Struggling Illinois, Rutgers meet with quarterback questions
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Illinois and Rutgers are struggling and facing quarterback questions.
The Illini (1-4, 0-2 Big Ten) are worried about Wes Lunt heading into Saturday's game at High Point Solutions Stadium. He hurt his back last week and his status is unclear.
Chaye Crouch filled in and did well, running for 137 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue.
Chris Laviano of Rutgers has not lost his starting job, but he hasn't gotten a vote of confidence from coach Chris Ash with the Scarlet Knights (2-4, 0-3) and on a three-game losing streak.
Last week against No. 4 Michigan, Laviano was pulled in the second half in a 78-0 loss. TCU transfer Zach Allen replaced him and didn't do much. Giovanni Rescigno hasn't gotten a lot of playing time.
Freshman Tylin Oden has shown flashes and looks to be the quarterback of the future. He can run, but his passing game is a question mark.
That leaves Ash with questions.
Illinois coach Lovie Smith has faith in both his quarterbacks.
''Very confident on what we can do with Chayce running the offense. ... I really like what he was able to do,'' Smith said. ''If Wes can't go of course.''
The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder has shown to be a fearless runner. However, Smith wants to make sure he says healthy.
''`Hey Chayce, `it's OK to slide.' He's going head first. But we needed that. He brought energy,'' Smith said. ''Eventually you're going to get an opportunity, but you need to be ready.''
For Rutgers, just about every quarterback should be ready.
''We've played three different quarterbacks, really four with the one play that Gio had. But we have to continue to try to find consistent play at that position,'' Ash said.
Some things to note for Rutgers vs. Illinois:
SHORT SERIES HISTORY
Illinois and Rutgers have played twice (2005 and 2006), splitting the home-and-home series. This is their first Big Ten contest.
After a tough loss against Iowa to open Big Ten play, Rutgers has lost to No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan by a combined 136-0 margin.
''The players have been outstanding,'' Ash said. ''I think there was more hang over after the Ohio State loss. Because I thought coming out of Iowa we had some pretty good confidence. We didn't win the game, but I thought we played well enough to give ourselves an opportunity to win the game.''
Ohio State shook Rutgers' confidence and Michigan simply overpowered Scarlet Knights.
Illinois leads the Big Ten in both penalties committed with 46 and yards lost to flags at 375. Penalties were a problem for both teams in Illinois' 34-31 overtime loss to Purdue last week, including a handful of flags for unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer and targeting (Illini defensive end Carroll Phillips ejected) as the tight game grew more and more tense.
Illinois linebacker Hardy Nickerson said his team needs to do a better job of playing under control, but acknowledged that can be a challenge.
''Football is an emotional game, so each guy has a one-on-one battle with the opponent. Sometimes those matchups can get heated,'' the graduate transfer said.
The Illini offense is quietly finding success on the ground this fall, behind a trio of backs. Kendrick Foster leads with 276 yards on 41 carries and four touchdowns, but right behind him is freshman Reggie Corbin with 235 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who started the season as the go-to tailback, has dropped down the depth chart but is still contributing, with 219 yards on 43 carries and two scores.
''That's' the one position I've been pretty pleased with,'' Smith said.
OFFENSIVE LINE STRUGGLES
Ash and offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer put much of the offensive struggles - five completions and 155 total offensive yards in the last two games - on the offensive line.
''Everything we do starts up front,'' Ash said. ''We have to play better on the offensive line. We've struggled to run the football in the last two games. We've struggled to protect the quarterback in the last two games.
Associated Press writer David Mercer contributed to this report from Champaign, Illinois.