On Saturday, the Rutgers football team suffered its second loss of the season, this time at the hands of Ohio State. Though they utilized an arsenal of trick routes, the Scarlet Knights (1-2, 1-2) lost 49-27. They have now lost in back-to-back weeks, falling to fourth in the Big Ten East standings.
"We played the measuring stick in our league, in the Big Ten Conference, and we didn't quite measure up," said Rutgers head football coach Greg Schiano, according to 247Sports.com.
The Knights look to bounce back with a win against Illinois this Saturday in their second home game of the season.
Senior quarterback Noah Vedral will most likely start for Rutgers again. In the three games he's played, Vedral has thrown for 467 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. On a positive note for the Knights, Vedral has tallied a 64 percent completion rate, ranking among the highest for NCAA quarterbacks this season.
Senior wide receiver Bo Melton and junior wide receiver Aron Cruickshank have contributed to this statistic, combining this season for 290 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Isaih Pacheco also returns as the team's leading rusher with 153 yards and two touchdowns, adding strength to Rutgers' ground game.
For the first time since they entered the Big Ten, the Knights open their matchup as the favored team. They face the winless Fighting Illini (0-3, 0-3), who lost by 27 points last week.
After Brandon Peters was placed on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) list on Oct. 31, Illinois has been led by Coran Taylor. This season, he's completed approximately 50 percent of his passes for 379 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Fighting Illini's ground game is averaging 163 yards per contest, approximately 40 more yards than Rutgers' 122.7-yard average. Mike Epstein leads the way for Illinois, with 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Again, the Knights could rely on their defense to make the necessary stops to win. It has made steady improvements since last season.
The defense is led by senior linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi, who had two fumble recoveries and was named the Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week and Chuck Bednarik Award National Player of the Week after the Knights defeated Michigan State.
In the last two games, Schiano and defensive coordinator Robb Smith implemented a high-pressure defensive scheme to force turnovers.
The Fighting Illini enter the game with a conference-worst 21:05 total time of possession.
"We're disappointed," said Illinois head football coach Lovie Smith, according to 247Sports.com. "We’ve lost three games. We realize how many games we have left in the season. But we’re also, we’re optimistic about the future too. We know we’re a better football team, and we get a chance to prove that."
Since Rutgers joined the Big Ten, it beat the Fighting Illini twice and lost four times.
"We have a tough game at noon next week and that's where our focus shifts immediately," Schiano said. "We have to get ready for Illinois and it's going to be a battle."
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