“Chayce Crouch is our starting quarterback,” Lovie Smith emphatically said to open his Big Ten Media Day press conference.
There is no quarterback competition. Jeff George Jr., who started and won the Michigan State game last year and was thrown into the fire in his first career start at No. 3 Michigan, will be the backup in 2017.
Crouch threw just 32 total passes in four appearances last season. Fourteen of those 32 passes came in the 24-7 road win over Rutgers. Wes Lunt, Illinois’ senior starting quarterback last season, threw over 30 times in four games alone last season.
In essence, Crouch has not been in the position yet to sling the ball around, making that part of offensive coordinator Garrick McGee’s offense unknown for how successful it will be this season.
Crouch was not one of the three Illinois player representatives at Media Days last week, but offensive lineman Christian DiLauro, wide receiver Malik Turner and defensive back Jaylen Dunlap all sang Crouch’s praises as a teammate and as a leader. When those three were asked about Crouch on the Big Ten Networks’ broadcast, their eyes lit up, smiles immediately graced their faces — they are eager to fight tooth and nail behind a guy that puts it all on the line in his preparation and in the way he plays the game.
As a runner.
Wes Lunt was a productive, pocket-passing quarterback without much mobility at all. He was a strong leader in the huddle, but his teammates did not seem as excited about Lunt and the way he went about his business as they are about Crouch. Part of that has to do with Crouch’s football-playing style as a beast of a runner in between the tackles. Here’s an example against Purdue from last year.
He attacks the line of scrimmage with a fearless fury. Illinois’ 2017 starter loves playing through contact.
It remains to be seen whether or not Crouch can zip the ball down the field, say 20-plus yards. It just has not happened yet. The Illini will try to use the run and zone-read option to open up those passing opportunities.