CAMPUS CHECK IN: Illinois’ quarterback carousel continues in 2017
CHAMPAIGN – It looks like another member of the George family is starting at Illinois again – and with the same name, in fact.
While it’s not something new for Jeff George Jr, who started four games for the injured Wes Lunt in 2016, it does indicate that the quarterback carousel is alive and well in Champaign once again.
The son of former Illini star Jeff George Sr., who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts, takes the place of Chayce Crouch for Illinois’ second Big Ten game against Iowa at 11 AM Saturday in Iowa City.
This comes after Crouch was ineffective in a pair of losses to South Florida and the conference opener to Nebraska at home. After just 99 yards through the air with an interception and just 37 yards on the ground and just six points, head coach Lovie Smith decided to make the move.
“I believe in some positions you try to stay the course as much as you possibly can. But, you have to kind of look at what’s going on in film. There’s a lot of things we’re not doing right, but we feel like that in order to take that next step we need to make a change,” said Smith of the change.
In relief of Crouch this season, George is 12-of-22 for 211 yards with a touchdown compared to a pair of interceptions. True freshman quarterback and former Marian Catholic star Cam Thomas may also have the chance to play as well, according to Smith, as Illinois goes for their first Big Ten win this weekend at Kinnick Stadium.
NORTHWESTERN: Another Week, Another Top 10 team
EVANSTON – Pat Fitzgerald’s team isn’t having the easiest time starting off the conference season.
First they had to head into hostile territory in the first week to face No. 10 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. The Wildcats fell behind, fought back, but ran out of time in a 33-24 loss to the Badgers to drop their record to 2-2 on the season.
Now Fitzgerald and his team welcome in No. 4 Penn State to Evanston for an 11 AM start at Ryan Field on Saturday.
One of the players that jumps out to everyone when facing the Nittany Lions is running back Saquon Barkley. In five games he has 574 yards rushing with an average of 6.7 yards per carry along with 386 yards receiving on 27 catches. His electrifying style makes him one of the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy and the key to Penn State’s hopes to make their first College Football Playoff.
Hence it’s easy to see where Northwestern’s defense will have to start if they hope to succeed this time in springing the upset. Defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster knows that, but he also believes in his running back Justin Jackson. Two years ago, he had 186 yards rushing in a 23-21 win over the Nittany Lions en route to a ten-win season, which is something Lancaster made sure to point out when he was sitting next to Jackson during the weekly news conference on campus.
“He’s one of the most talented players I’ll every play. He’s competing for the best back, competing for the best back I’ve ever seen,” said Lancaster, who then patted Jackson on the shoulder. “We’ve really got to limit him. It’s going to be tough with him, obviously, we’ve got to stop the run, force them to pass and that’s really where I live – stopping that run on the inside.
“He’s very shifty, he can jump-cut, he can do anything.”
NOTRE DAME: Not The Best Sight
SOUTH BEND – Just when it appeared that Notre Dame had a clean and successful Saturday at home against Miami of Ohio came a sight that puts some concern into fans and Brian Kelly.
That’s when quarterback Brandon Wimbush was spotted in a walking boot on his right foot this week as the Irish started preparations for North Carolina. It was a suprise since there was no apparent injury during the 52-17 win over the Redhawks, when the quarterback threw three touchdowns and ran in another.
“I think we’ll take it day-to-day right now. He experienced some foot soreness after the game, so we put him in a walking boot, which is fairly typical relative to procedures,” said Kelly of the injury. “We had an MRI and an X-ray both came back clean, no structural damage, no ligament damage. We just want to be really cautious with him, and we’ll begin the process of practicing and see how he progresses during the week.”
That’s continued throughout this week as the 21st-ranked Irish head to North Carolina for a game with the struggling Tar Heels at 3:30 PM, with Wimbush likely to take the snaps at center for Kelly’s team. In his first year of starting with the Irish, Wimbush has completed 51 percent of his passes for 783 yards with six touchdowns compared to two interceptions.
“I think what’s most important is his ability to lead, first and foremost. Does he clearly communicate? Does he have the trust of the other 10 players? Is he a great competitor? Does he have all the other traits? And he’s got grit. He’s got competitiveness,” said Kelly of Wimbush’s first season as the starter. “If you look at the BC where he wasn’t throwing the ball very well, he found a way to win.”
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: A Bit of a Letdown
DEKALB – Rod Carey might have hoped for a little more out of his team after one of the biggest wins in program history at Nebraska along with a week off.
Northern Illinois fell behind by 17 at the half and couldn’t make it up in a 34-28 loss at San Diego State last Saturday. It drops the Huskies to 2-2 on the season as they prepare to start their Mid-American Conference season against Kent State in DeKalb on Homecoming Saturday at 2:30 PM.
Carey’s team has had quite a non-conference season, but in his mind things really do start anew once the MAC season begins.
“We always like to play conference. We have a conference championship. You don’t get a trophy for going 4-0, 0-4, 3-1 whatever it is non-conference. Conference, you’re playing for something,” said Carey. “Guys are really excited. I know I am. It’s always a good time. It’s way different going into conference. I know I keep coming back to it. You have so much familiarity with these teams that it comes down to individual matchups. Conference games are always tighter than non-conference games, one way or another. I’m looking forward to it.”