* When asked about the uncertainty surrounding Persa's health, the coach said: "The only question about his health is from you, you the media. He's great, he's ready to go..."
"He's running around great today. We're going to be smart. He's a guy coming off a pretty major injury. So if he gets a little dinged up, we're going to err on the side of being smart. It's a marathon, it's not a sprint, and we've got all the confidence in the world in Kain (Colter, who started this season's first three games in Persa's stead)."
* Then there was this from superback Drake Dunsmore, who rooms with Persa on the road: "I think he was taking himself out as kind of a preemptive thing. He had a couple setbacks over the offseason (during his rehabilitation) and through those setbacks he kind of learned something about his body and about his injury (a torn Achilles). I think he and the trainers and the coaches made a decision collectively based on that. But the next day he was feeling great."
* The sophomore Colter, after Persa exited, did drive the 'Cats to a go-ahead touchdown against the Illini, who (of course) responded with a winning drive of their own. Yet there is no mistaking the jolt the senior gives his team when he is healthy and choreographing his offense. "Danny takes charge when he's back there," says running back Jacob Schmidt. "It's sort of a comfort that we have with him being back there calling signals. I think he was plenty agile, plenty mobile, I think he showed that on a couple of his scampers. So he's back and obviously we're excited to have him back."
"When our offense is driving, it gives our defense energy," said defensive end Tyler Scott, speaking for his side of the ball. "When we see our offense driving on their defense, it just gives us something to go out there and say, 'Hey, our offense is doing this. We need to stop them and get them back on the field 'cuz they're moving the ball and scoring touchdowns.'"
* The news was far worse when it came to running back Mike Trumpy, another 'Cat who left the Illinois game early. He is out for the year after tearing the ACL in his left knee. "It was non-contact. He just stuck his foot in the ground and tried to change direction," said Fitzgerald. "It's unfortunate to see that."
* Trumpy, in the three games he did play this season, averaged a running-back best 60.7 rushing yards per-game, a void that must now be filled by Schmidt, (26.5 ypg), sophomore Adonis Smith (35.7) and emerging true freshman Treyvon Green (35.2). "Trumpy's a little bit down," Schmidt reported Monday. "You know, it's tough. Injuries are part of the game, but when you lose a guy as special as Mike is it hurts both our team and it obviously hurts him to be on the sideline. But as a group we've got to pick up the flag, we've got to embrace our role and just just play that much better. We're going to have to have the young guys, Treyvon and Adonis, step up and fill that void. Do I think we can do it? Yeah. Yeah, I know we can. But losing Mike definitely hurts."
* The 'Cats (of course) roared to an 18-point lead against Illinois, then lost it and regained it and lost it for good with just 13 seconds remaining. This was just the kind of defeat that the term gut-wrenching was created for, and so it was natural for Fitzgerald to be asked if it was the toughest he has ever suffered. It wasn't, he allowed with a smile. When he dropped a pass in the end zone and his Carl Sandburg High lost to Oak Lawn, that was the toughest and something he still hears about from wife Stacy.
But then came this soliloquy, which we send along at length since it well reflects the tone and the stance and the attitude Fitzgerald reflected on Monday: "It's football. I mean, you do everything you can as a coaching staff to put your guys in a position to make plays to win. Your guys do everything they possibly can to win a football game. When it doesn't go your way, you take a look at the tape, you look at it critically, you look at the calls you made, you look at the positions to you put your guys in, you look at the way you executed, and you stay the course. I'm sorry we don't have the sky-is-falling attitude around here. But you watch the tape, you go home, I have a six-year old and a five-year old and a two-year old, we were playing football Saturday night. Got my tail whipped even worse in that game than I did on Saturday afternoon. So, I mean, it is what it is, you get back and you coach 'em up. It's football, you know. It's football. You've got to go out and just work to get better. Each game is kind of a one-week season. We know the challenge ahead of us this week (No. 12 Michigan on Saturday night at a sold-out Ryan Field). We're excited to be home in front of our fans. We're excited to get back to work and get better. Our guys believe, like I believe, we've got a darn good football team. We're about five plays away from being undefeated, now we're not. So what are you going to do about it? We're built around here on responding to things. So circle the wagons a little bit and just keep working. Been here before, unfortunately. It's not my first rodeo, not my first time being through some tough stuff."
* Fitzgerald, to be clear, was not belligerent during that soliloquy or during any of his time in front of the microphones and cameras. He also admitted openly that there were communication breakdowns among his defensive unit that led to the three big plays that stemmed the 'Cats momentum and turned it Illinois' way and finally won it the game. But, again reflecting a not-uncertain circle-the-wagons attitude, he defended that unit by saying: "We're down (with just over three minutes remaining), we've got to go make something happen, our defense did that (causing and then recovering an Illini fumble). We gave ourselves a chance to win the game.
"So far, right now, as a defense we're one-for-three in closing a game. The one time we closed it (against Boston College), we won. The other two (Army as well as Illinois), we didn't. So there's a lot to learn from. We've got seven first time starters on that side. Those guys are going to get better. Please keep writing negative things about them, you're doing a great job motivating them. I'd like our fans to continue to do that too. It's a beautiful thing. They know who to listen to and they're going to keep working their butts off to get better. Prideful guys. We're much further along now than we were a year ago. A year ago at this time we weren't tackling very well. We can help them as coaches with communication and the learning and through experience they're just going to get better and better. So I'm excited about it. We've just got to keep playing."
* And finally, Fitzgerald, on coming home after playing three-of-four on the road: "It's good to be home. We've been on the road forever. We've been on the road more than any Big Ten team. It's just a quirk in the schedule this year that we've been on the road so much. You'd like to avoid that if you can. But we're battle tested, there's no doubt about that. We've been in two, really three dog fights, and unfortunately come out on the short end of a couple of them. But we've got a confident football team. We know how close we are. We know we've got the right pieces to the puzzle."