For the Illinois Fighting Illini, the win was sort of like one of those guys who had a close shave and says, “Yup, yeah, I’m good, no worries. Had it under control the whooooole time.”
The Illini certainly “had it under control” on Saturday with their 28-22 victory over Northern Illinois in front of 50,000-plus sweaty fans.
While the Illini led for a good portion of the game and led for good after taking a 18-12 lead in the second quarter, there were certainly some causes for concern (continued giving up of big plays, ridiculous penalties, letting inferior opponents hang around). At some point, saying ‘A win is a win,’ isn’t going to be good enough.
For now, though, it will have to suffice.
By Paul Schmidt
Ron Zook wasn’t surprised by the Illini’s struggles at all after the game.
“That game probably turned out exactly like we told our players it was going to turn out,” Zook said. “That’s the way they played Purdue last year, the way they played Wisconsin last year and I’m sure that’s the way they’re going to play Minnesota next week. It’s a good football team and a well coached football team.”
Zook was happy with his team’s ability to make the big plays when needed, as evidenced by the number of long drives the Huskies had stall out.
“The one thing I’m proud of with our team is that when we had to do it we did it,” Zook said. “We kept bending a little bit, but when it was important for us to bow up, we did. I think you have to go through those kind of games at times, and the good thing was that we were on the positive side of it.”
The play of the game for Zook and the Illini had to be going for it on fourth down and one at their own 46 with just over 5 minutes remaining. Mikel Leshoure converted the play, and Illinois would score with 1:43 left in the game to make it a two-score game once again.
It sounded like Zook waffled on the decision that ultimately worked out for the Illini and won them the game.
“Did I hesitate? I think every time you think about what is going to happen, and what you have to do, there would have been a time where we would have gone for the field goal there at the end rather than go for it on fourth down,” Zook said. “But you want to put yourself up two scores. But I just felt like it was important that we get the first down, and I felt like we would.”
It is all about pushing through the bad and earning the win anyway for the Illini right now, and Zook is a big believer.
“Once again, I think every football team in the country is going to have games like that,” Zook said. “Not that they weren’t up for this game.”
Illinois certainly was up for the game, very fired up as was shown in their attitude prior to the game, when they got into the faces of the Huskies as they took the field.
“Now, I apologize, because I have never seen our team do what they did at the beginning of the game there. I got after them pretty good about that,” Zook said. “I think there was a lot of chirping going on and it’s not all our guys’ fault, but our guys have to, when that happens, let it go and get back over there. Part of me likes to see that, that they’re gonna bow up and they ain’t gonna take any crap, but on the same token that’s not what we want to see here.”
One of the bigger subplots in the game ended up being the injury to offensive guard Hugh Thornton. Thorton went down quickly and hard after taking a helmet to the back of his helmet and being driven straight into the turf. Thornton lay completely motionless until being strapped onto the immobilizing board and carted off the field, when he gave a quick thumbs up/wave to the crowd.
Though after the game it was learned that Thorton had motion and feeling in all of his extremeities, there were some tense moments on the field as he was tended to. Zook didn’t feel as though it had an adverse affect on the team.
“No, they saw Hugh kind of wink at me, or smile at me, and they knew that he already kind of had a stinger,” Zook said. “And they know that any time it’s something with the neck they are gonna err on the side of caution, and make sure that everything is OK. And I just looked out there at Adrian (one of the field attendants), and Adrian is an old ex trainer, and I can tell by his body language whether or not it’s serious, and I hope, I pray to God that it’s not, but as I said, the last thing they told me was that he had his feelings back.”
In the end, the cliche holds true for Zook — a win really is a win. And that’s all that’s important.
“We could be 3-0, and that would be a little bit better, but we’re 2-1 and I think you just go from there,” Zook said. “The biggest thing is the attitude of these guys is great. They want to improve and they want to get better. The coaches have been demanding and that is what we have to do. As you get into the Big Ten, you know, who knows?
Obviously, the next game is going to be…we’re not going to be able to have the penalties that you mentioned, we’re not going to be able to give up the big plays and so forth, but then again , I don’t think we will.Follow paulmbanks