CHAMPAIGN — Two story lines have emerged as the University of Illinois heads into the final quarter of the college football season.
One is the development of true freshman Cam Thomas as the starting quarterback. The other is an alarming number of injuries that have shredded an already thin Illini roster.
On Friday, coach Lovie Smith said those story lines have now converged.
Smith told the weekly meeting of the Illini Quarterback Club that Thomas is unlikely to play in Saturday’s home game against Indiana (11 a.m., BTN).
Smith rarely describes injuries and did not on this occasion, but Thomas went to the locker room a few minutes before the game ended last Saturday in a 29-10 loss at Purdue.
Thomas made his first-ever start in that game and coaches were excited about his progress. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 159 yards and did not throw an interception.
Little was said about an injury during Smith’s Monday press briefing, but if Thomas can’t go, the job is expected to fall back to Jeff George Jr., who started four games and began splitting time with Thomas on Oct. 21 at Minnesota.
Just this week, though, Smith indicated the coaching staff had decided to let Thomas have the bulk of the plays the rest of the way.
“Cam took a big step,” Smith said of his play at Purdue. “He gave us a chance. I like where he’s headed.”
If Thomas is out, that gives the Illini (2-7, 0-6) one more injury on a long and growing list. A total of 18 players missed the Purdue game with injuries and of that group, 13 were starters at one time or another this season.
There is also a measure of quarterback confusion for Indiana (3-6, 0-6). Richard Lagow started the season as the Hoosiers' QB but Peyton Ramsey took over and got four starts.
Lagow completed 40 of 65 passes for 410 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening 49-21 loss to Ohio State.
For Saturday, Lagow is the presumed starter as Ramsey’s status is uncertain with an injury.
If Ramsey can’t play and Lagow was to be injured during the game, Indiana might have to turn to true freshman Nick Tronti, who first-year coach Tom Allen was hoping to redshirt.
Assuming Lagow is on the field, watch for the combination of Lagow-to-Simmie Cobbs Jr., a 6-foot-4 target who has had some monster games.
Cobbs had 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State. He had 10 catches for 98 yards against Charleston Southern. And he had 10 catches for 138 yards and two TDs at Maryland. He shares the Big Ten lead with an average of 6.6 catches per game.
Allen likes to give his team a one-word theme for the week. Since Indiana still hopes it can win its three remaining games to become bowl-eligible at 6-6, the word this week is “now.”
“The sense of urgency is what it’s all about,” he said. “Guys understand the clock is ticking. The senior class deserves to finish well.”