Rutgers hosts Illinois on Saturday in the last of a three game home stand that started in embarrassment in the loss to Buffalo and shifted to somewhat hopeful with the strong second half performance in the one score defeat to Indiana. Let’s tell it like it is, this is a must win for both programs, who won’t have a better chance to win a Big Ten game the rest of the season. Our staff have suffered through the first five games just like you, so but those of us who made a prediction have hope.
Dave White: I think Rutgers wins this game. I’ll just come right out and say it. Rutgers isn’t good and Illinois is bad. Rutgers needs a win and in the press conference this week, the usually stoic and evasive Chris Ash was as animated as I’ve ever seen him. I’m sure the players don’t want to lose out and know this is their best and maybe last chance to get a win. I don’t have any real insight into this game, but I think Rutgers scores more points than the Illini. It won’t be pretty though. Man, writing this is kind of tiring, I don’t even have room for biting wit. Rutgers 17 Illini 14
David Anderson: Well ... I nailed RU with 17 points last week and my prediction for Indiana was looking good until the Scarlet Knights defense clicked to pitch a second half shutout. For those who read my 3rd down defense review and review of Art Sitkowski’s critical plays, you are probably optimistic. It will be far from a sellout but Rutgers should have an advantage over Illinois who is playing their first road game of the season. That being said, the Rutgers defense will struggle against teams that are fully committed to the run (like Kansas) or fully committed to the pass (like Buffalo).
Illinois so far has shown a very minimal passing attack, but has the horses to do damage on the ground at QB, RB, and offensive line. Illinois also struggles to stop the run, but Rutgers has not run blocked well. Illinois’s pass defense relies on turnovers, which also does not help RU. Looking from the other side, Illinois could not have asked for a better power 5 matchup to get a win and are coming off a bye. If Rutgers does not get steamrolled on the ground AND the Scarlet Knights can either gauge Illinois on the ground or complete some bombs, RU wins. As was true with Kansas and the last Illinois contest though, only one team came out firing and that team took care of business. My brain says not to bank on RU, but my gut says Rutgers has to win this one, right? Rutgers 24, Illinois 23.
Jim Hoffman: I know I’m the Pollyanna of this group, but I honestly think Rutgers can come away from this game with a W. The second half of the Indiana game, coupled with signs of life from both offense and defense in that game have led to that conclusion. If the team can reduce the mental errors which have dogged them for the past three weeks, they can top an Illini that is struggling even more than Rutgers, difficult as that is to believe. It was good to see Artur Sitkowski silence the quarterback controversy last week, even if it was just one week. If his growth behind center continues, more positives await the Scarlet Knights as the troubled 2018 season continues. Rutgers 31 Illinois 24
Nick Kosko: Well I gave Indiana more credit last week than I should have and Rutgers actually played relatively well. The defense continues to be an issue in some spots, like tackling and big plays, but the run defense was a bit better. Artur Sitkowksi looked more comfortable but still has a long way to go as a true freshman quarterback in the Big Ten but this game could prove to be the one where he takes the next step. Frankly, this might be the best for the Scarlet Knights to win for the remainder of the season and they cannot squander this opportunity. Based on the sample size this season, the confidence is low for Rutgers but there could be a shot today at a second and perhaps final win this season. The turnovers are my biggest concern for this contest as Rutgers is dead last in differential at -6. If they can keep it clean, they’ll have a shot against an Illinois team that is equally desperate to get out the basement. Illinois 21, Rutgers 17
Aaron Breitman: It’s a tough call. Chris Ash can’t afford to lose at home to them again with the start to this season that he has had, so hopefully this team comes out with real urgency. Both teams can’t defend the run and Illinois has been more successful with their own ground game than Rutgers. They both struggle in similar areas, but the biggest discrepancy between them is turnover margin. Illinois leads the Big Ten at +5, granted in one less game, while Rutgers is tied for last with Nebraska at -6. The reality though is that RU has an even turnover margin on the season aside from the debacle against Kansas. I think both teams will be motivated to get the victory and while coming off a bye helps Illinois, I think Rutgers finally being competitive in a game after last week against Indiana gives them enough confidence to have a slight edge at home. Rutgers 27 Illinois 24
Are we too optimistic? Was the low turnout due to pessimism from the staff overall? Let us know in the comment section what you think will happen in this game.