LIVE! at Memorial Stadium
Blue 38, Orange 7, Final.
No starting quarterback has emerged yet for Illinois. The three in contention — Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey and Reilly O'Toole — all had their moments on Saturday.
Lunt completed only 6 of 16 passes for 99 yards and one interception, but showed his potential on several throws.
O'Toole had the best day numbers-wise, completing 12 of 17 passes for 126 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Bailey was 9 of 13 for 43 yards and finished with 16 rushing yards on 14 carries, but those numbers are a bit deceiving since quarterbacks couldn't get hit on Saturday. Any time Bailey was touched by a defender, he was ruled down.
Josh Ferguson led the Orange team with 61 rushing yards on 11 carries, and Peter Bonahoom was the favorite target of O'Toole and Lunt, hauling in seven passes for 95 yards.
Blue 38, Orange 7, early fourth quarter
Wes Lunt made up for his early struggles. The quarterback hit Justin Hardee on a 41-yard pass to set up a short touchdown run by Kendrick Foster. The throw was pretty effortless and ended with a superb catch by Hardee.
That play right there signified what Lunt can do as quarterback. On the touchdown run by Foster, Austin Teitsma was used in the backfield as a lead blocker. Maybe we'll see some of that this fall. If so, need to come up with a nickname for the defensive tackle.
Running clock ongoing now in the fourth quarter, so this one should wrap up pretty quickly.
Blue 31, Orange 7, 1:48 left in third quarter
The Blue is running away with this game. Devin Church scored on a 1-yard touchdown run after Reilly O'Toole methodically led the Blue team down the field. Peter Bonahoom is O'Toole's favorite target today. The former high school teammate of Miles Osei has a game-high six catches for 89 yards. Not too shabby.
Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey haven't played yet in the second half, although Man Berg and Chayce Crouch have seen the field for the Orange team.
Official attendance at today's game is 5,105. Decent showing. Having great weather certainly helped. Plus, the Kids' Zone they have set up in the south end zone has had a steady stream of children throughout today's game.
Blue 24, Orange 7, Halftime
Wes Lunt completed his first two passes of his second series before three straight drops by Illinois receivers stalled the Blue team's drive. Lunt definitely has some zip on his throws, which is an aspect Illinois will have to adjust to by the time the fall rolls around.
Lunt did recover with two nice throws to Peter Bonahoom and Kenny Knight to set up a 33-yard field goal by David Reisner right before the first half ended.
It's too bad Aaron Bailey can't get tackled or hit today. The Bolingbrook product has made plenty of option runs in the first half, but is "tackled" after only a few yards. Will be interesting to see how Illinois uses him this season if Lunt struggles as Bailey is definitely a capable running threat who has a strong arm, too. He just missed on a deep ball to Geronimo Allison that traveled about 60 yards in the air going into the wind.
Here's how the quarterbacks have done so far in the first half:
Reilly O'Toole is 7 of 12 for 61 yards, Bailey is 6 of 8 for 25 yards, Lunt is 4 of 9 for 58 yards and Chayce Crouch is 2 of 3 for 19 yards. Both Lunt and Crouch have thrown an interception, while O'Toole has two touchdown passes.
Josh Ferguson is leading the way running the ball, with 11 carries for 61 yards. He looks in midseason form right now.
Blue 21, Orange 7, 4:36 left in second quarter
Wes Lunt's first two passes for Illinois today were forgettable. The first one was tipped by Jarrod Clements at the line of scrimmage and nearly picked off.
His second one was intercepted, with linebacker Zeph Grimes coming away with the takeaway on a short throw. Not exactly the start Illinois fans were hoping for from Lunt.
V'Angelo Bentley returned an interception 89 yards for a touchdown off a tipped pass thrown by Chayce Crouch to give the Blue team a two-touchdown lead.
The Orange team mixed in a Wildcat formation for a few plays with Josh Ferguson taking the snap and Donovonn Young standing next to him. We'll see if that is incorporated at all this fall.
Young went down on a run for about 30 seconds before hobbling off the field favoring his right leg. Trainers are looking at the leg right now.
Crouch spelled Aaron Bailey for a series at quarterback. Crouch enrolled early this semester and looked steady at times guiding the Orange team down the field until his interception.
Blue 14, Orange 7, 12:08 left in second quarter
A trick play helped out the Orange put up its first touchdown of the day. Josh Ferguson connected with Dionte Taylor for a 24-yard gain. Ferguson showed a nice arm while under a bit of duress. Maybe we'll see that a time or two this fall.
Aaron Bailey finished off the drive with a 1-yard scramble. Bailey is fast. He showed it on that touchdown. When the play broke down, he took off to his left and went untouched into the end zone. Good thing, too, because a touch of a quarterback results in a tackle today.
Blue 14, Orange 0, End of first quarter
Still no Wes Lunt yet for the Blue Team. Reilly O'Toole played first three series for the Blue team, completing 7 of 11 passes for 61 yards.
Paul James has made a few plays so far, recovering a fumble and making a "sack" of Aaron Bailey. Put sack in quotes because the quarterbacks can't get hit today. Aaron Bailey had a nice option run on one play for the Orange, but only produced eight yards before he was touched. Would have likely gone for more during the season.
Donovonn Young had a productive 8-yard run for the Orange on a toss play, but then a stretch play towards right tackle resulted in a loss of 5 yards with a nice tackle by T.J. Neal. Showing consistency, along with hanging onto the football, are about the only ways Young will see the field at a steady rate this fall since Josh Ferguson is the clear-cut starter at running back.
Caleb Day "returning" punts for the Orange team, with V'Angelo Bentley doing the same for the Blue. Both can't really return them since they are only allowed to fair catch punts today.
Blue 14, Orange 0, 7:51 left in first
Blue head coach Alex Golesh said his plan was to light up the Memorial Stadium scoreboard. So far, so good.
The Blue team had great field position at the 24-yard-line after a fumble by Josh Ferguson and took advantage. After two plays didn't go anwyhere, O'Toole hit a sliding Justin Hardee on a pass that looked headed for Devin Church, but wound up in Hardee's hands, for O'Toole's second touchdown pass of the day.
Regardless, the Blue team is controlling the early part of the spring game.
Blue 7, Orange 0, 9:43 left in first quarter
Reilly O'Toole took the first snap of the game for the Blue team. He is the captain of the Blue team and a senior, so perhaps that factored into it.
O'Toole methodically led the Blue team down the field on some option read runs, scrambles and some short passes to Peter Bonahoom. Devin Church and Kendrick Foster were the running backs primarily used.
Then O'Toole lofted a pass into the left corner of the end zone, where St. Thomas More graduate Kevin Carroll came down with it for a 10-yard touchdown pass. Carroll hauled in a bunch of passes during his high school career on North Mattis Road, so good to see him get one early in this game.
Quick refresher of the rules for today's game:
— First three quarters will feature a normal clock. The fourth quarter is a running clock until the final two minutes.
— All drives after a score will start on the 27-yard line. Not sure what's wrong with the 26-yard line or the 28-yard line, but that's what the rules are.
— Quarterbacks won't get hit (although don't be surprised if Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey and Reilly O'Toole are running for their lives with starters and backups mixed among the offensive lines on both teams).
— All punts will be punted and fair caught. Field goals will be kicked, but not rushed.
Media contingent here in the press box today includes Steve Greenberg from the Chicago Sun-Times, Shannon Ryan from the Chicago Tribune, Mark Tupper from the Decatur Herald & Review, Jamal Collier from Gatehouse Media, Jeremy Werner from ESPN C-U, Fletcher Page from Scout.com and Robert Rosenthal from Illiniboard.com, among others.
The two No. 52s — center Alex Hill and linebacker T.J. Neal — on the Illinois roster are both on the Blue team today. Both have displayed more of a vocal role this spring than in previous seasons. Which is fine by Tim Beckman.
"I think Alex Hill has done a phenomenal job of standing up and telling this team what he thinks," Beckman said. "Donovonn Young, too. These seniors are hungry, and that's always good to see."
Beckman said he isn't surprised Young has taken on a vocal role, even with his struggles last year and Young considering the possibility of transferring this offseason.
Young starred in last year's spring game, rushing for 86 yards on 19 carries for three touchdowns, giving hope for what many thought would produce a breakout 2013 season. Instead, he rushed for a career-low 371 yards and was replaced in the starting lineup by Josh Ferguson.
"He wasn't real happy with his season last year, but instead of pouting about it, he's jumped forward and said, 'Hey, this is what I'm going to do,'" Beckman said. "He's had a good spring. There's no question about it."
Aside from honorary coaches like Rashard Mendenhall, Martez Wilson and Dana Howard, another former Illini is expected to be in town on Tuesday. Recently retired New York Giants offensive lineman David Diehl is slated to take part in the Coaches vs. Cancer dinner and auction at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign.
Half hour until kickoff
The Illinois offense won't do anything out of the ordinary today. The coaching staff won't want to tip their hand too much, even if today's game isn't televised. For those Big Ten spring football junkies out there, the Ohio State spring game is set to kick off on BTN at 1:30 p.m., with Wisconsin's spring game set to start at 4 p.m. on BTN.
WDWS in Champaign is broadcasting the game live today, with Brian Barnhart, Kurt Kittner and Steve Kelly supplying superb coverage. Their pregame show starts at 1:45 p.m. Click here and follow any links to get tuned in.
A miniature football field is set up in the south end zone. Aptly labeled Kids Zone, too. Seems like a good idea, especially with the beautiful weather that has found its way into Champaign-Urbana today. Would be nice to see that possibly continue into the fall. We'll see if it does, but any way to get more fans in the stadium would be a boost for the Illini.
You won't see regular starters like tight end Jon Davis, tight end Matt LaCosse and left guard Michael Heitz, or a projected starter like LEO Dawaune Smoot today. All are out with injuries. For Davis and Smoot, both are elbow injuries, while LaCosse is nursing an ankle injury that has limited him this spring and Heitz broke his thumb last Friday night during the Illini's scrimmage at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin High School.
Even with the split-squad approach of today's spring game, keep an eye on players like tight end Tyler White, offensive lineman Joe Spencer and LEO DeJazz Woods. Those would be the guys who would likely fill the roles of the injured players today if they weren't able to go during the 2014 season.
LaCosse, Simon Cvijanovic and Donovonn Young are Illinois players who will model the new attire and uniforms Illinois unveils on Wednesday night at Krannert Center on campus. Bet Young is looking forward to that. He's very fashion-conscious, for what that's worth.
Another interesting note regarding the upcoming Nike rebrand. The two end zones at Memorial Stadium have a faded slanted Illinois logo underlined. Looks like they're getting ready for the new logo or whatever else they'll fill in the end zone with.
Be back at kickoff.
One hour until kickoff
Good afternoon college football fans. Feels good to type those words again.
Matt Daniels here with you for the entire afternoon as Illinois will have its annual spring game at Memorial Stadium today, with kickoff at 2 p.m.
Admission is free and so is parking. Plus, you probably won't have better weather for an Illinois home game this fall. All the more reason to head out to Memorial Stadium. Need any more incentive? Click here to get more info on today's game.
And you can see for yourself how the quarterback race is looking. Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey and Reilly O'Toole were out early on the field getting some warmup throws in when The News-Gazette travel party arrived to the press box around 12:15 p.m.
Tim Beckman hasn't named a starting quarterback yet and hasn't announced when he will, but all the speculation is that Lunt will win the job.
If he does, he'll present a much different look to the Illinois offense than what it has featured the last eight seasons with Nathan Scheelhaase and Juice Williams providing dual-threat capabilities.
Change isn't all that bad, however. I have a feeling if Lunt stays healthy this year (that's the biggest knock on him), the Rochester product has a chance to do some pretty special things.
Illinois will wear two stickers on its helmets today to honor two former players who passed away this offseason.
Derwin Tucker (No. 14), a defensive back who played at Illinois from 1975-78, died in January.
Abe Woodson (No. 40), an All-American running back with the Illini who played in Champaign from 1954-56 and later in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Cardinals, is the other former Illini they will honor today. Woodson died in February. Good gesture by Beckman, by the way, to do this in honoring Tucker and Woodson.
No matter what happens today, remember this.
Illinois won't lose this game. There's something to feel positive about.
And the weather's great. Sunny. A bit breezy. But temperatures are in the mid-70s. That's the last weather update. For now.
Be back in a half hour with more.