Spring scrimmage leaves Illini with more questions than answers

We were foolish to think a spring scrimmage would be a large enough sample size to reach conclusions. We should’ve known we’d leave with more questions than answers.

For starters: How do you blow yourself out? What does that even mean?

Illinois’ Blue squad (the team I had losing) pulled away from the Orange team and wound up winning 38-7, a veritable trouncing. Head coach Tim Beckman pointed to early turnovers — a V’Angelo Bentley pick-six among them — that put the Orange behind early, and a lack of fight that kept them down as the game went on.

It also didn’t hurt that Chayce Crouch and Man Berg were Orange’s only quarterback options in the third quarter, or that Aaron Bailey was ruled down whenever he was touched on his typically punishing run plays.

Reilly O’Toole arguably looked like the best Illinois quarterback for Illinois on Saturday; I say arguably because Wes Lunt did throw a very pretty ball. The sophomore transfer was on and off, and despite the lack of numbers, he looked like an unpolished pro prospect.

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O’Toole had two early touchdown passes, neither of which, he admitted after the game, were caught by their intended targets. I give O’Toole credit — I probably would have just lied about that. O’Toole has three years experience of not winning the starting quarterback job, making it seem he’d be ready to be passed over again. But if you base the decision solely on the spring game, O’Toole is your starter right now.

As for Bailey, 9-for-13 passing was a welcome sight, but he still seemed to be used pretty conservatively. For all the clamoring about his raw talent and his commitment to watching film, it doesn’t seem like he’s been unleashed as a wild card, and he hasn’t seemed to be able to outsmart defenses. As he enters his sophomore year, it’s time for the coaching staff to open things up and give him opportunities in high-pressure situations.

Are the expectations placed on Lunt too high for where he’s at in his career? Can O’Toole really be the best option for the team at quarterback? And if so, will frustrated fans be able to get behind him? Could the Orange team’s lack of fight be a red flag that Bailey isn’t ready to be a leader?

The quarterback competition is clearly far from over.

After the game, Beckman brought the whole team to midfield and announced that the competition was over, that the two teams could again become one. He and the coaching staff also handed out some spring hardware. The winner of the offensive MVP was Josh Ferguson, which, aside from being an effective way to avoid declaring a winner of the QB competition, speaks as a reminder to Illinois fan: Ferguson is the Illini’s best playmaker.

His 24-yard strike to Dionte Taylor in the second quarter was one of the best passes of the day.

Running the ball, Ferguson quietly had 11 carries for 5.5 yards per rush, a figure undistorted by any long runs — his longest was 18 yards, which is not typical for the explosive junior.

Donovonn Young, meanwhile, had 15 carries for 2 yards. Yikes.

The defense, which we can only assess relative to the offense, was able to force turnovers, including Bentley’s pick-six. The lack of big runs from Ferguson is a good sign, as are Young’s paltry numbers.

But in a game where you merely had to touch the quarterback to down him, the pressure seemed to be a non-factor. The

Illini amassed seven total sacks, only about five of which would constitute hurries in a real-game scenario.

Football is again on the back burner until August, and the Illini gave themselves plenty of questions to figure out over the next four months.

Eliot is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EliotTweet.