Lunt's big day might be sign of things to come for Illini football

Illinois’ Wes Lunt makes a pass during the annual football Spring Game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The Orange won 44-41.

By Peter Bailey-Wells

In 2014, Wes Lunt played his best football late in games, bringing the Illinois football team back in the fourth quarter multiple times.

The junior didn’t even play in the second half of Saturday’s spring game and still managed to post some pretty impressive totals. He completed 17-of-26 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns and just about zero mistakes.

He managed to make several difficult throws look easy, zipping passes all over the field from either hash mark and completing deep passes to Geronimo Allison, Justin Hardee and Dionte Taylor to help the Orange team to 27 first-half points.

Lunt’s favorite target Saturday was Geronimo Allison, who caught four passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. For a few hours Saturday afternoon, the senior made sophomore Mike Dudek’s absence seem not so significant. Allison was open on deep routes as well as crossing routes, and if he has a big season in the fall, he and Lunt could make each other look really good.

Lunt should be able to pick apart mediocre defenses — the Illinois backups and third-stringers for example — but relative to his uninspiring performance in last year’s spring game (6-for-16 with one interception), Saturday was a good sign for the Illini.

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Head coach Tim Beckman — patrolling the field like a back judge for most of the game — said after the game that he told Lunt to “Throw it, throw it!” a couple of times, but was pleased overall with the junior’s performance.

Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has been playing film of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his quarterbacks because the Patriots run a lot of sets similar to the Illini.

Lunt, who looks like he’s added several pounds of muscle in the offseason, said that Brady’s ability to stand tall in the pocket is something he’s trying to emulate. Illini fans should be drooling at the prospect of Lunt putting up Brady-esque numbers, especially after getting a glimpse of his skills last season before his leg injury.

From the outset, it was clear this team is Lunt’s to lead — redshirt freshman backup Chayce Crouch has some talent and incoming freshmen Jeff George Jr. and Jimmy Fitzgerald are the darlings of the program’s future, but Lunt’s time is now.

There was no quarterback race to serve as a distraction, and maybe that helped Lunt to focus. After the game Crouch said that he’s looking to learn from Lunt, a position Reilly O’Toole never would have been in last season.

The bottom line is that this team will rise and fall with Lunt’s success. Yes, this was the Spring Game and his successes don’t mean much against the Illini’s backups and third-stringers, but the positive takeaway is that nothing went wrong.

Without Dudek, only one series of senior running back Josh Ferguson and an offensive line likely to be pretty different in the fall, Lunt looked like the person that was highly recruited out of high school and went to play at a Big 12 school, instead of coming to Illinois.

So let the wait begin — there are four months until the Illini kick off their fall season, and in that time, there will be lots of questions about the Illinois football program. But not one of those questions will be:

“So, who is going to start at quarterback?”

Peter is a sophomore in Media

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