TAMPA, Fla. (WCIA) — The Illinois football team expected to learn plenty about itself in Tampa as they took on No. 22 South Florida but what head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee probably didn’t predict was that they would have another quarterback battle on their hands.
“I feel like I have the talent and capabilities to do so,” Illinois sophomore quarterback Jeff George, Jr. said about whether he feels like he can start or not. “But whatever the coaches have to do, whatever they say, it’s their team. I support whatever they do but I’m ready to go.”
George, Jr. took the second half snaps Friday night after starter Chayce Crouch failed to get Illinois’ offense going in the first.
“(We) needed a spark,” Smith said. “Simple as that. When you get in a position where you have to pass the ball, you kind of go with the guy that has a good arm, maybe the best passer of the group. That was the reasoning.”
Crouch was 8-of-18 for 76 yards behind center while George was 12-of -22 for a 211 yards.
“I really don’t even notice who’s in sometimes,” Illinois freshman running back Mike Epstein said about the quarterbacks. “But I think he’s (George, Jr.) a pocket passer more than Chayce, obviously. I think they’re both, Chayce and Jeff, both do they’re job pretty well.”
A stalled offense has been the nagging problem for the Illini since their opening week win against Ball State. Through three games, Illinois is averaging a little more than 22 points a game. Not enough to offset a defense that allowed 47 points against the Bulls.
“We’re just looking at what happened tonight,” Smith said. “No one played as well as we needed to. And you make decisions on what you think gives you the best chance to have success on this game.”
Smith says he and his staff haven’t made a decision on whether or not Crouch will keep the starting position. Either way, the Illini need to find some type of answer at quarterback.
“It is what it is,” Illinois junior receiver Mike Dudek said. “I mean, I’m sure Chayce would say the same thing. Whoever’s at quarterback we’re willing to go to war with.”
Crouch was not made available to the media following the loss at USF. Illinois has a bye week to help sort things out behind center before they open up Big Ten play against Nebraska at home on Friday the 29th.