made the game more exciting. To see the guys there supporting you made you realize the bigger picture of how Penn State really is.
?It's a huge thing. It's family. Guys love Penn State.?
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OSU-Illinois time set:
The Big Ten announced Monday that Ohio State's game at Illinois on Nov. 4 will start at 3:30 p.m. and be televised on ESPN2. Saturday's OSU homecoming game with Minnesota will start at 3:30 p.m., as previously announced.
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OL problems 'across the board'

October 24, 2006
The focus has been on freshman quarterback Juice Williams. But the big reason Illinois is more competitive this year is the defense. It is allowing 170 fewer yards, including 106 fewer rushing yards, than last season. That has translated into 14 fewer points per game. Offensively, Illinois' total yardage (11-yard increase), and scoring (two-point increase) hardly have changed.
"Last year, the games weren't that fun," defensive tackle Chris Norwell said. "This year, all the games are fun. We just need to keep having fun and playing hard."
Although Illinois has a new defensive coordinator, former Northwestern assistant Vince Okruch, Norwell said a year of experience and weight-room work is the big key.
"Coach Okruch put in a couple new packages, new blitzes and stuff," Norwell said. "But the defense is not that much different. It's coach [Ron] Zook's defense. We just know what we have to do this year a lot better. We have a lot more guys around the ball. And our bodies got bigger. We don't bounce off tackles we should make."
? ? ? There are about 20,000 tickets available for the Illini's Nov. 4 home game vs. top-ranked Ohio State, which will begin at 2:30 p.m. and be televised on ESPN2. Herb Gould

Defense keeping Illini competitive
When Northern Illinois visits Iowa on Saturday, it could be seen as merely a meaningless midseason match between two 5-3 teams. But NIU coach Joe Novak -- 0-7 lifetime against the Big Ten -- puts extra spin on the game. "It's a Big Ten team, a great opportunity," said Novak, who led the Huskies into Kinnick Stadium in 1999 and lost 24-0. "Coming into the year, most people felt they were the third-best team in the Big Ten. They're very talented, very well-coached. When people say we, in some ways, resemble Iowa, I take it as a high compliment. I think we're similar in how we do things. It's a hard place to play, but a fun place to play."

? ? NIU is expected to update the status of reserve defensive lineman Brad Benson today. The senior was credited with two tackles and a half-sack Saturday against Temple before being helped off the field. Cornerback Adriel Hansbro returned to action with five tackles and a forced fumble.
? ? Despite Garrett Wolfe's precipitous dip in rushing output -- 70 yards total in the last two games -- the NIU rushing offense remains 11th in Division I-A with an average of 201.38 yards per game. The Huskies' total offense is 18th with 412.25 ypg.
? ? Huskies kicker Chris Nendick was named the Mid-American Conference special-teams player on the week Monday. Nendick finished with 19 points against Temple, including five field goals (he missed two).
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Despite sorry record, Illini have put up better defense

Published Tuesday, October 24, 2006

CHAMPAIGN - When the football season began there was less concern about the Illinois offense than the defense, which finished as one of the country's worst in 2005.

But as Illinois (2-6 overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten Conference) heads into its game at No. 17 Wisconsin (7-1, 4-1) Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2), it's the defense that has taken a big step forward this season.

Last season, the Illini defense allowed an average of 469.3 yards per game. Through eight games this season, the Illini have given up 298.4 yards per game.

Opponents' scoring also is down. Illinois gave up 39.5 points a game last season, compared to 25.6 this season. Opponents scored 54 touchdowns against the Illini defense a year ago. The Illinois defense has given up 17 touchdowns in the first eight games this season.

Perhaps the biggest improvement has come on rushing defense, where the Illini are allowing 127.9 yards per game compared to 234 last season.

"That's one of our goals defensively,'' defensive tackle Chris Norwell said. "We've cut down the rushing attack. When we play hard and with emotion, we can do that.

"Last year, the games weren't fun. This year, all the games have been fun, and we've been in there.''

Illinois' scoring offense has improved slightly, from 17.0 to 19.2 this season. The offense returned two veteran running backs, the bulk of the offensive line and receivers with experience.

But behind freshman quarterback Juice Williams, the offense has shown some periodic success. Moreso, it's potential for the future.

Meanwhile, the defense only has had to shoulder one of the losses - the 34-32 setback against Indiana. The defense played well enough to win the last two weeks, including the 26-12 loss Saturday at Penn State when it allowed only 10 of Penn State's points.

Although first-year Illinois defensive coordinator Vince Okruch made a few minor changes, it's basically the same defense brought to Illinois by coach Ron Zook, a former defensive coordinator.

The defense "is part of this program's improvement,'' linebacker J Leman said. "We've been improving. We'll continue to improve.
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osugrad21;637814; said:

Zook is positive about his Illini
By Rich Scarcella
Reading Eagle

New tradition: More than 125 former Penn State players lined the south tunnel at Beaver Stadium as a sign of support when the Nittany Lions came onto the field for the Michigan game last week.
Former players ranged in age from Wally Triplett (1946-48) through Mike Pawlikowski and John Royse from the 2005 team. Former All-Americans Ki-Jana Carter, Shane Conlan and O.J. McDuffie participated in the first-time event.
?Coach Paterno told us they were going to be out there,? linebacker Dan Connor said. ?It made the game more exciting. To see the guys there supporting you made you realize the bigger picture of how Penn State really is.
?It's a huge thing. It's family. Guys love Penn State.?

Well, imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery...
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Field position hurts Illinois

While attempting to win a string of close games, Illinois has been beset by consistently poor field position. Meanwhile, opponents have had the benefit of considerably better position.

Illinois has started its 109 possessions on average at its own 23.7-yard line, and 30 drives have started inside the 20.

Many things have contributed to the poor position, including lackluster kickoff returns, penalties and occasional poor decision-making on fielding punts.

"It's huge,'' coach Ron Zook said. "Football is a game of field position. When you're starting backed up, it affects not only what you call, how you call it and what you're able to do, but it affects your mentality. When you're out there in (good position), you're a little more freewheeling. It makes it a lot tougher to defend. It's a fact that the longer you have to go, the lower the percentage of getting points.''

Opponents, on the other hand, have been blessed with a considerably shorter field, starting on average at their own 37.4-yard line. That's 14 fewer yards to cover to reach the end zone. Opponents have started inside Illinois territory 29 times, and the Illini have started inside the opponent's territory six times.

The Illinois offense found itself in a no-win situation at Penn State in the third quarter of Saturday's 26-12 loss.

After the Nittany Lions went ahead 10-9, the Illini committed a penalty on the ensuing kickoff return, placing the ball at the 4-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Isiah Williams fumbled and Penn State's Tony Davis took the loose ball for a touchdown.

"Not only was it critical in terms of starting point,'' Zook said, "but the end result was critical.''

Same 'D,' better results

The Illinois defense has dramatically cut the number of points it has allowed in the Big Ten thus far. Through four games last season, the Illini had surrendered 195 points, and this year they have cut it to 107 under first-year defensive coordinator Vince Okruch, who made minor adjustments.

"This year, it's not that much different,'' defensive end Chris Norwell said. "It's Coach Zook's defense, but Coach Okruch put a couple of new packages in with some new blitzes. For the most part, we know what we have to do and run our plays better.''

The challenge will increase over the next three weeks as Illinois faces three of the four highest-scoring teams in the Big Ten. The Illini travel to Wisconsin, which averages 32.6 points, before facing Ohio State (34.9) and Purdue (29.4) at home.
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I watched almost all of the Illini-Wisky game and was somewhat impressed with the Zookers. They could be a problem in a couple of years.

That said, imo the first half dominance had more to do with Wisky sleepwalking than anything. They came back from halftime and shut Illinois out. Williams did miss a wide open pass for a TD but other than that Wisky just squeezed the life out of them.

Illinois to me has some talent but is far to young and inexperienced to knock off a big time team. Even if they kept a game close they couldn't make plays to put it away. They'd go Sparty and make some critical late game mistake to give it away.

Bottom line is Troy and the SR leadership keep the troops focused, come out and jump on them early and this one will go down like all the others. In fact the next two weeks vs UI and NU the INT numbers might swell up even more because of the young QB's having to play from behind so much.
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So far this year Jt has showcased wr's, tight end's, running backs, rb screens, options, I formation, Each week he shows something new. I wonder what it will be against the Illini?
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I believe the Bucks should roll...perhaps we will highlight the fullback running (as we highlighted the fullback catching this week...Illini quarterback is impressive (when given time, time is something our D doesn't give)...

GO BUCKS! :osu:

OSU 41

Illini 3

Let's keep the Illibuck in Columbus
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