CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Before the season started, Illinois coach Lovie Smith said he saw all he needed to know about his new quarterback, Wes Lunt, when he watched game film from last year’s comeback win over Nebraska.
Lunt led the Illini to two fourth quarter touchdowns and a 14-13 upset, one of the team’s two Big Ten victories in 2015.
Now, as the Illini (1-2) get ready to head to Lincoln to take on the No. 15 Cornhuskers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten), the coaching staff sounds less sure about Lunt. They are looking for more from the fifth-year senior — in both offensive production and the kind of intangibles that have not been part of Lunt’s game.
Smith talked immediately after the 34-10 loss to Western Michigan about wanting to see Lunt get the ball downfield more and make better decisions.
But this week, offensive coordinator Garrick McGee talked at length about what he hasn’t seen from Lunt.
“I’ve talked to him a lot about the one thing that’s lacking or he needs to move forward is just a little more passion, a little more intensity, the ability to just completely lay it on the line for your team and have everyone see that the quarterback is going to be diving and jumping and he’s going to be emotionally invested in the game and he’s going to compete like crazy,” McGee said, before adding, “Run when you have to run.”
Lunt said he is well aware of where the offense has come up short and his role in it, particularly in the team’s loss to Western Michigan .
“I just think I hold myself to a higher standard — you know, expect to complete every pass, expect to make good decisions with the football, put us in good situations and just continue to get better and be a leader for the team,” he said.
But Lunt has openly talked this season about his own quiet nature, the fact that the one time he recalls openly yelling at a teammate in high school he immediately regretted it. And he has not been a running quarterback. Lunt is not fast and has a history of injuries. Officially, he has carried the ball 12 times this season for minus-43 yards. Eight of those have been sacks.
While both Smith and McGee talked this week about the dimensions a running quarterback like Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong adds to an offense and how tough that can be to defend, Lunt is unlikely to add much to a run game that wilted against Western Michigan. The Illini rushed for 3 yards.
Backup quarterback Chayce Crouch is a better runner. McGee, though, says he is not considering a change at quarterback.
“I believe in Wes,” he said.
McGee, who was a college quarterback, says there is far more to the position than the strong arm Lunt is known for.
“He’s the one that signed up to be the quarterback, and he’s been the quarterback his whole life. He’s won state championships here in the state,” McGee said. “Now you’re the captain of the team. So there’s a lot of responsibility that goes a long with that.”
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This story has been corrected to show Illinois had two Big Ten wins in 2015.