Illini mum on QB availability for Minnesota game

Status of Wes Lunt and Chayce Crouch remains a mystery but Illini express confidence in Jeff George Jr.

CHAMPAIGN - Lovie Smith made a preemptive strike during his opening statement of Monday's weekly press conference.

"We can save ourselves a little bit of time," Smith said. "I'm not going to talk on the injuries. There's nothing to report."

Smith has been in this business long enough to know that the gathered reporters would ask about his quarterback conundrum -- and Smith is never one to offer his opponents any help with their scouting report.

The Illinois staff on Monday was mum on which quarterbacks will be available for Saturday's homecoming game against Minnesota (5-2, 2-2), which comes in as a six-point road favorite.

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In the absence of injured starter Wes Lunt (back) and injured second-stringer Chayce Crouch, third-string redshirt freshman Jeff George Jr. made his first career start on Saturday -- at No. 2 Michigan.

Media members are only allowed to watch the first 30 minutes of practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so there may be hints of Saturday's plan later this week. Though Lunt and Crouch dressed for practice last week only to not suit up for Saturday's game at Ann Arbor.

The most Smith would give up was if the staff knows already which quarterbacks will be available this week.

"Yes, we do," Smith said.

Illini offensive coordinator Garrick McGee played coy too.

"Jeff will be available, I know that" McGee said. "He's available. He's fired up. He wants to get a week better and get out there and complete some passes."

Starting a quarterback who'd never thrown a pass in a collegiate game, the 41-8 loss to the Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) -- and 172 total yards and six first downs -- wasn't a surprise result for the Illini (2-5, 1-3). George Jr. (4-for-15, 95 yards, one touchdown, one interception and on lost fumble) didn't complete a pass until midway through the third quarter.

But McGee saw some positives out of the first-time starter and son of Illini great Jeff George Jr. "He turned the ball over twice, which you can't do," McGee said. "But besides that, he's competitive. The kids like him. He's an accurate passer. He'll stand in the pocket and still keep his eyes downfield and deliver the ball down the field. So, I'm happy with Jeff moving forward."

This season marks the first time Illinois has started three different quarterbacks in a season since 2009, when Juice Williams (10 starts), Jacob Charest (one start) and Eddie McGee (one start) shared quarterback duties.

The constant changing has caused some challenges for an offense that during conference play is averaging just 19.8 points (11th of 14 Big Ten teams) and 315.3 yards per game (13th among Big Ten teams).

"It's a process because the game plans keep changing," McGee said. "The style of play that we have to play to give us a chance keeps changing. You always wish you had one guy, so you can get into a rhythm with the game plan, the style of offense you're going to play, with the plays you're running. But when you go from Wes to Chayce to Jeff, those are three different styles of quarterback, so you have to be really creative and try to be the same. But you have to be different. So you have to be creative."

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