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TCR’s staff gives Illinois the edge over Rutgers

Here’s our weekly staff predictions!

NCAA Football: Illinois at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Cohn: Rutgers 10, Illinois 21

In a welcome change of events, I am no longer the only TCR writer choosing Illinois to win a game, this one being over the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. If the Illini play anything to close to how they performed in the first half (minus the punt catastrophe) against Iowa this Saturday, this game should not be even close. Jeff George Jr. led a respectable offensive attack and getting a trio of running backs and several wide receivers involved should be no problem against a fairly weak Rutgers defense. Chalk this one up as a win; it may be the only one left in 2017.

Austin Jabs: Rutgers 21, Illinois 30

The Illini will get a good home matchup against a Rutgers that has shown, at times, they may not be the worst team in the Big Ten. With an improving passing game, the Illini running game should materialize, meaning a 100 yard day for Epstein. The process of the Lovie Smith rebuild is running its course, and if the Illinois faithful can put trust in this coaching staff, good things should be on the horizon. Look for Illinois to tally up a conference win this weekend, bringing this team back to .500.

Ian Gold: Rutgers 17, Illinois 28

The young Illini offensive line took major strides against Iowa, and the Hawkeye defense is infinitely more stiff against the run than the incoming Scarlet Knights. Last time out against Ohio State, Rutgers allowed 7.4 yards per carry and four touchdowns on the ground. Even if Mike Epstein sits out, the Illini backfield should have plenty of room to get loose and move the ball. Illinois defense has looked tough but worn down in recent weeks - I expect a four quarter showing with the glimmer of another win on the horizon.

Michael Berns: Rutgers 14, Illinois 38

Never in my lifetime of sports fanship have I felt this good about my team losing by 29 points the previous week. Illinois moved the ball. They got first downs. They forced fumbles. The offensive playbook opened up a bit. It’s Tim Beckman language to say, “well, if you take away Jeff George the Younger’s three interceptions, we win the game.” I wouldn’t go that far, but there were so many positives to take away from the Iowa game. Rutgers is bad. Real bad. Lost to Eastern Michigan bad. Illinois gives up a special teams/defensive touchdown to the Scarlet Knights, but still rolls to a 3+ touchdown victory.

Matt O’Neall: Rutgers 20, Illinois 27

I was surprised to come away from the Iowa game feeling good about the play of our offensive line. If they play that way again against a more evenly matched opponent, we probably won't have to ask George, Jr. to chuck it 45 times. That will give the Illini a chance to win the turnover battle and ultimately the game. The youth still worries me in what I expect to be a close game. However. the close wins vs Ball State and WKU should give the kids enough confidence to close out their first Big Ten win.

Thumpasaurus: Rutgers 21, Illinois 16

There’s a lot of enthusiasm heading into what is far and away our most winnable conference game against a Rutgers team desperate for that first ever conference win under Chris Ash. Illinois returns home with a huge opportunity to prove that progress continues to be made. Hell, I’m travelling 500 miles for this game because this is our best shot at a conference win. A victory here would bring Illinois to 3-3, and given my preseason prediction of 3-9, that makes the rest of the year an opportunity to surpass my expectations. By all means, this should be a big moment for Lovie Smith’s Fighting Illini.

But I’ve been an Illinois fan long enough to know what that all means. This is going to be one of those games where we’re down 14-0 before we know what the hell is happening, gather our wits about us and fight back but never climb out of the hole we dug in the first part of the game. We’ll outgain them, but won’t be able to finish drives in the end zone. We’re likely to spend the whole second half yelling “COME ON, WE SHOULD BE WINNING THIS GAME!” But we won’t. This is what Illinois does. Prove me wrong, Illini.

Brandon Birkhead: Rutgers 24, Illinois 21

I think this is going to be a very close, low scoring game. I think Illinois could win this game if the ball bounces their way, but the main reasons I think Illinois may lose this game is turnovers and penalties.

When you take a look, Rutgers and Illinois are almost equals in terms of quality.

Rutgers averages 303.2 yards of offense, while Illinois is at 303. Illinois gives up 5.7 yards per play on defense. Rutgers gives up 5.6. Rutgers runs for 4.0 yards per rush, Illinois 3.9. Illinois gives up 4.3 per rush on defense, Rutgers 4.2. Rutgers gives up 7.3 yards per pass on defense, Illinois 7.4.

Where they really start to differ is in penalties. Illinois have an average of 72.4 yards in penalties a game, while Rutgers is at 57.6. In a game that will be incredibly close, those yards could really hurt the Illini. Advantage Rutgers.

Jeff George Jr. did a lot to improve the Illinois offense in his first start of the season against Iowa, but he had four turnovers. He has thrown 5 interceptions in 6 quarters of play. I think whoever wins the turnover battle will win this game, and I think that with Jeff George the Younger under center, they will probably be the Illini.

But hey, if Illinois can get their defense going and force some turnovers, they can easily gain the advantage. That’s how closely matched up these teams are. It should actually be a pretty fun game, as long as you don’t care about the quality of play that is.

Mark Schaer: Rutgers 17, Illinois 23

Wow, this game could be really painful to watch. It’s no secret Rutgers and Illinois have been the bottom of the barrel in the B1G for several years now. I see both teams struggling to score points early on, and I’ll give a slight advantage to Illinois on offense because I don’t think the Scarlet Knights’ secondary will be able to capitalize off JG3’s mistakes like Iowa did. I also imagine that Garrick McGee and JG3 were working together a bit in practice to limit...ya know...turnovers.