Did Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook Blow The Ohio State Game?


ron zook

Is there any more activity over at fireronzook.com?

After Saturday’s “moral victory” loss against #2-ranked Ohio State, it definitely should be.

While the Illini were not expected to be close, and weren’t supposed to win the game, they were driving to tie late in the game, and had a chance to completely turn the college football world on its ear.

That’s when Zook gagged on his headset mic.

By Paul Schmidt

There’s nothing worse than having an outmatched coach, and that is definitely what the Zooker proved again on Saturday.

With his team on the verge of driving for a touchdown, the Fighting Illini faced a fourth and seven from the 13 yard line with 4:40 left in the game. The Illini were making only their third trip to the red zone in the game, and were trailing 17-10.

A touchdown was the only score whatsoever that mattered, so, obviously, Zook sent out the field goal unit.

Before we get to the Zook explanation, let’s once more set the scene: The Illini trail by a touchdown, it’s fourth down on your opponents 13, there’s a 25 mph wind in your face (making the 30 yard FG not a gimme), your defense, though stout, has just given up a long drive and is starting to look fatigued.

You need the touchdown to tie.

You kick the field goal.

Ron Zook, explain away!

“When you look at that, I felt that if we get the field goal, we’re only down four, and if you hold them to another field goal we’re only down seven,” Zook explained after the game. “We still have a chance to get points. I just felt like we should take the points we will for sure have and then count on the defense to get the ball back. If you hold them to a field goal, now it’s a seven point game which is still a manageable game.”

There’s so much wrong with that quote, I have to physically break it down piece by piece.

“When you look at that, I felt that if we get the field goal, we’re only down four, and if you hold them to another field goal we’re only down seven,” Zook said.

OK. First, if you’re only down four it does NOTHING to help you. Why? BECAUSE YOU STILL NEED A TOUCHDOWN!!!! It gives you no inherent advantage to be in your opponents red zone and kick a field goal when down seven that late in the game. Conceivably, not only will you not get that close again, you may not get the ball back! You have to take your shots when you have them, and for a coach that always talks about “bowing up,” Zook certainly coached the last five minutes of the game like a man without chutzpah.

“We still have a chance to get points.”

Technically, this isn’t correct. You have a chance to give yourself a chance to get more points. But, after kicking the field goal to ensure you were only down four points, the Illini defense had to still make a stop in order to give you a chance to get more points. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but I feel as though Zook needs to have this explained.

“I just felt like we should take the points we will for sure have and then count on the defense to get the ball back. If you hold them to a field goal, now it’s a seven point game which is still a managable game.”

This might be the most galling part of the quote, and I’ll also admit to not catching it when Zook said it, and only noticed it as I was transcribing audio and able to read it.

In one breath, Zook is saying that you want those points and then you want to count on the defense to get you the ball back. In the very next breath, Zook is talking about the defense giving up points and keeping it a one touchdown game, which is inconsistent at best and just deluded at worst.

And finally, it’s a seven point game…which is still a manageable game…well, Ron, YOU WERE IN A SEVEN POINT GAME!!!! YOU WERE IN THAT MANAGEABLE GAME!!!! Why give up, at best, 2 or 3 minutes of clock to be in the EXACT same situation you are in right then…and only hopefully so, I might add?

Not to mention, then you’re putting pressure on your freshman quarterback to lead a two-minute drill into a big wind against the number two team in the country (and one of, if not the, nation’s best defenses). Why put undue pressure on a young man who hasn’t, as of yet, been in that type of situation?

Put yourself in position to win the game at the expense of losing the game, especially considering it’s what you did anyway.

As a writer, this was a great moment, because it meant I could focus on something other than the plucky underdogs getting their moral victory.

As a fan…I nearly had a stroke on the sidelines I was so angry.

And therein lies the trouble of being an Illinois fan and reporter right now. You’re torn between the good and the bad. And since I’m trying to be as objective as I can (I’ll pause here so you can laugh…ok…you’re finished? Great.), I’ll let Twitter do the talking.

That’s right, people who know sent out roughly 45 tweets about the Zook coaching decision. And…let’s just say…somewhere in the neighborhood of zero percent of them agreed with the call.

AP_Top25: #Illinois settles for FG to get within 17-13 vs #OhioState, but only 4 mins left. Zooker hopes D can make stand. #conservativemuch?  Yes, that’s right, the AP Top 25 guys think it was stupid.

espn4d: Zooker goes for 3 down 7, with 4:36 left. That’s why he’s the Zooker. I’m going to guess that ESPN.com’s Pat Forde isn’t being complimentary when he says that.

AP_Top25: There’s a reason Zook was forced out at #Florida. Dumb to kick FG with 4 mins left down 17-10. #Buckeyes TD finishes off #Illinois. The AP chimes in again…nicely done…

LostLettermen: Co-sign RT @sbell021: Strongly disagree with the decision to kick this. I’ll be shocked if Illinois touches the ball again. Scott Bell is the assistant sports editor at the Dallas Morning News and a Michigan guy, and knows a little about football. Lost Letterman is lostletterman.com, and he’s a friend of TSB as well as a Michigan man. Both are right.

Finally, there was my tweet after the presser. I’d been quoting Friday Night Lights all week about how the Illini could win this game, and what they needed to do, but my tagline for the game was, “Clear eyes…Full Hearts…can’t lose.” It became my mantra during the game. And it was nearly apropos.

LTJpezcore1: The #Illini played with clear eyes, a full heart…unfortunately Ron Zook didn’t coach with a clear head.


  1. Made me stop and count on my fingers.

  2. paulmbanks says

    reading Zook’s “explanation” just gives me an ice cream headache

  3. You’re logic is non-existent.

    To win this game, we needed two scores or a TD and 2 pt conversion.

    If we don’t at least get a first down on that play, our team suffers psychologically.
    It would have been very deflating. Then, if we do get the ball back, the best we can do is send the game to OT. The defense was getting worn out, so OT would have been won by OSU.

    Getting a FG gave the team a lift and kept the defense off the field for a little longer and gave the entire team and the fans a lift.

    We should have gotten the ball back, but the refs screwed us big time.

    You need to learn to think these things through. Ron Zook is a lot smarter than you and you should get used to him because he will become the new AD before long.

  4. paulmbanks says

    how the hell does getting a field goal “keep the defense off the field a little longer” it’s two freaking plays!!!!! the fg, and the kickoff.

    wow valuable seconds there!!!

    You may actually have some valid points, but I can’t really think that you actually do because you closed your comment with syaing Zook will be the next AD.


  5. Actually zen, the worst part is that, since the defense was getting tired, by kicking the field goal, it was highly possible, if not probable, you were going to need THREE scores to win (the FG that got kicked, and then, after tOSU scores, either 2 TDs, or a TD, 2 pt conversion and an FG to tie)…that’s not a situation that you want to put yourself in.

    There’s also another point to consider that I didn’t go into because I had already written too long anyway…and it was that of the wind. The wind was listed at 15-18 miles per hour but it was, at the end of the game, blowing harder than that, especially into the air.

    The reason this is critical is that, after the field goal, we had to kick off. And penalties aside, OSU was playing with a short field, starting at around the 35.

    Had the offense not gotten the first down, tOSU would have had the ball at the 13. BIG difference there, as there may have been a shorter field to work with for Illinois if the defense had been able to hold.

    As for the FG, it doesn’t give the team a lift, because they still need the exact same score — a touchdown — to not lose the game. And that’s at best; we saw what the worst case scenario was.

    It’s just simple math, and especially with two time outs, you’re not doing your freshman QB any favors by forcing him to run a 2 minute offense to save the team from losing.

    There was no where the refs screwed us on that last drive. The team needs to tackle without grabbing the facemask, and they need to learn to not line up offsides. Plain and simple.

  6. paulmbanks says

    I agree the refs made some horrible calls yesterday, but none on that drive.

    Zentrails, when you criticize the intelligence of someone else, or claim they are not as intelligent as you think they claim to be- it’s probably a good idea to make sure your spelling and grammar is pristine. it’s “your” not “you’re”

    and I hope those Gator fan commenters show up here again, the guys jumping all over Zook, on that post-media day article we had in Aug. The one where Zook claimed this team was as talented or more than the Rose Bowl team

  7. Completely agree with what you wrote.

    I would like to add, no disrespect to mentally handicapped people, those who are defending Zook are RETARDED. I am embarassed you are Illini fans. I personally found Zook’s decision so appaling, yet not inconsistent with this simple fact about Ron Zook:


    It’s really that simple. Ron Zook just isn’t a smart guy. But that doesn’t matter for coaching college football. What hurts Illinois is that Ron Zook isn’t just not smart, he’s actually below average. I would like to see him take the wonderlic.

  8. It occurred to me on Sunday that this was the fourth time I’ve written a story like this…that’s not good

  9. that is a low blow, saying he is not smarter than Zook.

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