Illinois inconsistent heading into Big Ten play

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Illinois inconsistent heading into Big Ten play

Illinois' Wes Lunt (12) looks to pass the ball during the game against Texas State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 20. The Illini won 42-35.

Illinois' Wes Lunt (12) looks to pass the ball during the game against Texas State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 20. The Illini won 42-35.

Illinois' Wes Lunt (12) looks to pass the ball during the game against Texas State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 20. The Illini won 42-35.

Illinois' Wes Lunt (12) looks to pass the ball during the game against Texas State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 20. The Illini won 42-35.

By Sean Neumann

Illinois escaped its nonconference schedule with a 3-1 record, but the real season begins this week.

The Illini had to come from behind in all three victories this season and suffered a lopsided loss to Washington on the road. Needless to say, coach Tim Beckman still believes there’s much to improve with his team.

“We all know that we have to continue to improve for four quarters of football,” Beckman said.

Illinois has trailed entering the fourth quarter in every game this season.

Starting quarterback Wes Lunt said he doesn’t have an answer as to how the Illini offense can get in sync in the first half. Lunt threw for just three yards late into the first half until a string of big plays raised his total to 63 yards at the half — still an unsatisfactory number for a quarterback who ranks ninth in the country in passing yards with 1,237.

“It’s frustrating,” Lunt said. “You don’t want to go three-and-out as much as we did. That can’t happen as an offense. It just puts the defense in such a bad spot.”

Injury update

Wide receiver Geronimo Allison is still questionable for Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Nebraska.

The junior transfer missed Saturday’s game against Texas State due to injury. Allison went down with a knee injury in the second half against Washington but returned and finished the day with two touchdowns.

“He’s a great receiver,” Lunt said of Allison. “He’s a big target and I’d love to see him out there.”

Lunt has connected with Allison often, completing 16 passes to the receiver — who’s averaging 100 receiving yards per game in just three starts.

Illinois will announce Thursday whether Allison will be eligible to play against the Cornhuskers.

The team will also make a decision Thursday on starting offensive lineman Pat Flavin, who is listed as probable against Nebraska, as well as defensive lineman Teko Powell.

Thomas cleared for Saturday

Illinois received good news Monday, when the Big Ten announced that defensive back Earnest Thomas III will be eligible for Saturday. Thomas was ejected against Texas State for a helmet-to-helmet hit that drew a targeting penalty.

The defensive back was previously ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Penn State in 2012.

Despite the return of Thomas, the Illini defense has a lot to worry about moving into the Big Ten conference schedule.

Illinois ranks 12th in both rushing and total defense in the Big Ten and will be up against one of the nation’s top running backs, Ameer Abdullah on Saturday.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said the team will continue to work on tackling drills in practice this week — something the Illini have struggled with on defense.

Illinois’ slow starts haven’t just plagued the offense. The defense has allowed 82 first-half points in its first four games. For Illini fans and players alike, the team’s first half performance has been a mystery.

“I wonder about that question as much as you do,” cornerback V’Angelo Bentley said. “I think guys are just going to have to make plays early — coming out, starting fast and making plays early.”

The Illini are underdogs throughout most of the remainder of the season with No. 21 Nebraska, No. 22 Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State left on the schedule. Illinois can’t afford to show up late in Big Ten play if they want to make the postseason.

Sean can be reached at spneuma2@dailyillini.com and on Twitter @neumannthehuman.