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Lovie Smith praises freshman at weekly press conference

“Most of them have turned out the way we hoped they would.”

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Lovie Smith took the lectern Monday afternoon sporting a gray Illini pollo, a rather dull-colored shirt to represent a rather dull performance in Illinois’ 45-16 loss to Iowa on Saturday.

It was Illinois’ first Big Ten road test and QB Jeff George Jr. started his first game of the season. The game showcased two extremely different halves as George Jr. went 22-for-45 with 246 yards and three interceptions. Even with the underwhelming first start, the switch to George Jr. allowed for the sharing of the football as nine different receivers got their hands on the ball.

“He did too many good things,” Smith said. “It’s something for us to build on and we will.”

Smith said progress was made in the 29-point loss, but hopefully the mistakes causing them to lose football games will disappear.

The biggest story of the season for the Fighting Illini has been their 10 true freshman starters, a program record. The recruiting game has fared well for Lovie and his coaching staff so far, and his freshman class have been outperforming their veteran teammates.

“After we signed the recruiting class, we had high hopes. Most of them have turned out the way we hoped they would,” said Smith. “If we keep recruiting that way, our program will be in good shape.”

Illinois welcomes Rutgers this Saturday to Champaign, where they will be looking to get back in the win column.

“We are two teams fighting for a win,” Smith said. “Both of us haven't won as many games as we would like.

“(We) need to get back on the winning track at home.”