One thing that really stuck out regarding Rutgers’ 20-14 victory over Illinois was that so many players made key contributions. It was a true team win. Here is a rundown of players that had performances to remember in the first Big Ten win of the season.
As I covered here, Vedral’s toughness is unquestioned and is a true warrior. He only completed 10 of 21 passes for 138 yards, but he didn’t turn it over and he ran for 56 yards on just 6 carries. Vedral left the game twice due to injury but ran for the game winning score in the fourth quarter anyway. His tenacity and perseverance was a major reason why Rutgers won against Illinois.
What a story his development this season has been. Abraham finished third on the team with four tackles against Illinois, including one for a loss and one pass break up. It was his hit on the fourth and one on the last drive of the game by Illinois that sealed the victory. As the season goes on, Abraham continues to get better in each game.
I discussed the momentous debut for Wimsatt in detail here, but it can’t be understated what a huge spot it was for him to be thrust into. He passed with flying colors and gave the team a major lift heading into the fourth quarter. His development will take time, but Saturday was a moment we look back on throughout his career.
I wrote about Pacheco’s rushing performance here, but one key point to mention is the block he made on the fourth down conversion when Wimsatt found Bo Melton for a tone changing play. Pacheco has worked hard on becoming a complete back in his career. While he may not be a prolific rusher, he is a capable player and he came through in more ways than one in the win over Illinois. He also moved into sole possession of 11th place in program history with 2,215 rushing yards for his career.
As I tweeted after the game, he has truly earned the nickname “Johnny Football” this season. He’s transitioned from gimmick QB to a legit tight end who can make plays in the passing game and is one of the better blockers on the team. Simply put, Johnny Langan is a winning football player. Exhibit A is this 27 yard catch that extended the game winning drive on a 3rd and 9 play.
The second year player always runs with energy and purpose. Saturday was no exception, as he ran for over 5 yards per carry. This seven yard touchdown run early in the game was a tone setting play that got Rutgers going and Monangai was consistent throughout the game. As I wrote after the game,he and Pacheco have the ability to be an effective 1-2 punch against Big Ten opponents.
The senior is just an absolute disruptor who is so much more effective than his stats actually reveal. He only registered one tackle in the game but his impact on the defensive line was much greater. He briefly left the game due to an apparent injury issue but quickly returned. Radio sideline reporter Anthony Fucilli quipped during the broadcast right after it happened that “Julius Turner isn’t allowed to get hurt. He is fine and checking back in.” Turner is an indispensable player for Rutgers and was a major reason why Illinois struggled running the ball on Saturday. Also of note aside from Turner, Olakunle Fatukasi just makes plays. He led RU with eight tackles, 1.5 for a loss and one quarterback hit. He’s been so good over these past two seasons that it’s almost not news anymore when he leads Rutgers in tackles for a game.
The Aussie magician did it again. With Rutgers leading 17-14 with just over 9 minutes left in the game, Korsak delivered a masterpiece in punting with a 50-yarder that rolled out of bounds on the Illinois 1 yard line. It’s the fourth time he has accomplished that feat this season. It was also his 94th punt in a row without a touchback. He finished with a net of 47 yards on six punt attempts, including three inside the 20,
The former soccer player has had an up and down season but came through against Illinois. He made the kicks he had to make as he was good from 25 and 35 yards out. He did miss a 46 yard field goal but his two makes were the difference in the final score. Without his field goal in the fourth quarter, Illinois could have attempted to tie the game on its last drive rather than go for it on fourth and 1. Ambrosio has now made 9 of 13 field goal attempts this season. If he can become reliable from 40 yards out or less, it will be a nice weapon for Rutgers to have down the stretch.
The Offensive line
Rutgers didn’t allow a sack in the game, making it the fifth time this season they’ve allowed one or less. The offense rushed for 230 yards and 17 first downs, completely controlling the time of possession. With a makeshift line that includes second year players in Troy Rainey and Hollin Pierce, as well as a converted defensive lineman in Ireland Brown and Brendan Bordner, it was an impressive performance by the offensive line. Starter Reggie Sutton is out for the season and although Raiqwon O’Neal played, he has missed significant time of late. They unit as a whole provided ample protection for the quarterbacks and created holes in the run game. A very good performance by this group.