The last few games of the 2023 season were a wild ride for the Illinois football program.
Early on in the 2023 campaign, the Illini were struggling. We knocked off Toledo with a last-second field goal. That game now looks like a pretty good win, as the Rockets finished 11-1 this season.
Illinois then dropped four out of the next five contests with turnovers plaguing the program. The leader of the turnover barrage was quarterback Luke Altmyer.
Altmyer had five total turnovers in the Penn State loss and seven interceptions in the first three games of the season. But when he wasn’t turning the ball over, you saw glimpses of what the future could hold for Altmyer at the quarterback position. He had a strong arm and could zing the ball into the wide receiver. The legs of Altmyer were special too.
Over the last six games Altmyer started, he got his interception problem under control. In this six-game stretch, he threw for 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Altmyer would then go down with an injury on the final drive against Minnesota and in steps
Paddock led Illinois to a game-winning drive against the Golden Gophers. That magic continued throughout the final three games, as he mounted a comeback against Indiana for a victory and nearly knocked off both Iowa and Northwestern.
The end of the season was a brutal one, losing to the Wildcats on a missed two-point conversion. This sent us home without a bowl game and ended Paddock’s short career at Illinois. With Paddock officially out of the picture, it is time to move on to what Illinois has at the quarterback position in the future.
Illinois football has solid depth at quarterback behind Luke Altmyer in 2024
I know there were numerous people who questioned my opinions on the Paddock and Altmyer debate. Let me make this very clear; Altmyer was never the problem with the Illinois football program. With that being said, I am sticking by my opinion that Paddock was a better quarterback, at that time, for the Illinois offense.
Altmyer is the clear starter moving forward. There are two things I want to see improvement on this offseason, though. The first thing is the offensive line. Illinois needs to build the front five up to protect Altmyer. The Illini gave up 3.4 sacks per game in 2023, and that ranked No. 117 out of 133 teams.
The second thing I want to see a big improvement on is Altmyer trusting his reads. While the offensive line was horrible, Altmyer held onto the ball too long. That is one of the things that I believe set Paddock apart from Altmyer. He was able to trust his reads and throw the ball before the pocket collapsed. Altmyer is a good quarterback, but he needs to believe that he is a good quarterback.
As a fan, I am comfortable moving forward with Altmyer as the starting quarterback. I think there is All-Big Ten potential with this kid. I also like what we have behind Altmyer.
Behind Altmyer is a developing Donovan Leary and a highly-touted Cal Swanson. I think these two will fight it out for the backup quarterback job in 2024. Leary is entering his third season in Champaign, and Swanson is coming off a redshirt year. It will be interesting to see which player comes out of this as the No. 2 quarterback.
I would also keep my eyes peeled for the emergence of Trey Petty. That might sound crazy, but Petty is coming in from the class of 2024. He is a solid three-star recruit who is ranked in the top 900. Petty won the Mississippi High School Mr. Football in class 7A. That is a great achievement.
Honestly, I would be surprised if Illinois pursues a transfer portal quarterback this offseason. I believe we have a really good starting quarterback with some nice depth behind him. I like what we have at quarterback for 2024.
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