Illini seek answers on bye week

The good news for Illinois is this: its three-game losing streak won't reach four this week.

Of course, that's a mere technicality since the Illini have a bye in Week 10. The time off could help them figure out why they waved goodbye to such a promising start.

Head coach Ron Zook's challenge is salvaging a season that began with a 6-0 record before devolving into this current three-game slide. Should he change things up this week in an effort to lift his players' spirits and shake them out of their funk? Or should he just let them clear their heads?

"I've talked to a lot of people about what you do and don't do," Zook said.

Zook has decided to give his players a couple of days off, because "they do need to get away from it." As they return to practice the latter part of this week, the focus will be on fundamentals. Zook said there isn't one area that is to blame for the losing streak but rather a combination.

"I wish it was one thing, because that would be easier to fix," he said. "We're going to get back to basics and the little things. We're concerned about blocking and tackling and holding onto the football and protecting the kicks and all those things. We hope to get back to that this week. ... If you look at all three of the games, everybody had a hand in it, and everybody could have done some things differently to change it."

The offense, though, must shoulder a large portion of the responsibility. The Illini averaged 34.7 points per game in their first six contests, albeit against a few lousy defenses. In the three games since, Illinois has scored a total of 28 points.

The Illini have also had a punt blocked in each of the past two games, both of which were ultimately decided by one score. They excelled in many of the little areas like that earlier in the season when they won three straight games by three points each. Now they're finding themselves on the other side because of costly mistakes.

Illinois has basically been eliminated from the Leaders Division race because of losses to Ohio State and Penn State. But the team can still improve its bowl positioning and perhaps even play spoiler in the Big Ten race for teams like Michigan, which visits Champaign after the bye week.

"It's important to these guys to be able to win after starting off the season like we did," Zook said. "The teams that handle adversity the best are usually going to be successful."