Illinois notebook: Zook promises changes in defense against Michigan
Unhappy with a unit ranked 10th in the Big Ten Conference in total defense and rushing defense and 11th in scoring defense, Illinois coach Ron Zook said Tuesday there would be personnel changes when Illinois (2-2 overall, 0-1 in the Big Ten) plays at Michigan (2-2, 1-0) Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC).
He planned to use more players at linebacker and defensive back, hoping fresh bodies can help eliminate the mistakes.
"We're going to play more people on defense,'' Zook said. "We've got to help our guys out a bit. I don't foresee starting lineup changes. I see guys who are going to be held accountable. It's not the scheme. It's been proven.
"You can talk about guys playing 60, 70 or 80 plays. Somewhere along the line, they're not going to play with the same enthusiasm or energy. We're going to play more guys. Our job is to make sure we fix it. We're not going to be status quo.''
Senior linebacker Sam Carson and freshman linebacker Russ Ellington will play more, Zook said. Apparently, Carson would play at middle linebacker and allow starter Brit Miller to move to strong-side linebacker, where he played the last two seasons. Ellington would share time with sophomore Martez Wilson at weakside linebacker.
The Illini will use primarily two linebackers and five defensive backs against Michigan's spread offense. Freshman defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who started the last two games, will also get more playing time.
Junior safety Donsay Hardeman, a junior-college transfer who started against Penn State after missing the first three games with a knee injury, took a firm grasp of one safety position. Sophomore Travon Bellamy will split time between safety and cornerback, Zook said. Freshman Tavon Wilson will get more time at cornerback.
STAY HOME: Illinois sophomore receiver Arrelious Benn set a career high with 110 yards receiving at Penn State, where two of his four receptions resulted in touchdowns, but his mother, Denise, wasn't watching from the stands in Beaver Stadium despite the relatively short trip from Washington, D.C. She just followed orders.
"I told her that sometimes it's better to watch it on TV,'' Arrelious said. "She likes to see them in person, but I told her to stay home.''
Denise Benn also sticks closer to home because of a broken leg suffered by her son John during a high school football game in September.
"Things changed because my brother was hurt, but if my brother wasn't hurt, she'd be here,'' Arrelious said. "I'm all grown up. A lot of it last year was my mom trying to be nosey. That's all it was.''
PLAYBOOK: Illini offensive coordinator Mike Locksley made preliminary plans to travel to West Virginia for a summit on spread offenses. When coach Rich Rodriguez left the Mountaineers for Michigan, the trip was called off.
"We were going to go this year, as a matter of fact,'' Zook said, referring to the spring season. "He got the job (at Michigan) and when I saw him at a clinic, I said, 'I guess that means we're not going to be able to do that now.' ''
With Rodriguez and Zook residing in the same conference, "you're not going to tell anybody much with the people you play regularly,'' Zook said.
ETC.: Illinois running back Daniel Dufrene said his sprained left shoulder had improved and wouldn't slow him at Michigan on Saturday. Dufrene injured the shoulder in the second half at Penn State. . .
No player on the Illini roster has ever played a game in Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines played at Illinois in 2007 and 2004. The two teams didn't meet in 2005 and 2006. . .
Since 1966, Illinois' only wins at Michigan Stadium came in 1999 and 1993. . .
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.