After the program’s worst loss since 1888, Rutgers will open against Illinois on homecoming as an underdog. Illinois opens as a 2.5 point favorite, according to vegasinsider.com . The Illini are in a similar situation as Rutgers, as they are in full rebuild mode under new head coach Lovie Smith. They are just 1-4 overall and lost to Big Ten West rival Purdue 34-31 in OT on Saturday at home. Their only win was over FCS opponent Murray State in the season opener, whom they dominated 52-3. They have lost by at least two touchdowns in losses to North Carolina and Western Michigan at home, as well as to Nebraska on the road.
Illinois starting quarterback Wes Lunt, left the Purdue game injured in the 2nd quarter and was replaced by backup Chayce Crouch. There has not been a decision on who will start, but it appears it will come down to Lunt’s ability to play, despite Crouch playing well in relief last Saturday.
#Illini coach Lovie Smith says if Wes Lunt is healthy, he will be starter v Rutgers. Crouch still the backup.— Shannon Ryan (@sryantribune) October 10, 2016
As for Rutgers, despite starting quarterback Chris Laviano getting his quickest hook of the season against Michigan in the 1st half last weekend, he remains the starter for now on this week’s depth chart. Backup Zach Allen did not fare much better and the duo combined for 2 for 18 in pass attempts for a total of just 5 yards. True freshman Tylin Oden was not listed on the two deep, but it has been that way all season, despite him seeing action in three games. Our own Griffin Whitmer made the case for Oden to start Saturday against Illinois. Personally, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see him for at least certain run packages in this upcoming matchup.
This game is a big opportunity for Rutgers to get a conference win and start the second half of the schedule off on the right foot. This team is desperate for good news after two huge blow outs in back to back weeks, as well as the loss of three starters for the season due to injuries. Rutgers and Illinois are two of four Big Ten teams searching for their first conference victory. Minnesota and Michigan State are the others.
Head coach Chris Ash spoke to the press today and emphasized how difficult their schedule has been so far, with their four losses coming against teams with a combined 21-2 record. Ash reaffirmed that Laviano is the starting quarterback, but stressed the need for improvement at the position. He also addressed the end of Greg Jones’ career and role with the team moving forward, as well as praised the job Tyreek Williams has done replacing him. He stressed the need for better play from the offensive line and went into detail regarding issues the team is having with the spread offense. It is worth a watch for sure.
Illinois head coach Lovie Smith had a tense moment during his weekly press conference today, as he took offense to a question regarding being too nice with his football team. You could say he wasn’t pleased with the question.
Lovie: "Lax with the football team??" pic.twitter.com/a2qJPbOOnr— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) October 10, 2016
There is no doubt this week is a must win for Rutgers football at home against another program that is struggling. Sure, losing to Ohio State and Michigan by a combined score of 136-0 was a nightmarish two weeks for the entire program and the fan base. However, playing an Illinois team fresh off a loss to Purdue, previously thought of as the worst team in the Big Ten, could be just what the doctor ordered. Let’s hope so, because the alternative is too depressing to ponder on this Monday. Stay with us all week for complete coverage of Rutgers football heading into Saturday’s game.