The Rutgers football team will travel to face off against Illinois on Saturday in its first game since its bye week. Since 2005, the Scarlet Knights (3-4, 0-4) hold a 2-5 record against the Fighting Illini (3-5, 2-3) with their last win coming in 2017.
Rutgers will look to snap a four-game losing streak when it takes the field this weekend. The program’s most recent loss came in a 21-7 defeat to Northwestern, a loss that also represents the Knights’ fourth consecutive Big Ten conference loss, a streak that dates back to last season.
“We need to be concerned with us. We went to Northwestern and (it) beat us, but we didn’t play well,” said head football coach Greg Schiano in his weekly press conference on Monday. “We have to make sure we at least go play our best and then if that’s good enough, great. If it’s not, we’ll figure out another way.”
With Rutgers now entering the home stretch of its season, now is a better time than ever to take a look back at the season stats so far through seven games.
Beginning with the offense, senior quarterback Noah Vedral has amassed 1,274 passing yards this season, an average of 182 yards per game to go along with seven touchdown passes. On the ground, junior running back Isaih Pacheco has a team-leading 329 rushing yards while sharing the lead in rushing touchdowns with freshman running back Kyle Monangai.
In the receiving category, despite missing one game, senior wide receiver Bo Melton is the team leader in receiving yards. With 354 receiving yards, Melton is approximately 100 yards ahead of junior wide receiver Aron Cruickshank. Cruickshank, who was injured for the last game, is also second behind Melton in receiving touchdowns.
Defensively, senior linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi has consistently ranked among the top linebackers in the conference this season. With 71 tackles, the Far Rockaway, New York native has the third-most total tackles in the Big Ten. Fatukasi is also tied for third in the conference in tackles-for-loss with 9.5 on the season and leads the Knights in sacks.
Junior defensive back Christian Izien is second to Fatukasi on the team with 41 tackles and 7.5 tackles-for-loss. In addition, the Rutgers defense has accumulated four interceptions, two of which have been from freshman defensive back Max Melton.
On special teams, senior punter Adam Korsak has proved to be a valuable member of the unit. Korsak has punted for a total of 1,712 yards. The senior has yet to down a touchback while pinning 20 punts inside the 20-yard line this season. All of these figures rank inside the top five in the conference with his zero touchbacks being a conference-best.
“(Korsak is) the best I’ve ever been around.” Schiano said.
As for the Knights’ opponent this weekend, Illinois is coming off a season-defining win last week. In a record nine overtimes, the Fighting Illini rallied on the road to upset then-No. 7 Penn State 20-18. In the win, the Illinois offense was led by Chase Brown, who contributed 223 rushing yards to the season-high total of 637 rushing yards.
“(The Fighting Illini run the ball) several different ways. So we need to make sure that we can get aligned correctly to defend the run, then at that point you have to make tackles,” Schiano said. “Their running backs run really hard, they’re a downhill run football team, and when that happens you better be ready to go tackle and use the right tackling method otherwise you’re going to miss tackles and that’s not pretty when that happens.”
Rutgers vs. Illinois will kick off at noon and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. It is the sixth straight year the two programs will face off against each other despite being in separate divisions.
“I see a team defensively that’s really tough. They do things that are a little bit different,” Schiano said. “It’s a big challenge going on the road again in the Big Ten … We certainly know what we’re up against.”
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