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Rutgers Football doomed by big plays at Illinois 38-10

Back to back fumbles by RU put the game out of reach.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Illinois
Images like this were pretty much the story of the game.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers traveled to Illinois as 20 point underdogs, give or take depending on the sportsbook. Isaih Pacheco who gained over 100 yards on the ground last week was ruled out. So Rutgers went into the game without their top two quarterbacks, running backs, and tight ends. But otherwise were healthy.

It was windy and on the opening kickoff Justin Davidovicz was not present (though he was suited up), so instead it was Guy Fava. There was no news of Justin being out for this game, but ironically his absence against the Fighting Illini a year ago was a huge factor early in that game. Fava pinned Illinois back and they were forced to punt on their first drive. Rutgers would flip the ball back though with an Adam Korsak punt.

Illinois scored their only touchdown of the first half on their second drive which went just 8 plays for 78 yards. The Scarlet Knights contained the Illinois running game enough, but it was a dagger coming on a 3rd and 7 where quarterback Brandon Peters found Donny Navarro for 48 yards. It accounted for 48 of the 68 passing yards Peters would have in the entire half.

After a Rutgers punt, again Illinois drove down for points. Rutgers had to overcome a personal foul on Christian Izien, but dug in to hold the home squad to three. With the field goal the home team led 10-0.

Rutgers went 11 plays, 75 yards to close the gap on their next possession. The drive was mostly on the ground with quarterback Johnny Langan and running back Kay’Ron Adams carrying defenders, but Mo Jabbie did catch two passes. Jabbie made one 20 yard catch and recovered his own fumble. Then it was Jabbie from Langan again on a 3rd and 13 at the Illinois 31 yard line who went the distance for a touchdown. 10-7.

After an Illinois punt on a three and out, Rutgers had to punt themselves. Illinois punted again and Rutgers got the ball back with a tick below five minutes left in the half.

The Scarlet Knights engineered an impressive drive featuring two big runs by Aaron Young and a 14 yard pass to Bo Melton. Time became a factor with the ground game and Rutgers was stopped a yard short of the sticks inside a minute to play. Davidovicz came out for the short field goal attempt and converted. 10-10 with 15 seconds to go in the half.

Halftime stats: First Downs: RU 8, Illinois 9. Total yards; Illinois 141, RU 179. Passing yards: Illinois 68, RU 71. Time of possession: RU 15:48, Illinois 14:12.

Rutgers got the ball after half but was forced to a three and out. A penalty hindered the Illinois drive and they were forced to punt. Mike Tverdov who missed a tackle on second down batted a third down pass to end the threat. Rutgers then punted again.

Illinois broke a monster play on first down. On what almost looked like a broken play, quarterback Brandon Peters and his running back were isolated on Tyreek Maddox-Williams. Tyreek prevented the ball to the back, so Peters cut inside and ran right past Izien. Lucky for the moment, Izien chased him down at the 2 yard line after a 54 yard gain. It didn’t matter as Dre Brown punched the ball in on the ensuing play. Illinois 17, Rutgers 10. 9:08 remaining in the 3rd.

Rutgers faced a 3rd and 2 from their own 33 yard line on the ensuing possession. After no one was immediately open, Johnny Langan had only one hand on the ball to try and reach the line to gain on the scramble but the ball was punched out by Isaiah Gay directly into the arms of Nate Hobbs. Hobbs sidestepped two tacklers and took it to the house. And just like that it was 24-10 halfway through the 3rd.

After a Rutgers first down from Jabbie, Kay’Ron Adams coughed the ball up after a nice run up the middle near midfield. Three plays later Illinois faced a 3rd and 7. Peters stepped up in the pocket and beat double coverage from Avery Young and Tim Barrow to thread a perfect strike caught about 35 yards downfield and converted into an untouched 52 yard touchdown. 31-10, 3:30 to go in the 3rd.

Rutgers faced a 4th and 1 on their next drive and got the conversion to at least keep them mathematically in the game. From then on, Illinois played cover 2 allowing RU to just run for some yards in the middle of the field. Rutgers did that until a 1st and 10 pass was intercepted by Dede Harding and returned for a 54 yard TD to ice the game. 38-10. 14:09 remaining in the 4th.

It was garbage time after the four touchdowns in nine minutes of game action. The game ended with Illinois inside the RU 5 so it could have been way worse on the scoreboard. Also for the record, Cole Snyder did not see action.

Key stat(s): The three big offensive plays for Illinois and fumbles on consecutive drives by RU. Everything else was pretty even if not edge RU. Illinois just killed Rutgers with big plays and turnovers.

Additional Takeaway(s): I love the option. I think that’s how football should be played. Unfortunately that leads to more concussions and modern football is just a passing sport because it interests a larger fan base. Rutgers with their style of play give themselves such a small margin for error. Illinois is run first and run second, by Brandon Peters is a legit thrower on at least a subset of plays. Peters’s long TD pass was a complete drop in the bucket that Rutgers simply doesn’t have in their arsenal right now.

The Illinois turnover differential is something to behold. Watching them was a blast from the past for Scarlet faithful to the Greg Schiano era on the banks. Keep the ball on the ground, make a few vertical passing plays, don’t make mistakes, force turnovers. You know I have mixed feelings on Greg, but if that wasn’t a Schiano style win for Lovie Smith and his staff, I don’t know what else is.

B1G Boy Football: Rutgers ran the ball on 80% of their plays and Illinois did on 75% before garbage time.

Getting this game in Orlando was virtually impossible with satellite problems at four establishments I went to, but then later in the game (around halftime) I was able to get it on my phone. For our readers who are outside the New Jersey area, I feel for you.

Next up: Rutgers hosts the #3 undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes on Nov. 16.

Look for more coverage of this game and the news heading into the Ohio State game here at

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Box Score

Watch Nunzio Campanile Postgame Presser