It was Senior Day on Saturday in Champaign, and Illinois put forth a putrid effort offensively in a 28-0 loss to Iowa.
With temperatures in the 40s at kickoff and 20-25 mph winds whipping through the stadium, both offenses were going to struggle Saturday. Iowa was able to control the game on the ground and wear down the Illini over the course of the game.
The Illini’s (3-8, 2-6 Big Ten) defense performed admirably but got no help from the other two phases of the ball as Iowa (7-4, 5-3) scored via a punt return in the first half to take a seven-point lead into the halftime break. The Illini were limited to just 198 yards for the game.
Illinois punted on its first 10 possessions and only broke the streak when Wes Lunt was intercepted by Desmond King on a woefully underthrown deep ball into the wind.
Here’s one talking point from Saturday’s game.
Looking back at Wes Lunt’s career at Illinois, it’s hard not to be disappointed
After his final home game at Memorial Stadium, it’s time to look back at the tumultuous career of Wes Lunt.
To be fair, Lunt endured a set of circumstances that would have made it extremely difficult for anyone to succeed. Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit aren’t exactly the cream of the crop in terms of coaching, and Lunt battled injuries in every season of his career — even dating back to his freshman year at Oklahoma State.
Let’s be clear: Lunt is an average Big Ten quarterback. He’s not bad by any means. But what makes him so incredibly frustrating at times is that his ceiling is so high. He entered the year with hopes of being drafted to the NFL, but those chances are slim to none after his injury-riddled senior campaign. I’m sure that a team will pick him up for a training camp simply because of his arm talent, but it’s clear that he lacks the intangibles necessary to play the position at a high level. Lunt is a guy that looks great throwing the ball in a suit at Big Ten Media Days, but once the pads come on and the whistle blows, Lunt just doesn’t live up to expectations.
Too many times, Lunt was content to complete a five yard pass on third and eight. His offenses couldn’t play with any tempo, even during situations like the two-minute drill when time is of the essence. Many fans gripe about his unwillingness to push the ball down the field, and he doesn’t pick his spots well at all; one of his lone downfield attempts today was into double coverage directly into 25 mph winds against future NFL cornerback Desmond King.
Lunt has a knack for filling out a box score and making it look as though he was effective, even during games where he is clearly off the mark. The problem is that he’s a guy that doesn’t push the ball downfield — this season he’s averaging barely six yards per attempt — but he also completes less than 60 percent of his passes. Again, not all of this falls on Lunt’s shoulders. He’s been missing Mikey Dudek for two years and Justin Hardee never developed into a go-to guy as an outside receiver. Illinois has been one of the NCAA’s leaders in drops the past two seasons. The result? His high school teammate Zach Grant was his favorite target Saturday, which is not how you would draw things up during the summer.
Lunt doesn’t turn the ball over which is reflected with his touchdown-to-interception ratio at Illinois of 34-to-11. That sounds great, but he’s so ultra-conservative that Illinois can’t move the ball and rarely hits big plays in the passing game. Imagine the mindset of the Illinois defense when a 14-point deficit seems insurmountable because the offense can’t move the ball.
I hope I’ve been able to convey that Lunt doesn’t deserve all of the blame that people throw his way. But the great quarterbacks have an ability to make everyone around them better (even Reilly O’Toole did that in the final few games of the 2014 season). Lunt never did that, and that’s what I’ll remember about his time at Illinois.