ST. LOUIS — Illinois freshman E.B. Halsey couldn’t have modeled his third-quarter offensive takeover after Missouri quarterback Brad Smith’s breakout a year ago. At home in Elizabeth, N.J., Halsey wasn’t watching.
“We didn’t get it out there,” Halsey said.
Halsey, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound running back, was supposed to arrive on the Illinois campus in the fall of 2002, but because of eligibility problems he sat out and began practicing with the Illini in the spring.
A year after his expected debut, Halsey ran for 139 yards and caught six passes for 46 yards Saturday. He gained all but 8 yards of Illinois’ field-goal-scoring 51-yard drive at the beginning of the second half and ran for 70 yards in the third quarter.
“I just did the easy part and just ran,” Halsey said.
Junior Morris Virgil started for the Illini at running back, but on their second possession, Halsey, who became Illinois’ first freshman to run for more than 100 yards in his first game, entered the lineup. During the second half, it became easier for the Tigers’ defense to guess who would get the ball, but tougher to stop him.
“Our scout team has a back just like him,” MU cornerback Michael Harden said. “But there was one play, me and him, one-on-one, he gave me a good juke.”
On Illinois’ final drive with 2:03 left, Halsey had one of his 20 touches, on a six-yard reception from Jon Beutjer. The loss would have been easier for him if he had had more to do with it.
“I would rather have the ball in my hands,” Halsey said.
Halsey won’t surprise many more defenses this season, but that doesn’t change things for Illinois coach Ron Turner, who will give Halsey plenty of carries.
“We are going to win a lot of football games with E.B. and a lot of guys we have on the field,” Turner said.
Illinois relied on another young player for much of its offensive output. Wide receiver Lonnie Hurst, the first freshman to start at the position for the Illini in 23 years, made five receptions for 76 yards. That included a 26-yard reception out of a timeout with 1:10 left that brought Illinois to the MU 45.
Hurst, at 6-3, 192 pounds, is part of a receiver corps with no returning starters and knew a week into preseason camp that he would start for the Illini. He seemed upbeat after the loss, and said it was because of the new experience.
“It’s a much faster pace than high school, I really enjoyed it,” Hurst said. “Still a lot of learning to do, but overall, a pretty good game. I’m pretty proud of myself but disappointed that we didn’t get the win. “