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TCR Staff Predictions: Illinois at Rutgers

We’re not high on the Illini this week.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Braun: Rutgers 35, Illinois 17

It’s really this simple. Rutgers has a coaching staff that is capable of improving on the assembled talent. Illinois doesn’t. To break it down a little more, drives against the Illini defense tend to end in either touchdowns or turnovers. The ‘Gers offense is not completely broken like it was last year, so they’ll move the ball against this defense. Noah Vedral has been modestly effective and has taken good care of the ball. Expect Bo Melton to make a number of wide open catches with room to run, not because he’s elite but because he’s playing against an Illini secondary that will be trying to figure out what their assignments are right up until the snap. Isaiah Pacheco is not the bruiser that Mo Ibrahim was, but will definitely find some room on the perimeter. On defense, there’s a little more beef to the ‘Gers front seven this year, so whoever gets the start at quarterback is going to have to make the right reads or else we’ll find ourselves in the same situation as last week. There’s no disguising what a joke our passing game is, so I expect they’ll be aggressive against the run.

For Illinois to win, the defense is going to need to score two touchdowns and the offense will need to hold the ball for at least 34 minutes. Winning the turnover battle didn’t help us against Minnesota, but Rutgers doesn’t have as good an offense. The Illini, however, have the worst offense in the conference, so it’ll be up to the worst defense in the conference to lead the charge.

Stephen Cohn: Rutgers 31, Illinois 13

I’ll say it every week: I don’t believe this team is bad enough to lose every game this season, but until they find a way to win one, it’s tough to imagine they’ll win any. Hopefully Isaiah Williams gets the start under center and gives us some hype for the next few years, but if he has a rough day — Rutgers defense isn’t that bad — it’s just going to tough to see much forward progress for this team.

I’ll always choose Illinois when it comes to #Illinutgers, but not this year.

Tristen Kissack: Rutgers 31, Illinois 24

This is Illinois’ last chance to avoid going winless this season. Going on the road against a much improved Rutgers team without starting quarterback Brandon Peters is a recipe for disaster. The Illini have to find a spark somewhere on offense. 15 points a game just isn’t going to cut it. Isaiah Williams should be back this week, so maybe he can make something happen. This one should be close, but I just haven’t seen enough from this team in the first three weeks to take them over the Scarlet Knights.

Matt Rejc: Rutgers 42, Illinois 13

I hate to go into broken record mode, but I can’t expect different results when the same on-field performances keep happening. Illinois’ defense has some fundamental problems right now, and until they’re fixed, expect blowout losses regardless of the opponent. The offense hasn’t improved much either, but some signs of life would be nice to see.

Quentin Wetzel: Rutgers 34, Illinois 20

Illinois hasn’t won a football game in over a year. No Big Ten team has allowed more points this season, and only Nebraska — who has only played two games — has scored fewer. I don’t think I need to say anything more. Rutgers wins handily.

Michael Berns: Rutgers 31, Illinois 10

I’ll caveat this by saying I haven’t been close in any of my predictions. Rutgers is better coached, has more playmakers out on the edges, and they play with a mean streak — something Illinois hasn’t been able to muster. Keep an eye on Rutgers’ linebacker Olakunie Fatukasi. He’s a double-digit-a-game tackler and gets in the offensive backfield with ease. He’s a problem. Rutgers will be a problem. Unlike the cookie cutter NFL, fortune favors the bold and creative in the college game. Still figuring it all out, Rutgers is bold and creative, and they win by 3 touchdowns.

Billy Lawton: Rutgers 24, Illinois 10

Coming off last week’s meager showing against Minnesota’s 112th ranked defense, I’m going more conservative with my hopes for Illinois’ offense this week. Rutgers’ 65th ranked team defense gives up significantly fewer yards per play (5.79 vs. Minnesota’s 8.25), so big plays will likely be harder to come by than they were against a porous Minnesota defense from a week ago. Rutgers ranks a solid 27th in the nation against the run, allowing just over 3 yards per carry and around 120 per game, so the Illini will face a stiffer front this week. Rutgers’ 176 pass yards per game (104th) and 122.7 rush yards per game (97th) means they’re unlikely to jump out to any big leads and will lean on that defense to keep them in the ballgame. Given the inconsistencies of the Illini passing attack and their run focused offense, this match up should work out in Rutgers’ favor. Rutgers wins handily with a score that looks closer than the game would indicate.

Drew Pastorek: Rutgers 27, Illinois 16

With all due respect to my colleagues, this is the only data you need: RUTGERS IS FAVORED IN A BIG TEN GAME FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 2014. If that isn’t illustrative of the Fighting Illini football program I don’t know what is. We’ve reached the “Rutgers has higher expectations than Illinois” stage. I hate it, you hate it, but we can’t deny it anymore. If the Illini can’t win this game on Saturday, I seriously doubt there is another victory on the schedule (though beating Nebraska would be LOL-worthy). The Illini barely put up a fight against the worst defenses in the B1G. While Minnesota is slightly more polished at this point, Rutgers has made huge strides in a very short amount of time. Illinois will have some reinforcements returning, but this team simply beats itself too much for me to reasonably have any faith moving forward.

Jeff Horwitz: Rutgers 35, Illinois 14

Is this Rutgers team good? No, not really! But they don’t give up. They’ll fight you for every last yard, and if you fumble a catch n’ run or an onside kick, you’ll have to pry the football from their cold, dead hands. This team looks like a Lovie-coached team should look like. Stout run defense. Smart special teams. Players that cause missed tackles. If you don’t swarm to the ball on defense, they’ll make you miss. If you leave the weak side of the field open on punt coverage, they’ll lateral you to death, make you miss ‘em, and take it to the dang house.

Rutgers is dead last in the Big Ten in yards on offense, and second to last (next to Illinois) in points per game on defense. But they’re special teams unit is very good, they’re forcing turnovers, and they’re scoring 29 points a game. This is still Illinutgers, but this time, Rutgers is the team that’s average, and Illinois is the one at the bottom of the garbage pile.

Alex Orr: Illinois 31, Rutgers 30

I could give many reasons why the Scarlet Knights will win, as my colleagues already have. One reason against it is that it was right around this time when everything clicked for Illinois last season (for followers of MLS, I’m hoping that we are the college football version of Almeyda’s Quakes). We’re also getting many players back from the contact tracing list, including Isaiah Williams, which should give us a bit of a boost.

Really, the sole purpose for me picking the Fighting Illini is so if an upset does happen, I can look like TCR’s resident genius. The downside is that I’ll probably look like the village idiot, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.