CHAMPAIGN — Illinois football coach Bret Bielema handed the keys of the No. 1 Orange offense to quarterback Brandon Peters and he took advantage of the opportunity during Monday's Orange and Blue Spring Game.
Peters was passing with ease against Illini's No. 2 Blue defense, hitting 12-for-18 passes for 291 yards with one rushing and one passing touchdown in his one half of play.
"I think BP has got exceptional arm talent and he is very accurate with the ball. He has been able to repeatedly able to show that through 13 practices," Bielema said. "Tonight, he took care of the ball and had good ball placement. He is learning the manage the game a little bit more effectively than he was in Week 1."
Wide receiver Donny Navarro had eight catches for 88 yards all of last season and he surpassed that in just a few plays during Monday's scrimmage. Peters connected on long plays of 54 yards and 44 yards with the junior, which set up running scores for the Illini as the Orange won the scrimmage 65-15.
"Donny is truly going to be a pretty good player and has excelled really well in this system," Bielema said.
When asked if Bielema wanted to name his starting quarterback for the fall following the game, the Illini's first-year coach didn't close the door on the competition between Peters and Isaiah Williams quite yet.
"We aren't really in a position and we aren't done with spring ball yet. Obviously Brandon has continued to be impressive and consistent guy," Bielema said. "I was happy with Isaiah, especially when he came in and got behind that Orange offensive line. We will just continue to do what we are doing and after 15 practices we will take a deep breath and see where we are at."
On the first Orange drive, Bielema tried out the team's running game. Runs by Chase Brown powered an eight-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a one-yard run by Peters for the 7-0 lead.
On the second drive, it was a focus on the pass, as Peters hit Donny Navarro in the middle of the field, who then broke a tackle and ran 44 yards. Two plays later it was Peters to Khmari Thompson from 29-yards out to put the Orange up 14-0.
The third Orange drive saw a 26-yard pass to tight end Luke Ford that set up a 27-yard run by junior Chase Hayden that split the Blue defense and put the Orange up 21-0.
Between the first and third quarters, a field goal competition was held by the teams and the Orange and Blue each hit two to make the score 27-6.
The Blue defense stopped the Orange's next drive and James McCourt connected on a 23-yard attempt to put the Orange up 30-6.
On the Orange's fifth drive, Chase Brown scored on a one-yard run, making it 37-6. Brown led the offense in rushing with 80 yards on 10 carries and Reggie Love III added 63 yards on nine carries.
The Blue offense, led by Williams in the fist half, had trouble establishing a sustained drive against the Orange defense and punted the first four drives drives in the first half.
Love III broke through several Blue tacklers to score his first touchdown of the game and put Orange up 44-6.
At halftime, the Illini men's basketball team was introduced at midfield included loud cheers for Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu. The Big Ten Tournament championship banner was also displayed for the first time. Dosunmu and head coach Brad Underwood addressed the crowd and shared their thoughts on the season.
The third quarter saw the clock trimmed to 12 minutes with a running clock. The fourth quarter was cut to eight minutes.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Robinson took over duties under center for the Blue team in the third quarter and Williams shifted to the Orange team. The Williams led offense moved down the field and Chase Brown scored his second touchdown of the game to up the Orange up 52-6.
Between the third and fourth quarters, the field goal kick competition made the score was 58-15.
Ford got into the scoring with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Williams on an 8-play 91-yard drive to open the abbreviated fourth quarter, making the final score 65-15. Ford finished with eight catches for 88 yards. Navarro led all receivers with 131 yards on three catches, including 91 yards after the catch.
Bielema has two remaining spring practices where he will keep the momentum going from Monday.
"We had a Monday night football theme but this was practice No. 13 and this was a continuation of what I've seen from these guys in the past 10-12 days," Bielema said. "I wrote down some things of what I wanted to see today and it was take care of the football, make good decisions, play penalty free. We managed the game and overall we got out of this healthy. I couldn't be more pleased."
Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten