Illinois football coach Lovie Smith spoke on Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. He provided some updates on his football team, looked ahead to Saturday’s game at Ohio State, and even looked back a bit to his time on John Cooper’s coaching staff at OSU. Here are the highlights.
+ “We’re playing an outstanding football team in Ohio State this week. Our players realize that we have a great opportunity.” OSU is a team with a national audience.
+ Illinois hasn’t played its best football yet, but they’ve been “striving each week.” Can’t wait to play Ohio State.
+ They have leaned on freshman WR Ricky Smalling quite a bit. Ideally you’d rather not do that, but this year they have had to do that, and he has “met our expectations” and has risen to the occasion time after time.
+ Jeff George Jr. is their starting quarterback, but circumstances have steered them where they are now. A lot of it has had to do with injuries. They are banged up still this weekend. Who will start right on Saturday, he can’t say right now. They’ll know more after practice.
+ Rebuilding Illinois football is a process. The won-loss record is not where he wants it, but they are building the program brick by brick. They are playing a lot of young players who will grow. They have been in some close games, but they have to find a way to win. They have improved in a lot of areas, but it’s not showing in the win-loss column. They have to continue to recruit. This 2018 recruiting class is very important for the direction they are heading.
+ They have watched Ohio State a lot this season in watching film of opponents. Well coached. Excellent players.
+ Illinois played Wisconsin well and that has given them some confidence. The players are looking forward to playing in Ohio Stadium.
+ Illinois has the youngest team in America, but they have been young all year. They have now gained plenty of experience going on the road. Ohio State is a little different, but they aren’t new to this. They know they have to play their best ball. That is their message.
+ Rebuilding Illinois hasn’t been tougher than he expected because he expected it to be difficult. Saturday’s game is an opportunity to measure where they are in that building process.
+ Smith coached at Ohio State for one season. Having an opportunity to coach on John Cooper’s staff was a privilege because he also played college for Cooper. “It was just an unbelievable experience to coach there for just that one season.”
+ The Illinois players know that Ohio State is one of those traditional places that you want to play against. They know there will be a national audience watching them. This is a great opportunity.