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Rutgers Football Game #4 Preview vs. Illinois

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The Scarlet Knights will host Illinois on Saturday afternoon.

Indiana v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Illinois at Rutgers

Where: SHI Stadium, Piscataway, New Jersey

Kick-off: Saturday, November 14 at 1:00 PM ET

Weather: 53 degrees, sunny with a 10% chance of rain, 9 mph winds

TV: BTN with Lisa Byington (play-by-play), J Leman (color), and Coley Harvey (sideline)

Stream: FOX Sports App

Radio: RWJBarnabas Health Rutgers Sports Network (WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, XM 195, Sirius 138) with Chris Carlin (play-by-play), Eric LeGrand, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli (sideline).

Current Spread: Rutgers -6

Series History: Illinois leads, 4-2; last season Illinois defeated Rutgers 38-10.

SB Nation Ohio State site: The Champaign Room

Statistical Leaders

Rutgers

Passing: Noah Vedral - 61-for-96, 63.5%, 467 yards, 3 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

Rushing: Isaih Pacheco - 153 yards on 35 carries, 4.4 ypc, 2 touchdowns

Receiving: Bo Melton - 15 catches for 184 yards, 12.3 ypc, 2 touchdowns

Defense: Olakunle Fatukasi - 37 tackles, Mohamed Toure, CJ Onyechi, and Robin Jutwreten - 2 sacks, Tre Avery and Brendon White - 1 interception

Illinois

Passing: Coran Taylor- 23-for-46, 50.0%, 379 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

Rushing: Mike Epstein - 207 yards on 32 carries, 6.5 ypc, 2 touchdowns

Receiving: Josh Imatorbhebhe - 9 catches for 129 yards, 14.3 ypc, 1 touchdown, Brian Hightower - 6 catches for 129 yards, 21.5 ypc, 1 touchdown

Defense: Tony Adams - 26 tackles, Owen Carney Jr. - 3 sacks, Devon Witherspoon - 1 interception

What to watch for

This is an exciting week for Rutgers’ fans. The Scarlet Knights are favored in a Big Ten game for the first time since 2014. And rightfully so.

Entering Week 4, both Rutgers and Illinois are near the bottom of the Big Ten on both sides of the ball. Regardless, Greg Schiano had nothing but good things to say about the Illini defense.

When Rutgers has the ball

Lovie Smith usually has an aggressive defense no matter what level he is coaching. In 2019, Illinois led the conference with 28 takeaways, 18 of which were forced fumbles. That has not continued this season as the Illini have only forced five turnovers.

“They play really hard, and they’re the best ball-disruption team that I’ve seen in a long time,” Schiano said of Illinois’ defense. “Every single guy on that defense goes after the football, whether it’s in the running back’s hands, the receivers’ hands, the quarterback’s hands. We’re going to have to be really, really sure-handed and get the ball where it’s supposed to be.”

This is important this week. Turnovers and penalties — this is how Illinois will have a chance to win this game. Rutgers has struggled with both this season. They lead the Big Ten with 27 penalties and have turned the ball over eight times. This offense is not good enough to overcome these mistakes just yet.

Something will have to give in this game. Rutgers is dead-last in the Big Ten averaging 298.7 yards per game. Illinois is allowing 475.7 yards per game on the defensive end. Isiah Pacheco needs a breakout game and this is a chance for it to come.

If there is something to feel good about offensively, it is Bo Melton. The senior has thrived under Sean Gleeson and wide receivers coach Tiquan Underwood. Melton has great speed and can be used in many ways. He has turned into the clear No. 1 weapon within the offense. Gleeson is creative enough to open up this offense and put his players in position to succeed. We saw this against Ohio State.

When Illinois has the ball

Smith has yet to announce who will be starting under center in this game. Brandon Peters was named the starter prior to the season but he has been sidelined with a positive COVID test. This is not good for a team who is trying to put it all together.

Illinois is 13th in the Big Ten averaging 325.7 yards per game. They have not been able to consistently get anything going all season and this has led to just 15 points per game through three weeks.

“Do I look like the guy that’s going to panic?” Smith said leading up to this game. “We’re not panicking. … There’s no panic. We’re disappointed in the three games we’ve played. We need to play better this fourth game of the football season. There’s a lot of football left to go.”

The fact is, Illinois should be in a bit of a panic. This is their best chance to win a game and they are entering as a touchdown underdog. They have home games against Ohio State and Iowa left on the schedule along with road games against Nebraska and Northwestern.

Illinois needs someone on the offensive side of the ball to step up. If there is an area that has not struggled completely, it has been the run game. Epstein and Chase Brown have 50 combined carries and are averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. The issue has been that Illinois has not been in position to run the ball once they fall behind.

Can Rutgers win this game?

This is something that has not been said in quite some time — Rutgers should win this football game. This is a much-needed game for the Scarlet Knights to get to 2-2. This is a confidence game for Rutgers. They are favored on their homefield. If the culture has truly changed, the team cannot come out flat in this game. They have to set the tone early and cruise to a victory.

Final thoughts

Nothing is guaranteed with Rutgers. They are not good enough yet to assume victory but if there was ever a time to expect one, it is this week. This is a game that could give Rutgers a spark going forward.

This is the fourth game of an eight-game schedule. Rutgers finishes the season with Michigan, Purdue, Penn State, and Maryland. Can Rutgers win one of those games? Michigan and Penn State have looked poor in recent weeks, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Maryland is beginning to put it together but it has been a small sample size.

It’s that time to begin looking at the latter part of the schedule. The Scarlet Knights need to get to 2-2 here and then fans can begin to talk themselves into victories over the final four weeks.