The goodwill gained during the first eight weeks of the Illinois football season evaporated in eight days and two losses. When Illinois (5-5 overall, 3-4 in the Big Ten) plays Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) in Wrigley Field on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPNU), the Illini get one more chance to earn back some of the support. Of course, it might be too late for that after a triple-overtime 67-65 loss at Michigan and a 38-34 loss to Minnesota, who was a three-touchdown underdog last Saturday.

The goodwill gained during the first eight weeks of the Illinois football season evaporated in eight days and two losses.


When Illinois (5-5 overall, 3-4 in the Big Ten) plays Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) in Wrigley Field on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPNU), the Illini get one more chance to earn back some of the support. Of course, it might be too late for that after a triple-overtime 67-65 loss at Michigan and a 38-34 loss to Minnesota, who was a three-touchdown underdog last Saturday.


Illinois coach Ron Zook, given another chance after four losing seasons in his first five years here, took the bulk of the criticism, even though one more win in the last two games would send the Illini to bowl season for only the fourth time in the last 16 seasons.


"I don't blame them,'' Zook said. "We all want the program to be where it's supposed to be. I'll be the first to say that. What happened has happened. There's no use feeling sorry for ourselves, no use blaming or pointing fingers. Let's go to work. It's what the Illini Nation deserves and what the Illini Nation wants. I don't have any problem with that.''


In the last two weeks, Illinois fell from 12th nationally in scoring defense to 52nd.


"We have to play the way we played in the beginning of the year,'' Zook said. "We've just got to go back and play the way we played in the past, the way we played in the first eight games.


"They're the same guys, the same coaches in the first eight games. They're still a good defense, still good coaches and still capable of playing the way they were playing.''


At the residence shared with teammate safety Tavon Wilson, safety Trulon Henry couldn't believe it when watching the replay of the Illini-Indiana game.


"We both looked at each other,'' Henry said. "You see this and see it now, we're not the same people. We need to discuss that. It was a different kind of attitude.''


Henry planned a players-only meeting before practice Tuesday.


NORTHWESTERN QB: Junior Dan Persa tore his Achilles tendon in the win over Iowa last Saturday, so Wildcats redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Watkins will get his first start. Wakins – who has completed 3-for-7 passing for 44 yards - is a 6-foot-6 pro-style quarterback from Glenbard North High School who was on the Illini recruiting radar.


"He was one of those big, strong-throwing guys,'' Zook said. "At the time, we were more into the zone option stuff.''


Persa threw for 2,581 yards and 15 touchdowns with four interceptions. He also leads Northwestern in rushing with 519 yards.


FRIERSON CUT: Illinois dismissed reserve linebacker Evan Frierson from the team after his arrest on a felony aggravated battery over the weekend. A sophomore from Washington, D.C., Frierson pleaded innocent and posted a $10,000 bond. His court appearance is Dec. 21.


"It's an unfortunate thing,'' Zook said. "I take those situations very seriously. It was important to make a statement right away. Every situation is different.''


After playing in all 12 games last season and earning the starting assignment after a season-ending neck injury to middle linebacker Martez Wilson, Frierson played sparingly this season. He has six tackles in nine games.


ETC.: Cornerback Terry Hawthorne practiced Monday after getting a new brace on his surgically repaired foot. Hawthorne didn't play against Minnesota. … The Illini and Northwestern play for the Land of Lincoln trophy, which replaced the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk last season.


John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.