Lunt named starter: What it means
UPDATED: Wes Lunt today was named Illinois starting quarterback by Tim Beckman. Check out the N-G cover in this morning's paper here. Here's what it means:
Chance to connect
The pocket passer has added weight to his 6-foot-5 frame this offseason. It’s put more velocity on his throws, which the new crop of Illini wideouts and tight ends have had to adjust to. Martize Barr, Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse are the only pass catchers back who hauled in more than 20 passes last season with Nathan Scheelhaase throwing the ball. Lunt will have to develop a rapport with newcomers like Geronimo Allison, Mike Dudek and Malik Turner. In practice, Lunt has looked crisp at times in the offense. Other times, not so much. The next nine days will feature plenty of chances for the quarterback to get more in sync with the guys he’ll throw the ball to this season.
The first opponent Lunt will have to break down is Youngstown State. The FCS Penguins are susceptible to the pass, giving up 246 passing yards a game last season. The only other time Lunt has faced an FCS opponent, he more than held his own. Making his first start at Oklahoma State, Lunt picked apart Savannah State, completing all 11 of his passes for 129 yards in an 84-0 win for the Cowboys. Western Kentucky is the first FBS defense Lunt will have to dissect. The last time he started against one, it didn’t end so well. Lunt suffered a concussion against Kansas State and had to leave the game early after he went 11 of 20 for 184 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions on Nov. 3, 2012.
Lunt isn’t the most vocal guy. He prefers to sit back and let his play do the talking. Which is all fine and well. It’s a contrast from the way Scheelhaase operated. But Lunt has received some supreme coaching, from the likes of Derek Leonard at Rochester to Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State to now Bill Cubit at Illinois. Going through the experience of starting as a true freshman at Oklahoma State, Lunt didn’t want to jump on teammates if they made a mistake. He didn’t feel it was his place. Entering his third year of college, and second season of playing, he feels more comfortable in this department than he did two years ago in Stillwater. Developing a close friendship with Reilly O’Toole has helped, too.
O’Toole and Aaron Bailey had equal opportunities with Lunt during spring practices and at the beginning of training camp to wrest away the starting job. They didn’t do enough to keep receiving reps with the starters. It became clear by the midway point of Camp Rantoul that the competition UI coach Tim Beckman has touted since the winter was being won by Lunt. He jogged out to the field with the starters more than O’Toole and Bailey. The number of reps O’Toole and Bailey will receive with the starters now, with Illinois in full preparation mode for Youngstown State, will dwindle even more in the next week.
Scheelhaase probably handled the media glare better than almost any QB Illinois has had. Scheelhaase was well-spoken — and well-informed — on a number of issues. Lunt can have as much to say when 10 questions are directed toward him as Scheelhaase would say when one question came his way. It’s a stage he’ll have to get used to if he remains the starting quarterback the rest of the season and into the future. Lunt has a sarcastic and sly sense of humor that comes out in brief instances. He understands the media’s role and why the quarterback is often the subject of the most media scrutiny. He’ll receive plenty of it whenever he makes his weekly media appearance this season at Memorial Stadium.