CHAMPAIGN — If this was the beginning of the Wes Lunt era, it couldn’t have gone much worse.
◆ Play 1: Lunt’s pass was tipped as he released it and should have been intercepted.
◆ Play 2: Lunt’s pass never had a chance to be complete and was intercepted.
Even for a somewhat meaningless spring football game, that was bad. And for the 5,000-plus who turned up at Memorial Stadium on Saturday to watch Lunt and theIllini, it had to be disappointing.
Welcome to Illini football, right?
Nah, no need to be cynical at this point, especially not about Lunt, the Oklahoma State transfer who’s widely expected to win the starting job this offseason and then keep a stranglehold on it for three really good years.
Lunt completed 6 of 16 passes for 99 yards and that INT. Rising senior Reilly O’Toole — who, along with sophomore Aaron Bailey, officially remains in competition with Lunt for the starting job — had much better numbers: 12-for-17 for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
But Lunt was fine. On his first pass play, he probably held on to the ball too long and should’ve just thrown it away. On his second, according to both Lunt and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, he checked into a new play, but two of his receivers missed it and ran the wrong routes. It led to an easy interception by Zeph Grimes.
Lunt and O’Toole were on the Blue team, which beat the Orange team 38-7. Each squad was drafted by a triumvirate of seniors.
The Orange team had Nos. 1 and 2running backs Josh Ferguson (11 carries, 63 yards) and Donovonn Young as well as a seeming advantage at wide receiver. Otherwise, the teams appeared to be evenly split — except for at quarterback.
At this point, it’s hard to buy Bailey as a serious candidate to start in the fall. O’Toole — three years a second-stringer already — likely is destined to remain in that role. Lunt is the same guy who graduated high school a semester early to enroll at Oklahoma State, competed in the spring with two other quality quarterbacks and was named the starter by Cowboys coach Mike Gundy three days after the spring game.
He believes he’s a significantly better player now than he was then.
“I definitely do,” Lunt said. “I was a lot more consistent this spring.”
He makes throws that O’Toole can’t replicate, too. A 41-yard slingshot to Justin Hardee down the right seam Saturday was a perfect example. O’Toole tends not to be as comfortable pushing the ball downfield, which was evident on an early play when he badly underthrew Marchie Murdock on a deep ball.