Versatile Davis finds fit in Smith's offense

Versatile Davis finds fit in Smith's offense

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Trenard Davis has a fairly compelling argument that his passing record should still be unblemished this season.

Davis’ first passing attempt this season went for a touchdown to Ricky Smalling in Illinois football’s loss to Penn State. His second — for all intents and purposes — looked like another completion to running back Mike Epstein on Saturday against Rutgers.

Looked being the operative word. The officials ruled the pass an incompletion despite the fact it appeared Epstein managed to tuck the ball after catching it before it was punched out by Rutgers safety Saquan Hampton.

So Davis stands at 2 of 3 passing for 24 yards and a touchdown in his career. A career that has seen him assume multiple positions — including safety and emergency quarterback — before settling in at wide receiver this year and last for the Illini (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) with the occasional trick play utilizing his varied skill set.

“I want to be the best throwing wide receiver in the country,” Davis said. “I love that. Hopefully I get more. I just think (offensive coordinator Rod Smith) saw me one day throwing the ball and was like, ‘OK, let’s see if he can do it in practice and in the game.’

“In practice I was doing it good and it was a successful play. The first one I didn’t even think he was going to call it. This one I knew he was.”

Davis joked that Epstein would owe him dinner after the incompletion. Illinois coach Lovie Smith said he got the explanation from the officiating crew about why it was an incompletion, even if he might have had a different opinion.

“I thought I had a pretty good look, but they said they were sure it was an incompletion,” Lovie Smith said. “If the officials say that, you go with it. They were reviewing it and let me know that they looked at it multiple times, and every time they looked at it they came to the same conclusion so we’ve got to go with it.”

The fact Davis already thrown for one touchdown this season, though, is all the evidence he said Rod Smith needs to call that play again.

“Man, he has to,” Davis said with a laugh. “I really wanted a touchdown (Saturday), but it didn’t work out like that. Hopefully next time, if he ever calls one, I can get it.”

Davis also put in work Saturday at his nominal primary position. The redshirt junior led Illinois in receiving and set career highs in receptions (five) and receiving yards (59). Davis will continue to be used in multiple ways, but he’s a wide receiver first.

“He can also catch punts — he’s a returner,” Lovie Smith said. “Of course he’s a former quarterback, and we’ll always have that dimension of him possibly throwing it. But his primary position is as a receiver, and he’s a steady player you can count on as much as anything. I thought he played a heck of a game (Saturday).

“I think we defined his role. He knows his role on the team, and that’s doing multiple things. I think he’s embraced that with his play. He’s a guy you can count on.”

Knowing his role in Rod Smith’s new offense since training camp, Davis said, has allowed him to focus on his improvement in those specific areas — particularly as a wide receiver. The 6-foot Boynton Beach, Fla., native has 23 career receptions for 275 yards.

“It gives me an opportunity to keep working at that position and become better and better each time I step on the field,” Davis said. “I just feel like I’ve gotten better at running my routes and being able to read coverages. Playing quarterback has helped me read coverages better.”

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