By Paul Schmidt
While the Illini were falling to the Northwestern Wildcats, essentially ending their long shot run at a bowl bid, Illini fans did get an extended look at next year’s early leader in the starting quarterback race, Jacob Charest, the redshirt freshman out of Butler High School in Matthews, North Carolina.
Charest posted some modest numbers but, after being benched to start the second half, led two fourth quarter touchdown drives to make things interesting in their 21-16 loss to the Wildcats.
Charest was a little surprised at how easily things came in the fourth quarter, but knew that practice, in this case, definitely helped.
“(The two minute offense) actually wasn’t…it wasn’t as different as I thought it would be,” Charest said. “You know, in practice, that’s such a huge part of the end of practice. Everyone goes 100 percent on that, so it’s kind of like a game situation.”
The start of the game, however, was a little different for Charest who thought things definitely paced differently.
“It was a little different,” Charest said. “If nothing else it was a little bit quicker. It wasn’t too bad.”
It did seem that Charest started the game in a little bit of a groove, and that could have been due to the scripting of the first several plays of the game — Charest knew what was coming. However, he believed that it was just a few errant throws that took his momentum away.
“The first few plays of the game are scripted, but we don’t necessarily stick to them. But we try to script them, yes,” Charest said. “I was in a rhythm early, but then I don’t really know what happened. I missed a few throws, and things kind of went from there.”
As for being benched heading into the third quarter, he did know that was coming, as he was told at halftime, but the coaches also let him know that he would most likely see more action as the game went on, so to not get his head out of the game. Charest wisely used that as a learning experience, and it certainly translated into results, as he went 9-13 passing in the fourth quarter.
“It helped a little bit, I could kind of see the coverage from a different point of view than actually being on the field,” Charest said. “I could see what the DBs were doing on the field without having to deal with the pressure of the pass rush. It didn’t make a huge difference though.”
The giant elephant in the room was certainly Charest’s interpretation of the last play of the game on offense, and whether or not it was a reception for Jarred Fayson, or an interception for Sherrick McManus.
“Yeah, Jarrod caught it, and the other guy came up with it somehow, but I thought that Fayson caught it 100 percent, not that it was an interception,” Charest said. “We all really didn’t think that, because we were heading up to the line getting ready for the next play. It seems like nobody thought it was a pick except for the referee. Well, when we saw the call when we were all running over to the line, and we were just stunned.”
Still, it is a good sign for Illinois fans that Charest was exhibiting great confidence on the field, and with some young offensive skill players he could cement a solid offensive future. The best sign from Charest after the game? His response to the question of what he was thinking about heading on to the field prior to their Illini’s last drive of the game.
“I thought 100 percent we were going to go down and score when we got the ball back,” Charest said.