Tate: No time to panic

Tate: No time to panic

Miss Monday's edition of The News-Gazette's Sports Page? We've got the replay here.

CHAMPAIGN – All together now, take a deep breath and OVERREACT!

Fire the staff. Bench the quarterback. Blame the media.

Like, oh yeah, Illini Nation is not accustomed to disappointment on the football field. Like, a shutout loss to Ohio State – the Illini have failed to score 19 times in the series – is a shocker.

It is not, of course, the fact that Illinois is 1-2 and by most estimates heading for a 1-3 start. There was always that fear. It is, rather, the shoddy, mistake-prone manner in which the two defeats have been absorbed.

It is sufficiently difficult to deal with Ohio State's superior talent without throwing three interceptions, dropping passes and being called for eight penalties. What is Ron Zook doing? Is he the right man for the job?

Well, the Illini have tried Michigan men (Pete Elliott, Gary Moeller) and an alumnus (Jim Valek). They've looked east (Bob Blackman), invaded the NFL (Mike White, John Mackovic, Ron Turner) and promoted an assistant (Lou Tepper). Somehow, they seem to wind up right back where they started. The final-season record of the previous 10 UI coaches is 35 wins, 66 losses and 3 ties. Been there, done that.

Can they rally?

The problem this week, after your team has been so soundly drubbed, is to find the positives. They're scarce. The Illini defense isn't forcing turnovers. Even with two first-half downpours limiting the aerial game, the Buckeyes ran the Illini ragged. The offense is struggling.

But that's in the rearview mirror. What we're about to discover is whether Zook can rally a stunned, disappointed squad. Maybe, some say, the Illini aren't as bad as two quality opponents made them appear. Maybe Zook can inspire a turnaround.

But first, let's toss a few darts of reality into the mix. Let's get real.

– Don't repeat past recruiting "guesstimates" after they've ceased to be pertinent. The junior class was ranked Top 20 in 2007, and Zook wasn't happy to be reminded by The News-Gazette that 11 of the 21 original signees weren't in uniform at Ohio State. So stop repeating misinformation. Right now. Stop it! Zook's so-called "best class" shows four current starters and one of those, Daniel Dufrene, is an alternate. Blame the media for overhyping them. But accept the fact that recruits must ultimately be rated on how they perform, and half of these guys aren't even available.

– The misguided projection of the Illini receiving corps as "No. 2 in the nation" was not based on anything solid. Jeff Cumberland has always been an enigma. Florida was no more upset when Jarred Fayson left than when Zook did. Projected All-American Arrelious Benn shows three receiving TDs in the last 15 games. The UI freshmen were modest producers in 2008 and have shown nothing to get excited about in 2009. It's a good receiving corps, but let's keep things in perspective.

– Juice Williams' near-record career numbers in total offense don't necessarily translate into victories ... not when turnovers are figured in. He doesn't scan the field as well as some others, and he isn't consistently accurate. That said, he is good enough to win with, and he has beaten every Big Ten opponent except Purdue, which didn't play Illinois the last two years.

There's still time

The point today, rather than jumping off bridges, is to understand that the next nine games will tell the tale. If this is truly a bowl team, of which there is little evidence, there is time to do it.

Perhaps it is only talk, but team leaders seem to be hanging tough.

Said Williams Monday: "That (the 30-0 loss at OSU) was a nightmare that you hate to have and want to wake up from. There is nothing that happened that can't be corrected. It's tough (absorbing the blame) but that's the nature of the beast. I understand when things aren't going well, it comes down to me. I can handle it."

Said Benn: "Weather conditions were tough at Ohio State, but that's no excuse. We didn't execute, and penalties held us back. We have to stay together. That's the main thing, to focus on Penn State. It all starts today. We know what we need to do, and we don't need to keep talking about it."

Offered tackle Josh Brent: "We're not in panic mode. We get another chance Saturday. Iowa put a lot of pressure on (Penn State QB) Daryll Clark and he got happy feet and wasn't as accurate in the second half. Even with our loss at Ohio State, there are things for us to be confident about."

For those of us on the perimeter, confidence is not overflowing. But, as Brent says, this is no time to panic, no time for rash decisions. The coaches will play the individuals who give them the best chance to win. With the rest of us, there is a heart-thumping inclination to flail wildly at real or imagined shortcomings but, when the season results are in, there'll be plenty of time to analyze and re-evaluate.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports


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Illinigrad wrote on September 29, 2009 at 12:09 am

Nice article Loren. We do play them one at a time. The season turns on MSU, NOT PSU. If we start 1-4 then it will be really tough to eek out 5 more wins. Of course, beat PSU and the rest of the schedule seems beatable. Lose to PSU but beat MSU and a glimmer of sunlight appears. With Zook's overall record, mistake style FB, and tendency to lose games he should not lose, I am not optimistic. Hopefully I will be proven wrong.

TotalIlliniFan wrote on September 29, 2009 at 6:09 am

Fans' patience has run out. We have been taken advantage of for too long. Football needs to be a consistent winner. 3-4 wins will not turn emotions around, take Zook off the hot seat or restore trust in Guenther. Read the thousands of informed comments on message boards, blogs and newspapers. We are past the tipping point and fans are circling the wagons.

illinizeeman wrote on September 29, 2009 at 7:09 am

Guenther IS to blame, period. We had a top 20 program in the late 80's/early 90's. He has been in charge of the program since. Look at the record. He has given the other sports life, but that's not where the revenue is.

Illini1973 wrote on September 29, 2009 at 8:09 am
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I don’t think you get the point, Loren. It’s not just we lost the 2 games. It’s that we weren’t even competitive!! Both games were over BEFORE halftime. The players are uninspired and merely ‘going through the motions’. Everyone knew the suckeyes were going to run the ball, we could have put 12 ‘in the box’ and they still would have ripped off 6-8 yards. IU was competitive at the big house, Minn/Cal, PU/ND, PU/OU, etc….get the point?

walerius4 wrote on September 29, 2009 at 9:09 am

Hey "Total"Illinifan, u think u can do better,quit your job and try! If not, shut up already. Tired of hearing u whine.....

sagan20 wrote on September 29, 2009 at 9:09 am

Yet again, Mr. Tate seems to be the only person who can not see the forest through the trees. It's one thing to lose in a game where you are not favored, it's another to lose in the manner with which our team did. This team looks apathetic and at points down-right lost on the field. The fact that Mr. Tate tries to rationalize our loss by saying that we aren't as talented as we thought is completely insulting. This comes down to coaching, pure and simple. Do you honestly believe that Ron Zook and this staff can ever build a program that wins on a consistent basis? And how many bad coaching hires and terrible schedules do we have to go through before we can hire a competent athletic director?

Highbanks00 wrote on September 29, 2009 at 9:09 am

Different direction: I sat in the west main stands a watched coach Valek serve up 1 victory in '68 an 0 wins in '69. I sat in the same seats and witnessed coack Blackman give us 5 losing seasons in 6 years. I watched coach Moeller and his 6 wins in 3 years including the Sept. 9, 1978 0-0 tie with Northwestern. What a memorable game! The coach White era began and some on the field success took place. My season tickets began to move south from the 40 yard line to the goal line as thw wins piled up. My donations to the U of I were sufficient during the lean years but not now. I did not renew my season tickets after the '85 season and did not return until the 2004 season. Now, in the 2009 season, my donation to the U of I did not justify a RV parking pass even though I stated on the "You Choose" parking letter I drove a RV to the games. Needless to say I am once again finished with Illinois football. My decision has nothing to do with wins and losses.

FiveStar5 wrote on September 29, 2009 at 10:09 am

I think Leshoure's play was solid and one of the brighter spots of an otherwise dismal showing at OState this past weekend. Leshoure's the real deal and as long as his off field demeanor stays in check...he will only get better.

walker wrote on September 29, 2009 at 10:09 am

Why we won't throw the ball downfield is beyond me. Benn is totally wasted on this team and we will never attract quality receivers with this offense. Also, who was the returner that could not decide to run it back or take a knee?? That was pretty pathetic ?

tb wrote on September 29, 2009 at 10:09 am

Loren I am tired of the attitude that because we have never won in football that we never will. When I was growing up Nebraska never lost but they had Tom Osbourne. Since he left they can't win. Duke was never anywhere near the power they are today before Coach K. Neither coach had a big reputation before they made one. So stop telling us we can't win because we live in Illinois. Alvarez made Wisconsin football. Less teams with less money and alot less great history than Illinois are winning every week. Like Boise State, Cincinnati, Missouri,Utah. We have the wrong guy and maybe the wrong AD and administration. The reason we are panicking now because we look like the worst team in the Big Ten. That is not forgivable.

Dan wrote on September 29, 2009 at 10:09 am

There is only one team from the Big Ten who has gone to the Rose Bowl only to follow up the next year with no bowl at all. Illinois. And we have done it twice. That's really embarassing. 2007 is proving to be a fluke - Juice's style caught everyone off guard. Just like the "wildcat offense". Defenses are figuring it out. Everyone has figured Juice out. Either that, or this team plays with zero desire. I rather hope the former is true.

tb wrote on September 29, 2009 at 10:09 am

One last point. If I have ever seen a team that needs to huddle up before every play its this one. Stop shuffling players and go with your best until they get tired. Make sure you have enough players on the field. Make sure you know snap count. We look like a mess. For the love of Dick Butkus ,recruit a punter.

TotalIlliniFan wrote on September 29, 2009 at 11:09 am

walerius4 - don't you think you are overreacting?

jimbo2009 wrote on September 29, 2009 at 11:09 am

If the score at OS had been 24-30 or 27-30 it would be a different story. This team is pathetic. First is was we didn't have the talent or athletes to compete, so we hire a "recruiting" coach and he has what....4 recruiting classes rated in the Top 30 or near it? So what's our excuse now? Footnote to Shawn Wax.....don't bother sending me a I Fund renewal form, if RZ is still coaching the Illini in mid-December.

WhoSays wrote on September 29, 2009 at 11:09 am

We are just a bad team. Happens every year we over hype average teams & talent. Tate I love your pasion for the Illini, but please just call the coaches out from now on. They are the ones not putting the right players on the field, making the game plans and brining in sub par off the field individuals. I agree with a poster above, huddle up and run the play you call this gimic stlye look at the sideleines has to go. Also "IF" we score a TD ever again line up and kick the ball. I am 110% sick of Zook excuses and goofy azz plays. Get Benn the ball Eddie and play old fashion football. We need football players and need them now! If we don't put up a fight vs. PSU just go young these upper class men don't have it! Ask Weber if he needs Pruitt back?

OrlandoIllini wrote on September 29, 2009 at 12:09 pm

My UofI undergrad years were Jim Valek's Illini coaching years, so I am acquainted with grief and dispair. Regardless of the coach, it is recruiting that makes the difference.

Few times --if ever-- has any Illini football coaching regime obtained successive recruiting classes of: A) good players... B) who would stay with the program and... C) who improved their performance throughout their career.

The 2007 class is one of the more dramatic examples of getting A) without B) and with not much C) among the survivors.

Tepper got B)s who did not include many A)s and who did not do C). With Lou, it seemed religious conviction trumped football ability.

Moeller and Turner initially got some A)s who mostly were not C)s. After a few years, neither could get A)s.

Mike White got dragged down by relying on JCs, and by desperation was reduced to the fiasco of chasing Elton and Delton.

This last time, the AD should have selected Brewster. It may not be too late for that, unless that slight has hardened Tim's heart against his Alma Mater.

Last item: maybe we should thank God that Mike Locksley departed. The man is falling apart.

Go Illini!

--Orlando Illini

tb wrote on September 29, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Does Zook have a planned red shirt season for his freshman? I know Iowa red shirted 20 freshman this year. All but 2 recruits. They have no 5 star recruits and only a couple 4 stars. They really develop players. There defensive line looks as good as any I have seen this year. If I coached and needed an edge this is what I would do. You would have to be a junior and a man before you started for me on either side of the ball. I'd save my highly ranked players for both defensive and the offensive backfield. I would also probably recruit football players and not great bodies. I would rather have Moe Gardner than Martez Wilson anytime.

ahedge wrote on September 29, 2009 at 1:09 pm

I think the major problem for the Illini is this new offensive coordinator we got from TCU. He doesn't know the offense and doesn't play to any of our strengths. He seems to be stuck in a system that doesn't work for the players we have. This is best shown by the lack of receptions for Benn against Ohio State. Also it seems as if the guy doesn't like to run Juice or run the hurry up offense which seemed to be the only thing to work, when they played Ohio State. The only plus I have seen with this team was the offensive line and it doesn't look like we've got anywhere to go.