After 13 straight incomplete passes, including an interception, Joe Ayoob seems to have settled down.
Ayoob, coming off an impressive debut as a starter, leads No. 15 California when it hosts Illinois on Saturday.
Ayoob is the starting quarterback for the Golden Bears (2-0) after incumbent Nate Longshore broke his left leg in a 41-3 season-opening win over Sacramento State on Sept. 3.
The junior college transfer went 0-for-10 in relief of Longshore in that game, and then threw an interception on his first pass against Washington last Saturday. Ayoob, however, went on to throw four first-half touchdown passes to lead California to a 56-17 rout of the Huskies.
He finished 17-of-27 for 271 yards as the Bears scored the most points by an opponent at Husky Stadium.
“There was a lot of hype around me coming in, and I felt I didn’t prove myself,” Ayoob said. “I wanted to prove myself to everybody and show the guys what kind of football player I am.”
His favorite target was Robert Jordan, the first player to call Ayoob and give encouragement after the season opener. Jordan had 11 catches for 192 yards and three touchdowns.
“I was like ‘We’re going to need you, keep your head up.’ It was more him getting comfortable,” Jordan said. “Everybody knows he can play ball.”
California lost Marshawn Lynch to a broken left pinky finger on its first offensive play of the second half last Saturday. A week after rushing for a career-high 147 yards against Sacramento State, Lynch was mostly a decoy, carrying the ball just five times for 46 yards before leaving.
With his hand wrapped afterward, Lynch said he expects to play against the Fighting Illini.
After starting its season with two straight victories for the first time since 2001, Illinois must go on the road to take on a Top 25 team.
“It’s a great, great challenge and these guys ought to be excited and looking forward to it,” coach Ron Zook said. “We’re going to go out there and, believe me, we’re going to throw caution to the wind and go man, go. Let’s just see what we’re all about.”
Illinois defeated San Jose State 40-19 last Saturday, dominating every phase of the game a week after coming back from a 20-point deficit in a 33-30 overtime win over Rutgers.
The improvement from the first to second game was obvious, but the Illini still must get better to be able to compete with teams in the Top 25, Zook said.
“We’ve got to continue to improve,” he said. “It’s going to be very, very important that we have a big week of practice this week and continue to improve the same way.”
Illinois’ defense is coming off its best game in more than six years, holding the Spartans to 231 yards, the fewest allowed by the Illini since Arkansas State had 178 on Sept. 4, 1999. San Jose State was held to only 15 yards rushing.
Illinois has won seven of nine meetings against California.