Lunt injury, Crouch inspired play creates Illini quarterback controversy

Illini still evaluating senior quarterback Wes Lunt suffered a back injury against Purdue, which could create more opportunity for Chayce Crouch

CHAMPAIGN - An old football adage says that a player can't lose a starting job due to injury. But an injury certainly has created an Illinois quarterback controversy.

Longtime Illini starting quarterback Wes Lunt's status for Saturday's game at Rutgers is still unknown. But the senior's back injury provided  redshirt sophomore Chayce Crouch with an opportunity of which he took full advantage.

Crouch relieved Lunt during Saturday's 34-31 overtime loss to Purdue and sparked the Illini offense, running for a career-high 137 yards and two touchdowns -- the fourth most single-game rushing yards by an Illini quarterback -- and completing 10 of 14 passes for 142 yards.

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Illini coach Lovie Smith stated support for both quarterbacks on Monday but publicly backed Lunt as No. 1 on the depth chart.

"Wes is our starter," Smith said. "Chayce is our backup right now. We feel really good about both of them. Wes was playing good football before he got hurt."

Smith said the team is "still evaluating" his injury. Lunt exited during the second quarter Saturday after a late hit by a Purdue defender. He didn't return to the game.

"When a player doesn't finish the game, there's concern until we on the practice field," Smith said.

Smith, though, couldn't hid his excitement for Crouch.

"I thought Chayce Crouch came in and gave us a boost," Smith said. "Outstanding football. I understand how he finished ... got to hold onto the football in overtime. But his overall play running our offense, running the ball, breaking tackles, passing the football, I thought was outstanding.

"Chayce ran the offense, and we got to see it in living color.  I really liked what he was able to do. If Wes can't go for us, the back-up plan is pretty good."

Illinois offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said that Crouch showed that he is "very competitive."

"It means a lot to him," McGee said. "He's willing to give his body for the team, even when he doesn't really need to give his body for the team, which is a lot of what we need to talk about. But he was competitive. He was prepared for the game mentally and emotionally. I thought he battled. He gave us a chance until the fumble at the end of the game."

Lunt has started 24 games during the past three seasons at Illinois. This season, he has a 60.5 completion percentage for 840 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Redshirt freshman Jeff George Jr., the son of former No. 1 NFL Draft pick Jeff George Sr., is the only other scholarship backup. Following the offseason transfers of freshmen Jimmy Fitzgerald and Elit Peters, walk-on Cam Miller is the only other available Illini quarterback.

McGee said whoever the starter is will get most of the reps this week, though he was mum on who that would be.

"The offense should always be built around the quarterback," McGee said. "You have a different style of quarterback now. So there are some things that are going to change."

Asked if Crouch would start even if Lunt is healthy, McGee said: "That's something we'll worry about when it happens. We're just trying to find a way to win right now and get our team in position and actually finish off a game, not get into the fourth quarter and find a way to screw the game up again.


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