After absorbing the tough week one loss to Missouri, the number one thing Coach Zook wanted to see from his squad against SIU was progress, and that’s exactly what he got from the 35-3 victory Saturday.
“I think looking back at this past game we made progress. Obviously we have a long way to go but I think we are going in the right direction,” Zook said today at his weekly press conference.
According to Zook, the Illini looked to show improvement in all areas Saturday night when they hosted the number two rated Salukis from Division 1-AA. The Illini dominated the game in all aspects: on offense, defense, and special teams, making for a happy head coach.
” I was really excited about the way the defense played. The defense played hard. I was excited about the fact that Nathan (Scheelhaase) made the progress that he needed to make; not only Nathan but also the whole offense in general,” Zook said.
As Zook noted, it was a great sight for Illini fans to see the vast improvement of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase from week one to week two. Just how much better was Scheelhaase? Take a look at the numbers.
9-23, 81 yards, 3 INT’s, 16 carries, 76 yards, 1 fumble lost
14-18, 229 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s, 7 carries, 4 yards
Scheelhaase was extremely efficient in his second colligate start under center, and though it was against a 1-AA defense, it was important that the young quarterback made strides in the right direction after the ups and downs of the Missouri game. The Illini hope that as time passes and games are played, they will continue to get improvement from the quarterback position, and if you ask Scheelhaase, that is a guarantee.
Coach Zook spoke with Scheelhaase last night, asking if he can be better this week than he was the last.
“Nathan was watching tape a quarter after eleven last night and I said to him `Do you think you can make the same amount of progress this week as you did last week?’ and he said, `Absolutely.’ He didn’t have to think about it.”
A Stingy Defense
In addition to the improvement of Scheelhaase and the offense as a whole, the new look defense also has elevated their performance , impressing many with their hard hitting and overall transformation from last season’s unit. After putting together one solid half against the high powered offense of Missouri, the Illini defense put it all together against the Salukis, holding them to only three points and forcing two turnovers.
Many Illini defenders have impressed, but a big surprise on this year’s defense has been the play of linebacker Nate Bussey, who has taken pleasure in rattling some heads with his vicious hits. Bussey, who added four tackles this past Saturday, talked today about the reason behind the defense’s success.
“The tackling is great right now, the past two games … Everyone is buying into what the coaches are saying and putting it all together and bringing it to the game.”
Coach Zook has continued to express his happiness with the defense, but there is one player that he is continuing to push. A member of the 2010 Butkus Award Watch List, linebacker Martez Wilson, has been surrounded with high expectations since he arrived on campus in 2007. Now, after missing practically the entire 2009 season, Wilson is attempting to show he is the same player the Illini recruited four years ago. Wilson was criticized by many, including his own coach after the Missouri game, despite his 11 tackles, forced fumble, and 0.5 sack against the Tigers.
Zook liked what he saw from the linebacker against SIU, but still thinks Wilson (3 tackles on Saturday) has a ways to go before he reaches his full potential.
“I thought he made a lot of progress last week, but he’s still not where we all think he could be. We had a long talk after the Missouri game and once again he hadn’t played football in two years.”
This week, the Illini matchup with the ever-dangerous Northern Illinois Huskies. If the Illini want to come away with victory number two, entering the bye week on a high note, they will need to do what they did last week and more. Coach Zook understands the importance of this week and hopes that the progression of the Illini football team will continue into week three and beyond.
“We’re not where we have to be, we have to continue to get better. We got a lot of young guys out there. This game’s going to be important that we go out there and continue to do the same things and play for 60 minutes.”
The Illini have shown two different teams in 2010: the one that played the first half against Missouri and the entire game this past Saturday, and the one that fell flat on their face the final 30 minutes in St. Louis. If the first one shows up at 11 AM this Saturday, the Illini should rack up their second victory of the season. If not, the Huskies have a good shot at making Illinois their second Big Ten victim in two years (defeating Purdue in West Lafayette in 2009).
*More on the Northern Illinois game later this week