- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Through four games this season, Illinois has seen two very different Wes Lunts at quarterback

The first-half Lunt might leave Illini fans wondering what they’ve gotten in the transfer from Oklahoma State. The second-half version has three times rescued a team in danger of upset losses and pulled out wins, putting up some big numbers along the way.

Both Lunt and his coaches at Illinois (3-1) say the reasons behind that split are hardly all on him.

“We’ve got some kids that are just, they’re just not adjusting well to the speed of the game early in the game,” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said Monday, talking mainly about his receivers. “And then you don’t see it in the second half.”

But why the big difference, week after week?

“It’s young kids,” Cubit said.

Lunt himself is still young, a redshirt sophomore with a little under a season of starting experience. Two of his top receivers, Mike Dudek and Malik Turner, are true freshmen. Dudek leads Illinois with 19 catches. Another favorite target, Geronimo Alison, is a junior, but his previous experience is in junior college.

The differences in what they and Lunt are able to do over the first 30 minutes and the second half hour are startling, on the field and on the stat sheet.

In the first half, Lunt is a combined 26 of 45 for 305 yards and one touchdown. He and his receivers have struggled in every first half to complete short, quick passes and get the offense moving.

Look to the receivers for the reason, Cubit said.

“If you’re supposed to be there in 10 yards, you better be there in 10 yards, (not) 9 and a half,” he said.

And the Illini have led only once at halftime this season, a thin 7-6 edge over Youngstown State in the opener.

The quarterback who takes the field in the second half couldn’t be more different.

Lunt is 74 of 107 (69.2 percent) with two interceptions, 10 touchdowns and 932 yards. His second-half yardage alone would put him ahead of all but 30 quarterbacks in the Bowl Subdivision.

And, as a result, Lunt also has those comeback wins over Youngstown, Western Kentucky and Texas State.

Combine the two Lunts and Illinois has one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He’s tied for ninth in touchdowns with 11, ranked ninth in passing yards with 1,237 and ranked 14th in yards per game at 309.3.

But why, week after week, do Lunt and his receivers start slow and, with the exception of a loss to Washington, finish so fast?

Look at the Texas State game, Lunt said. Illinois fell behind - by as much as 21-6 at one point - and picked up the pace as a result.

“I think the tempo got moved up and kind of got into sparring mode, where we were going really fast and trying to make things happen,” he said.

But the quarterback hopes he doesn’t have to engineer another comeback this Saturday. At Nebraska (4-0), he doesn’t like his odds.

“We’ve played well from behind, but we just can’t put ourselves in that situation against a great team on the road.”

___

Follow David Mercer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidmercerap


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