Illinois looks for slow-start fix against Bobcats
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Illinois has been a strong second-half team this season.
The Illini (2-1) have scored 56 points on eight touchdowns in those six quarters, including three long strikes from quarterback Wes Lunt.
But in those first halves? Illinois has been outscored 61-33 and trailed at halftime in all three games.
”It comes down to what are you doing in the first half, and we’re not being successful in the first half,” Illini coach Tim Beckman said.
Illinois faces Texas State on Saturday, a team that might provide the antidote.
The Bobcats were down fast against Navy last week, trailing 28-0 midway through the second quarter before losing 35-21.
For Texas State (1-1), the key against Illinois will be protecting quarterback Tyler Jones, Bobcats coach Dennis Franchione said. Jones has been sacked just twice in two games.
”We’ve been pretty good at that and Tyler has played well,” Franchione said.
Things to keep an eye on Saturday:
FOURTH QUARTER: Only two of Lunt’s three fourth-quarter performances have resulted in wins for Illinois, but they’ve all been pretty good. The redshirt sophomore quarterback is 21-24 in the final period this season for 327 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Lunt has had to be good. Illinois has trailed after three quarters in every game so far.
ALLISON OUT: Wide receiver Geronimo Allison has emerged as Lunt’s go-to guy, but he’ll miss the game with a knee injury suffered against Washington.
Allison has 16 catches for 300 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-4, 195-pound junior college transfer is fourth in the Big Ten in yards per game at 100.
His absence will force Lunt to focus more on other targets like freshman receiver Mike Dudek, who is the team’s No. 2 receiver with 12 catches, 159 yards and two touchdowns, and junior Justin Hardee. Hardee has nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown, with most of his production coming in one big day against Western Kentucky. Tight ends Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse could get a few more looks, too. Between them they have 10 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
DEFENDING QUARTERBACKS: As a guy who can effectively run and pass, Jones presents a problem for defenses. ”Dual-threat quarterbacks put a lot of pressure on defenses,” Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. Washington’s Cyler Miles was only the latest to give the Illini headaches. It wasn’t so much the 55 yards he ran for last Saturday, Banks said, as his scrambling on pass plays: ”He’ll make guys miss and extend some plays.”
ORAKPO OUT: The Bobcats will be without starting linebacker Mike Orakpo, who Franchione said is out for the season after suffering a pair of devastating injuries in the loss to Navy. ”He tore his ACL and his MCL,” Franchione said.
Orakpo, the brother of Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo, was an honorable-mention All-Sun Belt player in 2013, but he isn’t the team’s leading tackler. That’s David Mayo, with 25 through two games.
PENALTIES: At nine a game, Illinois is the most penalized team in the Big Ten so far this season and one of the most penalized teams in the country. They’re ranked 113th. The Illini can take comfort, though, in knowing that the Bobcats are worse. Texas State is averaging 9.5 flags a game.
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