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2021 Rutgers Football Game Preview #8 at Illinois

The Scarlet Knights will travel to Champaign on Saturday to take on the Illini.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Illinois at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (3-4; 0-4) at Illinois (3-5; 2-3)

Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Illinois

Kick-off: Saturday, October 30 at 12:00 PM ET

Weather: 57 degrees, mostly cloudy with a 14% chance of rain, 14 mph winds

TV: BTN with Jeff Levering (play-by-play), Anthony Herron (color), Elise Menaker (sideline)

Stream: FOX Sports App

Radio: RWJBarnabas Health Rutgers Sports Network (WCTC 14-50-AM, WOR 710-AM, XM 381) with Chris Carlin (play-by-play), Julian Pinnix-Odrick (analyst) and Anthony Fucilli (sideline); WRSU 88.7 FM - Dennis Geissler & Doug Willig

Current Spread: Rutgers -1.5

Series History: Illinois leads 5-2, Illini defeated Rutgers 23-20 last season

Illinois SB Nation Site: The Champaign Room

Statistical Leaders

Rutgers

Passing: Noah Vedral - 126-for-199, 63.3%, 1,274 yards, 7 touchdowns, 3 interceptions

Rushing: Isaih Pacheco - 329 yards on 95 carries, 3.5 ypc, 3 touchdowns

Receiving: Bo Melton - 32 catches for 354 yards, 11.1 ypc, 3 touchdowns

Defense: Olakunle Fatukasi - 63 tackles and 3.5 sacks, Max Melton - 2 interceptions

Illinois

Passing: Artur Sitkowski - 74-for-148, 50.0%, 704 yards, 6 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

Rushing: Chase Brown - 637 yards on 93 carries, 6.8 ypc, 4 touchdown

Receiving: Isaiah Williams - 34 catches for 305 yards, 9.0 ypc, 1 touchdowns

Defense: Tarique Barnes - 49 tackles, Owen Carney Jr. - 5 sacks, Kerby Joseph - 3 interception

What To Watch For

When Rutgers has the ball

What else can be said here except for one word? Improvement.

Rutgers is hanging on by a thread and looking for its first victory in the Big Ten this season. After three losses against arguably the top three teams in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights delivered a clunker against a mediocre Northwestern team. Coming out of the bye, Rutgers will face another low-tier team on the road.

Where to begin about the offense? Rutgers has not been able to run the ball all season. Isaih Pacheco is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry and has 95 rushes. This is a product of a struggling offensive line and lopsided scores that takes the option to run out of the equation. Noah Vedral has been inconsistent once again and the downfield passing attack is nonexistent. At this point, Vedral struggles to throw the ball deep because he either makes a poor decision or the offensive line does not give him enough time.

The Scarlet Knights are averaging just 11.5 points per game in four conference matchups. This is not going to get it done. So when you look at Rutgers as an offensive unit, it is is hard to pick out one aspect. To make things simple, it all has to improve.

When Illinois has the ball

The storyline was all set up. Artur Sitkowski took over the starting job for the Illini after transferring in the offseason. Unfortunately, Sitkowski suffered a broken arm against Penn State and will not have a chance to compete against his former team. This is just one of the injuries Illinois is dealing with.

Wide receiver Deuce Spann is questionable for Saturday while Chase Brown should be a full go. This will be the x-factor for the Illini. The quarterback situation has been a huge question mark and with Sitkowski out, more pressure will be put on Brown. The fact that he is 100% is good news for Illinois. Whether Rutgers can stop the run game and contain Brown is probably the key to the game.

The Illini scored 30 or more points in each of their first two games of the season. Since then, they have not exceeded that number and a 24-point performance against Charlotte has been the most scored. Like Rutgers, Illinois has not been lighting up the scoreboard but when looking at recent momentum, the Illini have a clear advantage.

Illinois is not a big-play offense but teams have been able to hit some against the Scarlet Knights in recent weeks. There might be some room to run in this one for the Illini.

Could Rutgers win this game?

This is the second year in a row where Rutgers is favored against Illinois. In 2020, it was a disappointing three-point loss where the Scarlet Knights blew a double-digit lead. This is only the second game in a row where Rutgers is favored on the road. Why? It’s hard to say. There was no real feeling that the Scarlet Knights were ever going to win that Northwestern game.

This is a tricky question all of a sudden. Preseason, this was a must-win game where Rutgers might have been a touchdown favorite. Now, while they are still favored, it is a bigger question mark. The short answer is yes, they can win but tread lightly until the Scarlet Knights are ahead on the scoreboard at the end of a game.

Final thoughts

“I’d ask that our fans stick with us. It’s coming,” Greg Schiano said during a press conference on Monday. “I know it can get frustrating, no one more than us. I understand that when you follow a team, you don’t really have control. All you get to do is see what they do on game day. We obviously have more control because we’re doing it every day. But the arrow on this program is up. We’ll just keep moving. But we need our fans to stick with us. I guarantee you our players will continue to work hard, our coaches will. It’ll turn.”

This was the message Schiano gave fans coming out of the bye week. Rutgers’ fans will never jump ship. This is a passionate bunch that follows their team wherever they go. The disappointing thing is the slight expectations that Rutgers came into the year with after showing life in 2020.

Schiano believes that it will all turn around. This is not a hard sell with the recruiting classes coming in. Schiano is the man for the job but this season, there is just a deflated feeling. A loss to Illinois would just put fans out of their misery while a win would get the team back to .500. This is a game that will tell how the rest of the season is going to be.