Tate: Don't blame it all on Zook

Tate: Don't blame it all on Zook

Given the choice, I would have kicked an early field goal

TV color analyst Bob Davie and various ESPN gurus questioned UI strategy Saturday and said coach Ron Zook "must answer" for his fourth-down decision late in the 17-7 loss to Ohio State.

That's not entirely fair. There were two reasonable approaches to a near-hopeless situation as the clock ran down. In either case, Illinois would need to recover an onside kickoff. And it was Zook's view that it would be preferable to score a quick touchdown and follow it in the closing seconds with a field goal to tie.

But we've all seen how the pros do it, and that's the way my mind works. From the moment Illinois moved within field goal range, I was thinking: "The pros wouldn't wait until fourth down. They'd kick it now in order to save as much time as possible." And furthermore: "It won't matter if Illinois punches it in for the TD if it runs down the clock inside 20 seconds."

Here's how that would have worked Saturday.

Jon Davis took an 11-yard pass to the Ohio State 24 with 1:25 remaining. That would require Derek Dimke to boot a 41-yarder, easily within his range.

If the Illini then regained possession around the UI 45 on the ensuing kickoff, it was reasonable to assume Nathan Scheelhaase could complete the same kind of short passes that had worked against the Ohio State prevent defense in the previous drive (he completed 14 of his last 21 passes). He would have needed only two or three first downs to get into range to attack the end zone on the final plays.

That's one scenario. Once they trailed 17-0, it was a long-odds quest at best. It boiled down to what to do upon reaching the 24 with 1:25 to go. Those who agree with Zook's strategy are correct that a quick TD would have made the last bid to tie easier. But when it became fourth down at the 17 with 1:14 showing, a kick deserved strong consideration because a failed fourth-down play would end the game, and that's what happened.

And yes, I'd foul with a three-point lead under 10 seconds in basketball. Not everyone agrees on these strategies.

Earning their pay

There were those who pontificated that the Phillies put together the best-ever pitching rotation when they spent $56.5 million of their $173 million payroll for Roy Halladay ($20M), Roy Oswalt ($16M), Cliff Lee ($11M) and Cole Hamels ($9.5M). Some experts considered this fearsome foursome even better than the 1997 Braves quartet of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle, and the Orioles' four 20-game winners in 1971: Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson.

This Phillie quartet appeared to be a rotation for the ages. The team won 102 games. And with pitching always the No. 1 playoff consideration, the NL pennant was considered a lock.

Isn't it ironic, then, that the Cardinals came along with a bunch of underpaid no-names to rock the baseball world. In 5-4 and 5-3 playoff wins over the Phillies (prior to Chris Carpenter's 1-0 masterpiece), the relievers gave up one run in nine clutch innings. Against Milwaukee, the bullpen was masterful in hurling 28.2 innings (the starters 24.1). In order the set this table, the Redbirds had to pay a prorated share of Octavio Dotel's $3 million salary, a portion of Mark Rzepcynski's annual $429,000 and all of Jason Motte's $435,000. Fernando Salas and Lance Lynn got free peanuts and drinks.

And yet, with Tony La Russa matching and mixing, these are the guys who carried St. Louis into the World Series.

Meanwhile, ace Adam Wainwright is sidelined, starter Jake Westbrook ($8.5 million next year) was dropped from the playoff roster due to ineffectiveness, and Kyle Lohse ($11.8 million) and Jaime Garcia (newly signed through 2017) are so shaky that La Russa jerks them at the slightest hint of trouble. As for Edwin Jackson, he was removed after two innings Sunday with long Brewer explosions ringing in his ears.

And here the Cardinals stand, a team with championship ambitions. Well, maybe the Rangers have similar problems. In the last 10 games, they've had one starter last six innings or more.

My advice to the starting pitchers: Chuck and Duck!

Tate's tidbits

— They may be No. 1, but Kevin Hambly's UI volleyball team can't be considered a clearcut Big Ten favorite. They reached 19-0 with a sixth five-set win here Saturday — there's nothing like winning the close ones — after Michigan State appeared to take over with dominant performances in the third and fourth sets. Nebraska kept pace by edging Minnesota in five sets, and has the advantage of playing Illinois just once at home Saturday. That's the bad part of not having a double round-robin schedule.

— Ron Guenther's expertise on bowl matters has allowed the Big Ten office to keep him busy on issues related to football's postseason. The conference has eight bowl tie-ins, assuming eight teams qualify with at least six wins. For those who want to see Illinois play in January, there are five Big Ten tie-ins Jan. 2.

— Wisconsin must finish 13-0 to have any hope for the championship game. With strength of schedule weighing in, seven more wins would probably push the Badgers past Boise State, but the winners of the LSU-Alabama (Nov. 5) and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (Dec. 3) games would have to lose to an underdog. And, remember, there is no Big 12 playoff game this year.

— Committed Illini basketball recruits Michael Orris, Jalen James and Malcolm Hill will be at the Assembly Hall for the seven-game shootout Dec. 10. But no Simeon or Whitney Young. Simeon will travel instead to play in Rupp Arena at Kentucky and in Cameron at Duke, offering a reminder of how difficult it is to recruit those Chicago Public League stars.

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

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LoyalIllini wrote on October 18, 2011 at 5:10 am

Bob Davie was also very surprised by Zook not taking time outs to save time for the Offense to run more plays, and told viewers so. At least he didn't go on and on about baseball.

MarkHoekstra wrote on October 18, 2011 at 7:10 am

Ron Guenther has expertise on bowl matters? Come on Loren! Under his "leadership" Illinois went to just 6 bowl games ni 19 seasons! Only in Hudson, Ohio would this be considered a good record!

muckfichigan wrote on October 18, 2011 at 10:10 am

Ah, yes...the greatness that is Bob Davie. Another ex-coach pontificating about what he would have done safely removed involuntarily from the coaching ranks. Folks, when you have 3 turnovers, 2 of which are inside your own 25, and you are playing the best defense by far that we have seen all year. You aren't winning the game. If the special teams had demonstrated the ability at any point this year to change the outcome of a game in our favor, I would have had some semblance of confidence that we might convert on an onside kick. If you want to hang Zook out to dry, look no further than the inept play of this unit. We need a major shakeup here in the return game. Time to take the wrapping off the black cat and turn him loose to invigorate this unit.

DaisyJ wrote on October 18, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Without a doubt,,Zook and coaches misplayed this. You can keep writing lets look at it this way and that way and they this way again and again and again,,,and it still was CLEARLY a very stupid mistake that YOU WOULD only expect from a Novus coach....or Zook.

DaisyJ wrote on October 18, 2011 at 5:10 pm

After thinking about not blaiming it on Zook,,I think Tate is right..I blame the following people for not attempting the last minute field goal :

1) BLAME the players for not speaking up, starting with the captains
2) BLAME the fans that wore Blue only as they were aware of the clock and point in the game and should of in Uni-son shouted,,"WE NEED TO GO FOR A FIELD GOAL AND SAVE THE CLOCK, WE ARE DOWN TWO SCORES".
3) BLAME the stadium announcer, as he is quick to speak up when there is a first down, letting everone know, and he tells us scores and he has the loudest mike in stadium.
4) BLAME the guy in line ahead of me at the concession stand, he also
said we need to go for the field goal,,but he just stood there and never ran out to the stadium to yell it to coach Zook...in fact, he not only mentioned we needed to do the FG,, he then stayed there watched the fourth down play on TV and then proceeded to put both Mustard and Relish on his hotdog,,,taking so much time Zook already went for the first down.
5)BLAME Tate because he is a long time friend and can write about the possibilty of the need as to when to go for a FG and his former stories just did not get thru to Zook

polishdude219 wrote on October 20, 2011 at 1:10 am

Hey Mr. Tate... I agree with you on his call near the end of the game whether or not to take the field goal. However... I was at the game and the time management by the Illini before that situation was just horrible. I believe they got the ball back with more than 10 min to go when they were down by 17. They just took it casually and took the time all the way down to about 6 min. In that situation, the team should run a more hurry up offense if you want a chance to win. I don't mean 1 minute drives, but don't take up like 6 min on one drive, 2 of which were in the redzone. Even in that situation we still had a chance to win though without even kicking an onside kick as long as we held them to three and outs.

Duce20 wrote on October 21, 2011 at 10:10 pm

It is all Zook's fault! He coaches the STs, the STs are terrible and cost us the game. We have the worst STs in the country. Don't believe me read this...
http://alioneye.com/2011/10/21/nerdstats-arent-helping/