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Rutgers vs Illinois: Complete Opponent Preview

NCAA Football: Purdue at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers hosts Illinois for their homecoming game on Saturday in one of the least anticipated games of the year. Rutgers is coming off a game they didn’t win while Illinois is coming off a heartbreaking loss against fellow B1G bottom feeder Purdue. Let’s get to know more about Rutgers’ next opponent

Brief Overview

Ranking: N/A

Head Coach: Lovie Smith (1-4)

2015 Record: 1-4 (0-2)

Current Streak: L4

SB Nation Site: The Champaign Room

One Big Thing

Illinois is not very good and Rutgers just got smoked in back to back weeks by really good teams. It will be interesting to see how the change in level of competition affects how Rutgers plays. Illinois starting QB Wes Lunt will also be very limited, if not out of the game completely. That leaves them with run-first QB Chayce Crouch who as a running QB, can give Rutgers fits.

Opponent Depth Chart

Key Offensive Players

QB Wes Lunt/QB Chayce Crouch

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith won’t officially rule Lunt out for the game, but things aren’t looking good for their star QB. Crouch came in to replace Lunt last week against Purdue and actually played pretty well. He was 10-14 throwing the ball for 142 yards and no touchdowns or interception. Additionally, he ran the ball 17 times for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns. That is the part that worries me. Rutgers always struggles against QBs that can run the ball. They got smoked by QB runs early against Howard, CJ Beathard had huge scrambles, and JT Barrett did his thing against Rutgers. It seems as if they will try to play Lunt but Crouch will play a lot and I am genuinely worried about him torching us on the ground.

Three-headed monster at HB

The Illini like to divide up their carries between Kendrick Foster, Reggie Corbin, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Over 5 games, they have combined for 730 yards and 7 touchdowns. Michigan pounded the ball down our throats last week, rushing it 56 times as opposed to passing it 16 times. WIth Crouch in at QB, Illinois will have 4 legitimate running threats and will look to run the ball down our throats, as they won’t want to force Crouch to throw them to a win.

Key Defensive Players

LB Hardy Nickerson

The grad-transfer from Cal currently leads the team in tackles with 47 to go along with 3 TFLs and a sack. He also has two interceptions, both of which came against Purdue. He is on all of the postseason award watch lists and is an all-B1G caliber players. Rutgers will have a tough time running the ball with Illinois’ stout defensive line and this guy waiting at the next level.

LEO Carroll Phillips

LEO is essentially a DE/LB hybrid, usually played by the best pass rusher on the team. In only 5 games this year, he already has 11 TFLs and 4 sacks. Illinois’ defensive line is often lauded for being full of NFL talent and Phillips is no different. He is a game-changer who can disrupt the backfield if Rutgers tries to pass the ball.

Why they are better than Rutgers

One can make the argument that Illinois is more talented than Rutgers. While they underperformed against Purdue, their defensive line is chock full of talent. Additionally, they have a quarterback who fits their offense in Wes Lunt. If he is unavailable, they have a running QB in Chayce Crouch, who has an advantage on the Rutgers defense. They also have a wide receiver in Malik Turner who can gain separation and is better than anyone that Rutgers has right now.

Why Rutgers is better than them

Illinois lost to Purdue, which is a really bad thing. Even with their talent, they failed to execute on defense. They did a great job running the ball but their defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed and giving up 34 points to Purdue is inexcusable. If Purdue can beat Illinois on the road, Rutgers should be able to beat them at home.

Stay tuned for even more game content, including round table predictions from the OTB staff as well as an official game preview later this week!