After showing signs of life last week against Indiana, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will play the most winnable game remaining on their schedule when they try to win their second straight meeting against the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Rutgers did something it’s shown frequently this season; put points on the board on its first drive. Artur Sitkowski connected with Shameen Jones to put the Knights ahead, but slowed down considerably, trailing 24-7 at halftime. The Scarlet Knights were able to turn it around in the final quarter of the game, where they scored 10 points and had the ball late with an outside chance to score the game.
Sitkowski played his most complete game of his young college career, throwing 18-35 for 154 yards with only one interception. Kicker Justin Davidovicz set a new school record with his 52 yard field goal to pull the Knights within a touchdown late in the game and Raheem Blackshear had another solid game with 86 all purpose yards on the afternoon.
While the Knights do not need to be perfect to be contenders in this game, Illinois will play aggressively as the Illini will be looking for revenge from a year ago. Illinois is 2-2 on the year and have given up an average of 31.5 points per game in 2018.
Much like Rutgers, the Illini have had their fair share of shakeups at the quarterback position, with freshman MJ Rivers II taking the bulk of the starts as of late. Rivers is 46-73 with 422 yards and only one interception on the year. As a unit, the Illinois quarterbacks have only thrown two picks on the season. While the Scarlet Knight defense has struggled a little as of late, they have still forced four interceptions this year. Look for Rutgers to put pressure on the young quarterback and force Rivers into throwing into coverage.
Another area to look for is Rutgers’ rushing defense. While the Scarlet Knights gave up a few too many big plays in the month of September, the Rutgers defense has limited opposing offenses to 5.3 yards per rush and 209 rushing yards per game. This is a matchup the Scarlet Knights must win as Illinois relies on their rushing game. The Illini average about 80 more yards per game on the ground compared to the 165 receiving yards per game they have been averaging.
If the Scarlet Knights want to stop Illinois on the ground, they are going to have to rely on Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts. Morris has 45 tackles on the season, including 2.5 for a loss of 10 yards. Roberts, who was named to PFF’s All-Conference Defensive team last week, has 40 tackles on the year and 13 a week ago. Illinois has also allowed 11 sacks four games into the season, so Morris and Roberts have to get going and force Rivers to flee the pocket.
Illinois has already forced seven interceptions in 2018 and will look to capitalize on the fact that Sitkowski alone has thrown eight. While Sitkowski looked like he had a better sense of Indiana’s defense last week, he is still young and has a lot of work do to in terms of reading the field. Del’Shawn Phillips, who has 34 interception yards on two picks, will look to step up and attack the Rutgers’ offense and draw Sitkowski out of his comfort zone.
Overall, this is a winnable game for the Scarlet Knights, but Illinois will not make it easy on them after Rutgers stole one last year in Champaign. If the Scarlet Knights can stop the Illini running game, Rutgers should be able to come out on top.
Prediction: Illinois 30, Rutgers 27
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