Illini turn to Jeff George Jr. at quarterback
By JAMES BOYD
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Illinois has seen this before, a quarterback with "George" on the jersey atop the depth chart at quarterback.
With his team ranked last in the Big Ten in total offense and just 73 points through four games, coach Lovie Smith has made Jeff George Jr. the No. 1 quarterback nearly 30 years after George's father ran the Illini offense on the way to becoming the top pick in the NFL draft. Chayce Crouch started the first four games but has thrown only one touchdown pass along with four interceptions. His quarterback rating of 93.7, last in the Big Ten among players with at least 14 pass attempts.
George has only appeared in one game this season, passing for 211 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the second half of a 47-23 loss to South Florida. He played in five games a year ago, starting four of them because of injuries to Wes Lunt and Crouch, and had 470 passing yards, four TDs and five interceptions. During his starts, the team went 1-3.
"I feel like I know how tough it is to win a game," George said. "We went through some ups and some downs last year. Now, I feel like nothing is new. I've experienced it. I've been there."
Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee called George on Sunday to break the news. As soon as the conversation was over, George said the first person he called was his dad.
George Sr. played at Illinois in 1988 and 1989, leading the Illini to two bowl game appearances. He was picked No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1990 draft and played for five different teams during his 12-year career.
"It's a unique experience that not very many people have," George Jr. said. "It's definitely nice to have a guy that I can go to not only as my dad, but as a former player and a quarterback."
Illinois (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) is averaging just 18.3 points and 161.3 yards per game going into Saturday's game against Iowa (3-2, 0-2). Smith said he believes George brings a new element to the offense with his arm, but made it clear that Illinois is not a passing team. He just wants George to do enough to keep the offense balanced and opposing defenses honest.
Smith highlighted the receiving core as a bright spot on the team and said that he must find ways to get them the ball. Malik Turner has caught a pass in 24 straight games and just moved up to ninth on Illinois' career receiving yards list with 1,600. Mike Dudek caught Illinois' lone passing touchdown of the season, and leads the team with 16 receptions and 195 receiving yards. He is excited about George, but said that the change was tough for Crouch to take.
"It's human nature to take something like that pretty hard," Dudek said. "But I thought he's handled it pretty well."
George said he knows that there will be a lot of expectations and comparisons to both Crouch and even his father, but he isn't concerned about the scrutiny. He is more interested in getting another opportunity to play a game his father introduced him to as a kid. George said his dad coached his Pop Warner team at one point, and while other teams mainly ran the ball, their offense was far more complex and featured a lot more throwing.
"We went 0-8 that year," George said. "But I definitely had so much fun and it was definitely cool having my dad out there being a coach, too."
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Updated October 5, 2017