COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The man may not be able to coach, but he can listen.
Give Ron Zook credit for that much after the biggest win of his career.
|Was Ron Zook the best coach at The Shoe? On this day, at least, you can make the argument. (US Presswire)|
But there was another, more personal side to the biggest win of Zook's career. Illinois coach already had sent the punt team out in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. Needing a few inches on fourth down from his own 33 and leading by seven, Zook was doing the right and sane thing with 6:53 left.
At that point, he decided to throw the drive, the game and -- ah, what the heck -- the season into a blender. Either that or Les Miles got on the headset, but Zook definitely changed his mind. He called back the punt team, handed all of it over to a kid named Juice and went for it.
"Juice grabbed me and said, 'I can get you an inch,'" Zook said of his quarterback, known to only his mother at this point as Isiah Williams. "I said, 'You better.'"
Ohio State had called timeout because of a personnel mix-up. That gave Juice a chance to plead his case and a chance for Zook to reconsider.
"It was a combination of Juice Williams and (others) saying, 'We didn't do all these 6 a.m. workouts in the bitter cold of winter to just walk away now. Let's not walk away now,'" linebacker J Leman said. "(Zook) says, 'I guess you're right.' He finally just agreed."
In that moment, Zook re-branded a career and maybe turned around Illinois football. Before the game is committed to lore, let's be honest: It wasn't an inch, but more like six inches, but a case can be made for Zook legitimately outcoaching Jim Tressel.
There, we said it.
Williams' 2-yard first-down sneak continued a slow strangulation of the Buckeyes. The play allowed Illinois to continue to bleed the last 8:09 off the clock with a 17-play drive that ended with Williams kneeling at the Ohio State 30.
Needing a touchdown to tie, the Bucks had the ball for only 74 seconds in the fourth quarter.
"I know 'shock the world' is overused, but I think this was pretty shocking to most people," Leman said.