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Wes Lunt And The Legend Of The Backup Quarterback

Wes Lunt will be starting this Saturday against Iowa and that is the right decision.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the long ago days of 2006, there was this wonderfully odd comic strip called Palehose Six that more or less told the story of the 2006 Chicago White Sox by imagining them and the other Major League Baseball teams as pirates. This delightful goofiness was my introduction to Carl Skanberg.

He went on the make Palehose 7, Palehose 8, and is currently working on That New Carl Smell, but his most accessible work was Smells Like Mascot. Carl covered all the Chicago sports with it, meaning no one had to feel left out. One comic from Smells Like Mascot has managed to stick with me for the past seven years.

For those who don't remember the 2007 Chicago Bears season, that was the year when everyone had seen more than enough Rex Grossman and decided that Brian Griese was clearly the better option despite not being able to beat Grossman for the starting job during the preseason. After a handful of bad games by Grossman, Lovie Smith made the switch that people had been clamoring for and ... Griese did a hot handful of nothing. He threw for 1,706 yards over six starts, completing 61% of his passes while throwing 10 TD and 12 INT before ultimately giving way to Kyle Orton.

Carl's comic nailed this. It didn't matter that Griese was not a good quarterback. The most popular player with an angry fanbase of a struggling football team is the backup quarterback. He gets built into this mythical figure that will save the team's season, even though there's usually a pretty good reason he's the backup. Is this all starting to sound familiar?

Wes Lunt has played five games as an Illini. Three of those games were against weaker OOC opponents, but those games still count. He's managed to complete 66.1% of 192 passing attempts for 1,569 yards. That's 8.2 yards per attempt. He's thrown 13 TD passes and only 3 INT. Once more, that's really good. He is 8 TD passes away from being 10th in school history for career TD passes. He has played in five games. When compared to the other quarterbacks in the conference, here's how he's currently ranked: tied for 7th in completions, 1st in completion percentage, 4th in passing yards per attempt, 8th in passing yards, 4th in TD, 3rd in efficiency rating. HE HAS PLAYED IN FIVE GAMES.

Those stats could mean he has all the promise in the world or they could mean absolutely nothing. His backups have had four games to prove they deserve to be starting instead of him. Reilly O'Toole has completed 55.6% of his passing attempts for an average of 6.5 yards per attempt. He's thrown 4 TD and 6 INT. Despite being more mobile than Lunt, he's averaging 1.6 yards per rush. Aaron Bailey has thrown 22 passes. He's completed 11 of them. He's averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. That is bad. And while Bailey is undeniably a drastically better runner than Lunt, he's averaging only 3.8 yards per rush. As Mr. Teeny pointed out in Profilo's FanPost, even though O'Toole and Bailey are more mobile than Lunt the Living Statue, they've been sacked four more times than Lunt in one fewer game.

The offensive line has been horrible no matter who has been lined up behind them. The team is averaging 3 yards per rush against Big Ten opponents. You could put Rashard Mendenhall or Mikel Leshoure back there and it wouldn't make a difference. We all know Josh Ferguson is tremendously talented and it's been beyond frustrating watching him struggle behind a line that cannot maintain their blocking assignments longer than half a second. It's incredibly hard to get anything done when your opponent is in your backfield almost as quickly as the ball reaches your hands.

For better or worse, this offense is built with Wes Lunt in mind. A lot of people seem to be struggling with the idea of a pocket QB since we haven't a real one of those in the past decade. But that's the offense Bill Cubit knows and uses. That's the offense that best utilizes the talents of Lunt, Mike Dudek, and Geronimo Allison. Hell, it even best utilizes Ferguson. A mobile quarterback is fantastic if he can complete passes and be a human wrecking ball. Neither backup is currently doing that. Lunt has 2.25 more years of eligibility left. Not seeing what he can do over the next three games would be absurdly foolish.

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