Illini offense alive and kicking in first game
September 5, 2015
Offensive lineman Ted Karras couldn’t fall asleep last night after sitting in his pads for close to four hours while waiting out Illinois’ eventually suspended season opener.
He thought the team would be kicking off at 10 p.m. Instead the game was postponed and Karras and the remaining Illini got an extra night to mull over the season opener.
In a 52-3 win over Kent State on Saturday, the Illinois football team proved the delayed start time didn’t make a difference.
Illinois produced its largest margin of victory since 2011 and scored the most points (38) in a first half since scoring the same amount in a 2001 win over California.
Starting quarterback Wes Lunt went 11-for-19 with 162 yards and four touchdowns each to a different receiver. Lunt threw for four touchdowns, tying his single-game best as an Illini — he threw the same number in last year’s season opener against Youngstown State.
Wideout Geronimo Allison led the receiving corps with 57 yards.
The Illini offense recorded 19 first downs and went two-for-two on fourth down conversions. Illinois finished with 208 passing and 134 rushing yards. The Golden Flashes recorded 186 passing yards and 59 rushing yards.
As the Illini took a definitive lead, coaches put in younger players to gain experience.
Lunt carried the offense until seven minutes left in the third quarter, when redshirt freshman Chayce Crouch came into the game. Crouch, in his Illini debut, went 3-for-9, recording 46 passing yards and throwing a single touchdown and single interception.
With six minutes left in the game, Crouch connected with freshman wide receiver Sam Mays for the each player’s first collegiate touchdown.
With Crouch taking control for the first time and backup offensive linemen Connor Brennan, Nick Allegreti, Harry Black and Jordan Fagan all playing significant minutes, the first stringers worked with the number twos to boost confidence.
“(Chayce) has worked so hard,” Lunt said. “I just told him to have fun cause it’s his first time playing college football, it’s pretty cool.”
While the score reflected a cohesive unit, the Illini struggled with penalties along the way. One drive in the first-quarter saw the Illinois offense record three penalties in a row.
“The penalties are just self-inflicting,” Lunt said. “On my part, the delay of game, just stupid things that we can easily fix. But overall we were happy with today.”
The Illini finished the day with eight penalties for a loss of 80 yards. But Kent State helped Illinois out with penalties of its own, recording 11 for a loss of 82 yards.
With an offense that struck early and often, players are hoping to keep that momentum around and were pleased that they led from the start on.
Last year’s opener saw the Illini trailing or within one point until the fourth quarter. They also fell behind in non-conference games against Western Kentucky, Washington and Texas State.
Today the Illini reversed the roles.
“If you think back to last year’s non-conference games, we were coming back in the fourth quarter,” Karras said. “Now were putting the nail in the coffin early which is what we want to be doing.”