Illinois head coach Lovie Smith likely didn’t think he could be starting his fourth-string quarterback this Saturday against Minnesota. And yet here is Smith, praising the play of Coran Taylor last week as his team battles a serious depth issue at the quarterback position.

Taylor didn’t start but played the majority of the snaps at quarterback in Illinois 31-24 loss to Purdue.  He opened some eyes in the most extended run of play of his collegiate career, coming off the bench to finish 17-of-29 for 273 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Saying that “He came in and gave us a chance to win with his play,” Smith praised the play of Taylor in these unusual circumstances.

“Coran has been in the four position, doing his time,” Smith told Martin O’Donnell this week.

“Our four quarterback, his primary role was to signal in the plays. That kind of keeps you in involved when every play really has to go through you. He’s paid attention. A lot of time it is about getting a mental rep and being ready when your number is called. It is one thing to know the plays and how it is supposed to be done but to get in there and do it says an awful lot.”

With Brandon Peters out due to COVID-19 and Isaiah Williams also sidelined due to contact tracing, Illinois started Matt Robinson on Saturday. But Robinson suffered an ankle injury early in the game and Taylor came off the bench.

What Taylor showed was promise. Eyeing what could well be his first college start this weekend against Minnesota, Smith believes Taylor showed well in his unexpected run of play in the Purdue game.

“Most of the time – Coran would like to have a couple of plays back but most of the time, the first time a guy plays, you’re not talking about a lot of good plays,” Smith said. “But Corran made a lot of outstanding plays.”

Smith has not yet named a starting quarterback for this weekend but Taylor seems to be trending in that direction.

On the opposite sideline, Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi will not be able to coach due to COVID-19.

Kick off is at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.