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Rutgers football defeats Illinois for first Big Ten win

The Rutgers football team secured its first Big Ten win of the season on Saturday, defeating Illinois on the road 20-14. – Photo by Samantha Cheng

The Rutgers football team snapped a four-game losing streak with a 20-14 win on the road against Illinois on Saturday. The win represents the Scarlet Knights’ (4-4, 1-4) first Big Ten win of the season and improves the program to a .500 record through eight games for the first time since 2014.

Rutgers picked up its second win in four seasons at Memorial Stadium despite trailing at halftime and entering the fourth quarter. The Knights shut out the Fighting Illini (3-6, 2-4) in the second half and out-gained Illinois on offense by just under 100 yards.

“That was a team victory,” said head coach Greg Schiano after the game. “That was what we said it was going to be. It was going to be a tough midwestern football game … You really had to get dirty today to win the game.”

Senior quarterback Noah Vedral finished with 138 passing yards despite being taken out of the game on two separate occasions due to injury. In the first incident, Vedral was injured on a 12 yard rush in the first quarter that caused him to miss a few offensive possessions. 

In Vedral’s absence, sophomore quarterback Cole Snyder took over the offense and finished off a 61-yard touchdown drive to give Rutgers a 7-0 early lead.

Down 14-10 after Vedral’s second injury late in the third quarter, freshman quarterback and four-star recruit Gavin Wimsatt stepped in for his first game action and converted a crucial fourth down that would keep a promising drive alive.

Vedral would return shortly to cap off the 13 play, 88 yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown run to give the Knights a lead that they would keep for the rest of the game.

“That was a beautiful job. (Wimsatt) came in, avoided the rush, and then put one right on (senior wide receiver Bo Melton’s) chin,” Schiano said.

Wimsatt was originally a member of Rutgers’ 2022 recruiting class but enrolled at the University at the beginning of the fall semester.

Elsewhere on the offense, junior running back Isaih Pacheco and freshman running back Kyle Monangai spearheaded a rushing attack that produced a season-high 230 yards on the ground. The Knights are now 29-2 under Schiano when rushing for 200 yards or more.

Melton led the team with five receptions for 58 yards while senior wide receiver Shameen Jones matched Melton in receptions for 48 yards. In addition, junior quarterback Johnny Langan caught a pivotal 27-yard pass on third down on the same drive that would ultimately give Rutgers the lead for good in the second half.

Defensively, the Knights held a Fighting Illini rushing attack that rushed for a season-high 357 yards last week to only 107 yards on Saturday. Chase Brown, who compiled 223 yards a week ago, rushed for only 67 yards and was stopped on the game-deciding fourth down play by junior defensive back Kessawn Abraham.

“(Defensive coordinator Robb Smith) and the defensive staff did a great job assembling a plan, not only a plan for their regular run game but for that … multiple linemen run game,” Schiano said. “But really it comes down to the players executing the plan and then tackling … We weren’t great tackling today but we were much better than we were a week ago and that’s what’s got to continue to improve.”

Rutgers will return home this week to take on Wisconsin. With Saturday’s win, Schiano has 75 career victories as the Knights’ head coach. He is now in sole possession of second place for most wins in program history and is four wins away from breaking Frank Burns’ school record of 78 wins.

“(The win) gives us a chance to go into November (with an opportunity to play for something),” Schiano said. “With that, we get to go home now to our fans, to our stadium and play a really good Wisconsin team. And we need our fans. I don’t know how else to put it, but we need you desperately next Saturday.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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