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5 things to know about Illinois football

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 12, 2014 at 7:01 pm •  Published: April 12, 2014
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Illinois football is looking for consistency and depth as the squad finishes the spring season.

The Blue defeated the Orange team 38-7 during an intrasquad scrimmage at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The lopsided game sets the scene for a team that has plenty of improvements to be made before fall.

After finishing 4-8 in the 2013 season, Illinois coach Tim Beckman faces pressure to produce in the coming season.

"I'm excited that we seem to be moving in the right direction," Beckman said.

He expressed a need to gain more depth, increase consistency and have all the No. 1 players help their backups improve.

"Something we've always preached is getting off to a fast start," senior quarterback Riley O'Toole said. "We've been working on that and have to keep at it."

O'Toole is one of three quarterbacks in a battle for the starting position. He, along with sophomore Wes Lunt and sophomore Aaron Bailey, each had significant playing time Saturday afternoon.

Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit is in his second season at the helm. He was happy with the passing game but is also searching for individuals to move into new positions.

"I still feel like we can be a good offensive team," Cubit said. "Some guys just need to step up."

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Here are five things to watch as Illinois continues to prepare for fall:

QUARTERBACK FRENZY: Beckman said a quarterback will not be officially announced until the first game in the fall. The three main contenders, O'Toole, Lunt and Bailey, continue to battle. O'Toole was consistent Saturday afternoon, going 12-16 with 126 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore transfer Lunt, a favorite for his arm strength and accuracy, had a slow start but went 6-14 with 99 yards and one interception. The dynamic but inconsistent thrower Bailey went 6-8 with 25 yards and one interception.

O' TOOLE: The senior quarterback was surprisingly consistent in the spring scrimmage and showed the potential to be a key contributor this fall. Cubit said O'Toole is capable of that level of play, and added that O'Toole's previous mistakes have been magnified because they've occurred during key plays. O'Toole acknowledged that he needs to keep working on his consistency.

DEFENSIVE STRUGGLES: The Illini defense failed to produce during past seasons due to a combination of lack of numbers, consistency and depth. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks has set weekly goals for improvement in turnovers, passing and on-the-run defense.

LACK OF OFFENSIVE LINE: Saturday afternoon there were only 11 offensive linemen who could play during the entire scrimmage. Both Beckman and Cubit discussed a necessity for individuals to step up on the line. The team has the potential to run the ball more, if they can find more players to help the efforts.

NEW FACES: On offense and defense, coaches also expressed a necessity for young blood to step up. A lack of depth showed not only on the offensive line, but also in running backs and wide receivers. Cubit discussed the possibility of moving around players and about seeing who steps up during summer practices for a more well-rounded team.