How To Watch, Stream & Listen
Rutgers (1-4; 0-2) At Illinois (2-3; 0-2)
Where: Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois (Capacity 60,670)
Kick-off: Saturday, October 14th at noon ET
TV: Big Ten Network - Cory Provus & J Leman
Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450 AM, WOR 710 AM, WENJ 97.3 FM, WNJE 920 AM
Current Spread: Illinois -2.5
Series History: The Illini lead 2-1, winning 33-30 in OT in 2005 and last season 24-7. Rutgers won 33-0 in 2006.
Common Opponents: Nebraska - Illinois lost 28-6 at home; Rutgers lost 27-17 on the road
SB Nation Ohio State site: The Champaign Room
Illinois Statistical Leaders
Passing: Jeff George Jr. - 34 of 67 pass attempts, 50.7%, 457 yards, 1 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Mike Epstein - 57 carries for 346 yards for 6.1 yards per rush, 3 TD’s (Doubtful to play due to injury); Ra’Von Bonner - 30 carries for 83 yards, 2 TD’s
Receiving: Mikey Dudek - 19 receptions for 215 yards, 1 TD; Malik Turner - 17 receptions for 167 yards
Defense: LB Del’Shawn Phillips - 44 tackles, 2.0 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 1 pass break-up, 1 QB hit; DL Bobby Roundtree - 21 tackles, 3.0 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 2 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble; DB Patrick Nelson - 32 tackles, 1.0 tackles for a loss, 2 pass break-ups, 2 forced fumbles
Kicking: Chase McLaughlin - 8 of 9 on FG attempts, Long of 40 yards 5 of 5 on XP attempts
Illinois Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers
Rutgers Advanced Stats Win Probability - 49% (per Football Study Hall)
S&P+ Offensive Ranks: Illinois 116th; Rutgers 122nd
S&P+ Defensive Ranks: Illinois 74th; Rutgers 36th
(conference ranks noted below)
Scoring Offense: Illinois 17.4 ppg (14th); Rutgers 21.8 ppg (13th)
Scoring Defense: Illinois 29.6 ppg (13th); Rutgers 25.8 ppg (10th)
Strength v. Strength: Illinois offense 3rd down conversions 42.3% (4th) v. Rutgers defense 3rd down conversions 32.4% (6th)
Matchup Mismatch: Rutgers Rushing Offense 154.0 yards per game (8th) v. Illinois Rushing Defense 181.8 yards per game (14th)
Average Time Of Possession: Illinois 28:43 (11th); Rutgers 32:25 (5th)
Keys To The Game
A key to winning any game, especially on the road, is winning the turnover battle. Both teams have struggled in holding onto the football, as Illinois has thrown 9 interceptions and Rutgers has thrown 8. Each team has lost 1 fumble. Whichever team can win the turnover margin will likely win this game.
Contain Passing Game of Jeff George Jr.
He threw for 246 yards last week against Iowa and made some plays, moving the offense better than it had all season to this point. However, he threw three interceptions and fumbled away a fourth turnover as well. With top rusher Mike Epstein expected to miss the game, coupled with Rutgers shuffling personnel in the secondary, I expect Illinois to attack through the air. Dudek and Turner are capable receivers who can cause damage in this game. The Illinois passing attack against the Rutgers secondary is a major concern in this game. Throw out the stats from the season in this one, the defensive backs need to prove themselves for Rutgers in this game in a big way. The defensive line also needs to be disruptive and put a lot of pressure on the Illini offensive line, which include four freshmen starters. If Rutgers struggles to put pressure on George and contain the receivers big play ability, Illinois could have their best offensive day on the season.
Establish The Run
The best way to negate the Illinois passing attack is to keep them off the field. We know offensive coordinator Jerry Kill wants to pound the football on the ground. Expect Rutgers to run early and often. The offensive line needs to come up big in this game and generate holes and enough of a push to give the backfield room to run. Gus Edwards and Robert Martin will likely continue to rotate, but I think Raheem Blackshear will get some carries as well. Illinois struggles in defending speed and Blackshear could burst out of the backfield for a big gain in this game. I also expect lots of read option, whether Johnathan Lewis starts the game or not, as head coach Chris Ash confirmed he will play regardless. If Gio Rescigno gets the call, he will run the read option as well. This point alone is why sticking with Kyle Bolin would make no sense. Rutgers has a serious advantage in this game with running the football against the Illinois defense.
Update: A report indicates Gio Rescigno will start.
Get Playmakers Involved
The reality is that even by winning this game on the ground, Rutgers needs to get the ball to their best playmakers as well. Janarion Grant and Jerome Washington need to get the majority of the targets in this game, regardless of who is throwing them the football. Both can be reliable targets in the short to mid-range passing game. I’ll believe Illinois will need multiple defenders to take down Washington and they’ll have major issue dealing with the speed of Grant. I hope they call a couple running plays for Grant as well, maybe a jet sweep that hopefully gets him some open space on the edge. C’mon Jerry, please call their numbers early and often in this game!
For Rutgers to start to make progress on the field, it’s obvious Chris Ash needs to find a way to maximize the talent that he does have, however limited the roster is depth wise. However, the coaching staff needs to start to make progress as well, in terms of strategy, time management and in-game decisions. Rutgers is going to be outmanned talent wise against almost every Big Ten team, but that’s not the case tomorrow. It’s time that Ash and the staff start to make progress in outcoaching the opposition. Facing Lovie Smith is an opportunity to do just that. He may have been a longtime NFL head coach, but he is not one of the better coaches in the Big Ten from a tactical perspective. If Rutgers is going to win this game or any other Big Ten contest in the near future, Ash needs to be a difference maker in a positive way.
Play With Passion & Want It More
This plays into coaching as well. I’m not a fan of certain coaches exhibiting a certain bravado on the sidelines for just the sake of doing so without a real purpose, but I want to see some passion from the players and the coaches in this game. It’s a major opportunity for this program to produce a positive result and to start to take a step forward this season. The players are coming off a bye week and should be fresh for this game. They need play like a team possessed and exhibit a hunger for a victory. The coaches need to have this team fired up and they need to be aggressive in their play calling. This game is for the taking and if Rutgers doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity, the chance for a 1-11 season and a Big Ten losing streak approaching two dozen becomes a very real possibility. Rutgers needs to play like it’s the Super Bowl and inject some life back into a mostly tired, dismayed, and disillusioned fan base that is desperate for something to cheer about. Lose this game and you’ll test the patience of even the most ardent and loyal Rutgers fans that exist. The pride of this team is on the line in this game. Let’s hope they can deliver, the alternative is too ugly to think about. This team has been “hunting” too long without a kill. It’s time to will themselves to victory against Illinois.