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Illinois Player of the Game: Cam Thomas

The freshman should be the guy for Illinois under center for the rest of the season

Illinois v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Yeah, yeah, yeah, he threw that critical interception that sealed the game Saturday against Minnesota, but zoom out to the big picture and Cam Thomas was Illinois’ player of the game in the 24-17 Illini loss on the road.

Thomas, a 6-foot-2 dual-threat quarterback out of Chicago, saw his first collegiate action on Saturday when he replaced Jeff George Jr. after two ineffective series. Known for his rushing ability, Thomas carried the ball 10 times, mostly on designed quarterback runs, for 79 yards and showed how dynamic he can be with the ball in his hands.

Thomas offers speed at the position unlike anyone else Illinois has on the roster. Chayce Crouch is a power runner who would rather run over someone than around them. George Jr. is a statue.

Thomas has a long stride that gives the illusion that he’s not running fast, only for him to blow right past defenders when getting to the edge.

There’s never been a question about the former three-star’s ability to run the ball — however it’s his arm that will determine if he can carve out a starting role with the Illini going forward.

There were both ups and downs for Thomas passing the ball against the Gophers. The stats aren’t gaudy: 2 of 4 for 33 yards and an interception. On his best play as a passer, Thomas rolled to his right and fired a completion on the money to Dominic Thieman for 22 yards.

He also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown with just over four minutes ago to double the Gophers’ lead to 14 points. It looked like Thomas had decided where he was going to throw the ball before the play had even started, and a linebacker undercut his intended receiver and took it to the house. His other incompletion was a misfire to an open Louis Dorsey on an out route.

I would be surprised if Thomas is the full-time starting quarterback from here on out, although if you’re choosing to burn his redshirt, he better play a whole awful lot.

He’s too raw in the passing game to carry the full load of the offense, so get used to seeing a two-quarterback system with Thomas and George Jr. shuttling in and out, seemingly every other play. (For the record, I have my doubts about the effectiveness of a your-turn-my-turn two-QB carousel. But it’s better to have Thomas in for 40 percent of snaps than none at all.)

As the season goes on, I want to see Thomas taking more and more snaps as he gets more comfortable with the playbook and more confident in his throwing ability.