Wes Lunt hopeful to start against Purdue


Illinois’ Wes Lunt (12) congratulates Geronimo Allison (8) after his touchdown during the game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. on Saturday. Lunt is expected to return from injury.

By Sean Neumann

Wes Lunt is expected back on the field this weekend.

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said he’s expecting the sophomore quarterback to start Saturday against Purdue after missing Illinois’ game against Nebraska.

“He was not 100 percent,” Beckman said of Lunt’s status against the Cornhuskers. 

Beckman declined to comment on the exact nature of Lunt’s leg injury. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said after Saturday’s game that it was a knee sprain. 

The quarterback warmed up in full pads prior to the game but didn’t enter the game.

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The injury occurred after a hit against Texas State on Sept. 20.

“Reilly (O’Toole) had a good week of practice and he deserved the right to start,” Beckman said.

O’Toole completed 17 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown, but threw three interceptions in the 45-14 loss.

Beckman said he was prepared to play quarterback Aaron Bailey in place of Lunt if O’Toole needed to be replaced against Nebraska. But Beckman also said Monday he’s not going to play Bailey just to play him because Bailey still has a chance to redshirt the season.

Defense ranked last in Big Ten

Illinois’ defense is now ranked last in the Big Ten in total and rushing defense.

The Illini allowed Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah 208 yards on 22 carries Saturday.

Illinois allowed 458 rushing yards in total against Nebraska — the third time in five games the Illini have allowed more than 200 yards rushing.

Beckman said the Illini defense tried 18 different blitzes against Nebraska to try and stop Abdullah, who ran for a career-high three rushing touchdowns.

“We were getting breached or out-athleted at times,” Beckman said. “The more aggressive we ended up playing, the better we played. Not that we played the way we wanted to play.”

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said the team has focused on stopping opponents’ rushing game since the spring.

“At the end of the day, you just have to be able to win at the point of attack,” Banks said. “We’ll continue to do different things in our pressure game and try to help those guys, but at the end of the day we just got to continue to execute and execute better.”

Despite ranking last in rushing defense, the Illini lead the conference in tackles for a loss. Illinois has recorded 40 in its first five games, ranking 11th nationally.

Freshman in Big Ten games

Freshman wide receiver Mike Dudek has made an early impact this season.

The true freshman leads the team with 25 receptions for 339 yards and three touchdowns.

“I’ve had a great time and it’s been fun,” Dudek said. “I’ve had a lot of stress, though, leading up to the games and wanting to perform well. You put in all that work and you don’t want to see that work not pay off for you.”

One of the most stressful preparations came last week heading into Nebraska, where Illinois played in front of 91,255 fans at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

“It was definitely an eye-opener when I went out there,” Dudek said about looking out into the sea of Cornhusker fans draped in red. “When I saw my parents in the stands, that really calmed me down a lot.”

Dudek said after a few plays, his total focus returned to the field.

“It’s still the same game, it’s just a way bigger atmosphere now,” Dudek said. “I enjoy that. The first few plays I was a little nervous, but as the game kept going on I’d calm down more and more.”

Dudek leads the nation in fourth quarter receiving yards (212) and is ranked 10th in the conference in receiving yards per game (67.8) through Illinois’ first five contests.

“Of course, I wish we were 5-0,” Dudek said. “But individually I feel like I’ve done a good job.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @neumannthehuman.