It’s abundantly clear that Illinois has struggled to move the ball on offense after three weeks. The team is only averaging 17 points per game and averaging 324 yards on offense. That production, even with a decent defense, won’t cut it if the team wants to make a bowl game. Illinois has struggled in all areas of offense, especially on the offensive line, but the Illini have some big questions to answer with the most important posistion on offense: quarterback.
Chayce Crouch came into the year as the clear starting QB, but he has struggled with accuracy and with getting the ball out against blitzes. He played poorly against USF and was pulled in the second half in favor of sophomore Jeff George Jr.
George Jr. was much more effective than Crouch against USF. He threw for 211 yards and a touchdown, while making some big plays; Granted it was mostly in “garbage time” and against many of USF backups. He also threw two interceptions in his half of play, showing that his turnover issues from last season may still be present.
George Jr. also doesn’t provide any running threat as QB, which is something that offensive coordinator Garrick McGee covets in his signal callers. For his career, he has recorded minus-50 rushing yards. (It’s important to note that sacks count against a QB’s rushing numbers in college.)
The Illini are now stuck in an interesting QB controversy, but I hate that phrase, so let’s call it a dilemma. It would make sense for Lovie Smith to make a change at QB and throw in George Jr. to help provide a spark to the offense. He did well against USF, and Illinois was a much greater passing threat with him in the game. How much of that, however, was George Jr. and how much was it USF having a big lead and not playing very hard on defense?
There is also the question of how much the running game would suffer without Crouch in the game. He acts as another effective blocker on option looks, and defenders have to be responsible for the QB instead of only the running back. This is of crucial help to the Illini running game behind a very young and inexperienced offensive line. I have doubts that the team could have an effective running game with a pocket QB like George Jr.
So how do you solve this dilemma? Do you play Crouch and try to use his dual-threat abilities to help move the ball on the ground, or do you throw in the better passer in George Jr. and take your chances that he can keep turnovers down?
The answer could be to play them both in a two-QB system.
Two-QB systems get a bad rep, and for good reason. There are many downsides to them. Mainly, they can hurt the rhythm of an offense and not let a QB get a feeling for a game and get more comfortable within it. The saying that “if you have two QBs, you have zero QBs” also holds a little merit.
But, there have been numerous cases of success playing two quarterbacks. Most famously, Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators won the 2007 BCS Title while playing Chris Leak and Tim Tebow under center. What made it work well was the stark differences between Leak and Tebow, with Tebow being used most as a runner. It made defenses have to adjust their schemes and systems within the game depending on who Flordia put out on the field.
A similar dynamic could play out with the Illini offense. The best way to defend the Illinois offense with Crouch in the backfield is to blitz, especially from the outside, in order to keep Crouch in the pocket and get pressure on him to throw in tough situations.
Conversely, when George Jr. is in, the best thing to do is rush only four or five knowing they can get to George with a subpar Illinois offensive line and not have to worry about him running the ball on broken plays. The defense can drop players into coverage to take away big plays from the offense.
If Illinois were to play both QBs, however, they could mix up their style slightly and force the defense to adjust. This could keep opposing defenders on their toes, and may lead to some mistakes and openings for Illinois on offense.
On the other hand, the offensive rhythm issue is a big problem with such a system. Ohio State did struggle on offense a bit last season when they couldn’t decide between Cardale Jones and JT Barrett. The Buckeyes had some close calls in Big Ten play due to their offensive struggles, but they eventually overcame their issues and made the College Football Playoff — again.
I would counter this argument for Illinois by simply saying the entire offense hasn’t been in a rhythm all season because of the inability to consistently move the ball. While it may frustrate George Jr. and Crouch to share time, it may be a way for Illinois to get the most out of both of them and improve the offense going forward in 2017.
Illinois should embrace the chaos and play both Jeff George Jr. and Chayce Crouch against Nebraska.