Football runs first official scrimmage

 

 

By Courtney Linehan

Kyle Hudson sat alone in the Memorial Stadium locker room Saturday morning, waiting for permission to join a football practice already in session. Hudson, who was scheduled to play in Illinois baseball’s double-header against Northwestern, was carefully monitoring his hours of activity to stay within NCAA regulations and participate in both the baseball game and Illinois’ first official scrimmage of the spring.

Soon after practice started, Hudson heard baseball was cancelled, and made it to the field in time for a run-through he characterized as “pretty good.”

“It’s just a matter of getting more experience, young guys getting experience,” Hudson said. “We had a couple mistakes, but other than that we’re getting better each time we get out here.”

The scrimmage pitted first-team offense against first-team defense, second-string against second-string and No. 3s against each other.

Hudson and Illinois’ deepening receiving corps had a somewhat successful day, even as the defense showed its strength. Maybe the greatest star was freshman receiver Rejus Benn, who grabbed six passes for 84 yards and one touchdown, including a 32-yard catch.

Benn hinted at his versatility when he also logged a pair of carries, rushing twice for 26 yards.

“He’s an explosive player, he can run the ball in the option game, he can catch passes and go for touchdowns,” quarterback Juice Williams said. “He’s like an added, superior threat we can use in the offense.”

Williams wasn’t as positive about his own showing, pointing out what he deemed a near-perfect performance by the defense. Williams completed 8-of-14 attempted passes during the indoor scrimmage and rushed four times for 12 yards.

With starters J Leman and Brit Miller both out with ankle injuries, fellow linebackers Rahkeem Smith and Rodney Pittman kept up the linebackers’ legacy, leading the team with seven tackles apiece.

While three of Illinois’ quarterbacks wore red jerseys to signal that they couldn’t be tackled, redshirt-freshman Eddie McGee was fair game for the defense. Zook said that was done to give defenders a more realistic experience and to keep McGee on his toes.

“If he practices every day and knows he’s not going to get hit, it’s a little bit different then if you know you can get hit,” Zook said.

McGee attempted seven passes, completing six for 53 yards and one touchdown on a 20-yard pass to Benn. But he also had several fumbles as he faced the threat of the Illini defense.

“We had some exchange problems, which we have to get corrected. Part of that is probably the quarterback and part of it is probably the center,” Zook said. “The first group we didn’t have that problem, so we’ve got to get the backup guys in a position where they feel confident they can go in and help us.”

Zook said that should be helped this week, especially for freshman players like Benn, McGee and Williams, when the focus shifts from installing to refining.

“I think the next week here we won’t continue to install a lot,” Zook said. “So things will begin to get clear, particularly for the young guys. It’ll just be a lot of reps.”