Quarterback play continues to be Illinois’ downfall


Quentin Shaw

Illinois quarterback Jeff George, Jr. weaves through defenders during the game against Rutgers on Saturday, Oct. 24. The Illini lost 35-24

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

Jeff George Jr. may have finished the game with 308 yards and two touchdowns, but he knew that he needed to play better.

“I have to get better, obviously,” George Jr. said. “Interceptions cannot happen. I have to make better decisions and make better throws, turnovers will kill you at this level.”

In his second week as the starting quarterback for Illinois, turnovers continued to be a problem for George Jr., who was picked off twice by Rutgers’ defense in Saturday’s loss. George Jr. now has seven interceptions in two and a half games this season, adding to five last season in five appearances.

He finished the game completing just over 50 percent of his passes.

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    When head coach Lovie Smith switched to George Jr. from Chayce Crouch, he stressed the need to move the ball and convert opportunities into points, but two weeks into George Jr.’s tenure and the Illini have still struggled to produce on offense.

    The Illini defense forced three fumbles in the game, but the offense turned those into two punts and a missed field goal. The Illini also had three drives start past their own 40-yard line, but scored no points from any of them.

    “When (the defense) gets turnovers, we need to capitalize,” George Jr. said. “That’s a big momentum shift in the game, and we just have to come together and find those big play opportunities.”

    Missed opportunities to capitalize on turnovers have become a theme for Lovie Smith’s postgame press conferences.

    “We started off the right way, forcing a turnover,” Smith said. “But mistakes to get us out of field goal range and not getting any points right there set the trend for the day.”

    Smith stuck with George Jr. under center. He threw two late touchdown passes, doubling the Illini’s total for the season. But by then, it was too late for Illinois to mount a comeback.

    George Jr. may be moving the ball better than Crouch did, but until he can improve on his 3-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, the results will largely be the same for the Illini.

    George Jr. knows that he needs to take his play to another level. Illinois has already made one change at quarterback and Smith reiterated at his press conference after the loss that he awards playing time based on merit. With true freshman Cam Thomas waiting in the wings, George Jr. intends to do everything he can to earn his spot.

    “I treat every day like it’s game day,” George Jr. said. “I prepare, I go hard and I try to make myself the best quarterback I can be. I try to prove to myself, and prove to the guys on this team that I am the best person for this job every day of the week.”

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