Players, coaches take heat off Zook and accept blame in crucial plays.
One week after Illinois coach Ron Zook took the heat for his call on a failed two-point conversion in a win at Indiana, assistant coaches and players accepted the blame when No. 16 Illinois fell 17-7 to Ohio State in a Big Ten Conference game at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
When the Illini faced a fourth-and-two at the Ohio State 17-yard line with a little more than 1 minute left, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw behind receiver A.J. Jenkins. Scheelhaase expected a hitch. Jenkins ran a hit and go.
"Any time you're not on the same page, it falls on the quarterback,'' Scheelhaase said. "I'm the guy calling the plays, doing the signals. When you have that on fourth down, it really hurts.''
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino also took the blame off Zook. While Zook was making the decision whether to kick a field goal to pull the Illini within a touchdown or go for it, Petrino saw a defense he felt the Illini could hit for a first down.
"I thought I had a call,'' Petrino said. "That was my fault. I thought it was going to be an easy completion, and we'd get a first down.
"Nathan ran the play that we lined up. The play was there. We didn't execute it right. A.J. ran and hitch and go. I don't know why. That's a mistake we can't have happen.''
The relatively short yardage play left Zook prepared to go for it, he said.
"We needed two scores,'' he said. "We felt we had a good play call.''
BACK IN ACTION: Illini linebacker Jonathan Brown finished with a career-high 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks in his first game back after serving a one-game suspension for his actions against Northwestern.
"Being back from a one-game suspension, I had fresh legs,'' he said. "I was excited to be out there.''
Standing on the sidelines at Indiana "helped me step back and put everything in perspective,'' he said. "I felt like it was a pretty productive week.''
Brown was suspended after kneeing Northwestern lineman Patrick Ward in the groin. The move was caught on camera.
"It's football,'' he said when asked if there was something that led him to the maneuver. "A lot of things happen. I made a mistake. I didn't think it would blow up like it did.''
INJURY REPORT: Illini senior running back Jason Ford suffered a sprained shoulder in the third quarter and didn't return.
NOTABLE: Illini defensive end Whitney Mercilus had 1.5 sacks to push his total to 10 this season, ranking fourth all-time on the school's single-season list. The school record is 16 by Simeon Rice in 1994. Mercilus also tied the school's single-season record by forcing his fifth fumble. . .
With one extra-point kick, senior Derek Dimke moved past Red Grange on the school's career scoring list with 187 points. Dimke is ninth all-time.
Illinois failed to force a turnover for the first time in 22 games. . .
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.