Blue QBs lead rout
CHAMPAIGN — Wes Lunt didn’t enter the spring game until one quarter had elapsed.
The first pass the Oklahoma State transfer made at Illinois wearing anything besides his red practice jersey wasn’t pretty.
Defensive tackle Jarrod Clements deflected the throw at the line of scrimmage. Lunt’s second pass wasn’t one he’d write home about, either.
Zeph Grimes stepped in front of the short throw for an interception.
“Well, we haven’t picked off Wes Lunt very often, I can tell you that,” Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said with a laugh. “I was happy to see Zeph make a play.”
Happy isn’t exactly how Lunt would describe his emotions after his first two passes during Saturday afternoon’s spring game that the Blue team won 38-7 against the Orange team.
“The first one, the receivers kind of got jammed and I kind of held it too long,” said Lunt, who was paired with Reilly O’Toole on the Blue team while Aaron Bailey was on the Orange team in the final spring practice for the Illini. “The second one, I checked it, and the receivers didn’t see my check and ran the wrong route. I forced it and tried to make a play.”
Quarterbacks were the main focus of the day. Much like all spring. Although Tim Beckman didn’t quell any speculation after Saturday’s game. The Illinois coach still hasn’t named a starter.
“All quarterbacks have got things that they do well,” Beckman said. “We’re going to let everybody have that chance to be the starting quarterback at the University of Illinois.”
Lunt handed off to Devin Church on his first four snaps before he attempted a pass. Lunt settled down after his first series in the second quarter but didn’t end up with great numbers, completing only 6 of 16 passes for 99 yards.
“For Wes, it was kind of an off-and-on (day),” Beckman said. “I thought that he probably didn’t have as good a game as I’ve seen Wes have in the practices.”
Lunt hit Justin Hardee on a 41-yard pass that Hardee dove for and caught at the 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter. It was the longest completion of the day by the Illini.
“I just saw man coverage on the outside and thought I’d give Hardee a shot,” Lunt said. “It was a little underthrown, but he made a great catch.”
O’Toole took the first snap of the game for the Blue team. Don’t know how much you should read into that, though. He’s a senior and was a captain for the Blue team.
O’Toole did have a solid day, though, throwing the only two touchdown passes among the Illinois quarterbacks.
“It was kind of nice to not have to sit out and then come in,” O’Toole said. “I went into the wind both times, so that was kind of difficult, but it was just fun to be out there playing with my teammates. It was a great atmosphere and we had a lot of alumni come back, so it was great to see some of my former teammates that I played with.”
The format of Saturday’s game didn’t necessarily benefit Bailey. The dual-threat quarterback ran the ball 14 times for only 16 yards. Who knows how many rushing yards he would have accumulated if he was allowed to break tackles or keep running after he was touched. Quarterbacks weren’t allowed to get hit Saturday.
“It was definitely challenging, but it’s OK,” said Bailey, who was 9 of 13 for 43 yards while showing off his arm strength on a few deep passes that fell incomplete. “I feel like, overall, I had a good passing day.”
Lunt said it doesn’t matter to him when Illinois names a starting quarterback. Even with spring ball done, it appears Illinois might not name a starter until, at the earliest, August when practices resume.
“We’re going to compete,” Lunt said, going along with the company line Beckman has mentioned all spring. “Regardless of who gets it, we’re going to compete.”
Most Improved Offensive Player: OL Michael Heitz
Most Improved Defensive Player: LB T.J. Neal (above)
Offensive Most Valuable Player: RB Josh Ferguson
Defensive Most Valuable Player: STAR Earnest Thomas III
Special Teams Most Valuable Player: LB Ralph Cooper
Unsung Award (Defense): DB Zane Petty
Unsung Award (Offense): OL Alex Hill
Faculty Award for Exemplary Leadership in Community, Classroom and on Field: OL Joe Spencer
Academic Excellence Award: WR Leslie Poole