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OTB staff predictions for Rutgers at Illinois

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Our contributors make their picks.

Illinois v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Rutgers enters Saturday’s game coming off of a bye week and looking to end a four game losing streak. Illinois on the other hand is riding high after upsetting No. 7 Penn State on the road in a nine overtime game for a signature victory. The Illini have also beaten the Scarlet Knights four of the last five seasons, so it’s the last chance for RU to get a win with the six year series ending.

Can they do it? Our staff make their predictions here.

Dave White: Champagne a French wine that sparkles with carbonation. It is produced in a region of France under the rules of appellation. From the 1600s through the 1800s, champagne was associated with royalty, but once it became branded and advertised, it became a wine that everyone can indulge in. It is usually served in a flute and often sprayed when a sports team wins a championship. Sometimes, you can get other sparkling wines, but if they don’t come from the Champagne region of France, they are not really Champagne. And that would be a total letdown. Rutgers 24 Illinois 17

Fred Gaudios: It all depends on your perspective. If you went into the Northwestern game thinking Rutgers was a six or seven-win team this season, you’re probably pretty bummed right now. If you didn’t feel that way, things are more sanguine. If Rutgers manages to win against Illinois, they’re 4-4 and need to win just one more game all season to get to five, which I’ll consider Officially Outperforming Preseason Expectations. I don’t know about my own perspective—I was in flight during the Northwestern game and missed the whole thing. (I suppose if you’re going to miss one Rutgers game in seven mostly miserable football seasons, I picked a good one to skip.) I know when I landed out in Vegas, I turned on my phone to something like a dozen angry texts, many of which decorum would prohibit repeating. Anyway, as of this writing, the line has moved three points toward Rutgers -1, so maybe smart money thinks a QB change is in the works? We shall see. I think the line is spot on. Rutgers wins a squeaker. Rutgers 24 Illinois 23

Andrew Cangiano: Coming off the bye Coach Schiano preached a simple message to the fanbase this week: stick with us. As such, I feel obliged to cling to hope that the Scarlet Knights can turn things around and qualify for a bowl game this season. If that is going to happen, getting a win in Champaign against the Illini is a must.

Illinois is coming off a statement win in one of the weirdest games of the season, knocking off 7th ranked Penn State 20-18 in 9OT’s (an NCAA record for overtime periods). Give Illinois credit for rallying from a 10-0 deficit to win on the road in Happy Valley.

The Illini feature Rutgers transfer Art Sitkowski at quarterback, but really what made their engine run against the Nittany Lions was the ground game. Chase Brown rushed for 223 yards and Josh McCray tacked on 142, as the Illini imposed their will at the line of scrimmage. For Rutgers defense, the goal is simple: stack the box and make Sitkowski beat you through the air. (A takeaway or two wouldn’t hurt as well).

The On the Banks staff (along with many fans) have debated the merits of giving over the quarterback reins to true freshman Gavin Wimsatt. Personally, I think the best move is to stick to the veteran Noah Vedral – at least for right now. The senior signal-caller has not played horribly and with the team’s well-documented struggles on the offensive line, bringing in a freshman and throwing him to the lions is not the right move. Wimsatt is the future, Vedral still needs to be the present.

If Rutgers can protect Vedral and create some running room for Pacheco and Monangai Rutgers has a chance. If they can get another big game from Bo Melton and at least one other receiver, the Scarlet Knights will be able to outscore the Illini. I believe this is going to be a fairly low-scoring, grind-it-out type of game, which like the Penn State game last week, might get ugly at times. That’s fine with me, as long as Rutgers finds a way to get the road win and put this team back on track. Rutgers 24 Illinois 21

Lawrence Krayn: I’ve remained optimistic for most of the season. Make no mistake, I’m still optimistic overall about the direction of this program. However, the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This week, I refuse to go with my heart over my head. Illinois is coming off of a huge win against Penn State. The Illini were brilliant on the ground and tough in the trenches. One of the many deficiencies of the 2021 iteration of the Scarlet Knights just happens to be in the trenches. Through four weeks of Big Ten play, Rutgers has been gashed on the ground and through the air and has failed to be able to match either aspect when the ball is in their hands.

There is certainly an opportunity here, as Illinois could be in for a “let down” game after pouring so much effort into the Penn State contest and with Rutgers coming off of a bye week. Unfortunately, I think that may be wishful thinking. Even without their starting Quarterback, former Rutgers player Art Sitkowski, Illinois is probably going to dominate Rutgers in the trenches like virtually every other Big Ten team has up to this point. Unless Rutgers comes out with something completely creative and unexpected, I don’t see them lighting the world on fire on the offensive side of the ball and being able to match it.

The Knights have hovered around 13 points per game throughout their Big Ten schedule. I don’t see why that changes against Illinois unless there are unexpected tweaks to the offense come gameday. Illinois 24 Rutgers 13

David Anderson: I originally predicted this as a win and I’ve been right on where I think Illinois would be as a team. They have not been able to throw the ball at all, run at a satisfactory or slightly above satisfactory level when they don’t need to abandon it, and their defense stops the run yet is vulnerable against the pass like most middle of the pack teams. I even thought Illinois would be overconfident heading in, turns out I was right about that though for a different reason.

Rutgers on the other hand has regressed from where they were last year. Part of that is other teams studying Rutgers better than the Knights have studied themselves. Noah Vedral has won ONE conference game at RU, and in that game, the defense forced seven turnovers. The staff thought he was good enough to just do what they had been doing and it would work against a weak Northwestern team. Boy were they wrong as were we who thought much of the same as fans. I will say this until I am blue in the face, Vedral had better pass protection when you look at the stopwatch than his counterpart in Ryan Hilinski. We need to stop blaming the offensive pass blocking as the main issue. Although I have already advocated for a different philosophy when deciding how to organize on the offensive line.

All this to say, Rutgers has a higher upside than Illinois, even this season. If both teams try to simply shorten the game, Illinois will win because they run the ball better and have a better front seven. If both teams play well (which hasn’t happened in any of the last 5 matchups), Rutgers wins. If the Scarlet Knights can recapture some of the magic of last year whether it takes Vedral simply throwing the ball quickly at the expense of an occasional interception or another QB playing just to maybe get a spark, so be it. I expect Rutgers to have a much better game plan than the previous two contests and be healthier, but I doubt all of a sudden overnight this team will have an offense that hasn’t been there all year. And if they score some points, the defense could blow it from poor tackling at the second and third levels which Illinois feasts on.

There’s still hope Rutgers can do something this week to build on the rest of the way, but I don’t think the Knights can fix it all with just one bye week. Illinois has beaten Nebraska and Penn State while taking Maryland and Purdue to the wire. Rutgers has not won a Big Ten game, though I hope they can get the monkey off their backs. Illinois 23 Rutgers 17

Cara Sanfilippo: With Rutgers on a bye last week, I reclaimed my Saturday to enjoy some basic fall activities, i.e. sunflower gardens and fall foliage. It was really great for my mental health after the battering of the last few weekends of football.

So imagine my surprise when I got home and saw that Illinois had beaten Penn State in a 9 overtime win. I thought I was hallucinating and had read the headline wrong. Excuse me, what? Illinois beat #7 Penn State in Happy Valley?

Usually, anyone beating PSU and James Franklin would make me happy. But then my heart sank because I thought, there goes the win Rutgers needs. So while I agree in Art that “in Schiano we trust,” I am having a hard time predicting a win with the messy football and lack of offense Rutgers has exhibited in the last few games. Like all but the tOSU game, I think it will be close, but unless we play clean and take the offense up a notch, I have to predict a loss. It pains me, but my optimism only goes so far. Illinois 24, Rutgers 21

Sean McGrath: I think the team will look a lot better than the Northwestern game. The bye week allowed them to fix their issues and most importantly, get healthier. Illinois is due for a hangover after their 9 OT marathon against Penn State. The defense forces two fumbles and Vedral finds Shameen Jones for a late 4th quarter touchdown. Rutgers 20 Illinois 16

Aaron Breitman: I’m trying to see it but I just don’t. Illinois has run it down the throat of Rutgers too many times over the years and I don’t see any reason why it won’t continue on Saturday. And with our luck, former QB Juice Williams, now the Illini’s leading receiver, will break a big play in the passing game too. I want to believe Rutgers will look rejuvenated out of the bye week but I think this team has a long way to go.

Offensively, they need to open things up and take more chances, but will the line allow the necessary time and protection to do that? Will the defense limit big plays and force takeaways? Where will positive momentum come from? There are too many questions entering this game to have confidence that this will be anything other than a painful loss. Illinois 24 Rutgers 12

Greg Patuto: After a disappointing performance against a mediocre Northwestern team, confidence should be a low as it can get for Rutgers and its fans. The only way to talk yourself into this game is to keep thinking that Illinois isn't that good and this could be a letdown spot coming off an upset against Penn State.

With that being said, it is hard to picture Rutgers putting anything together. The offense has been a huge disappointment in all aspects. The defense is not causing many turnovers and continues to give up big plays. There might be some room to run for the Illini in this one. It should be a low-scoring contest but until the Scarlet Knights win a game, it is hard to pick them — especially on the road. If the season was not over yet, this is the knockout blow. Illinois 23 Rutgers 17

Art Stein: Predicting RU games is like playing the lottery with about the same odds of winning. Speaking of odds, the game has gone from Illinois being favored to a pick-em to Rutgers now being favored. So, I find myself wondering how a team that less than a week ago, beat Penn State at Penn State is a home underdog to a team that less than two weeks ago got thoroughly beaten in the same state against a comparable opponent? I am also left wondering how a team with a running game that harkens visions of Red Grange and the Galloping Ghost is an underdog to a defense that had problems stopping the run against Delaware?

Something just does not add up. Then there is the Greg Schiano; ”Don’t give up on us.” statement at his press conference with his best Cheshire Cat smile.

Looking at the spread, Illinois strengths against Rutgers weaknesses, everything points to an Illini victory. But reading between the lines and the tea leaves, my inner voice tells me Rutgers is going to win. Rutgers 21 Illinois 18

We are an even 5-5 split on the outcome. Let us know what you think will happen in the comment section.