The Illini want to match final season’s 38-10 thumping of the Scarlet Knights when visiting New Jersey on Saturday for a midday kickoff. Beat author Colin Likas breaks down the matchups and offers all the data it is advisable know.
THREE BIG STORYLINES
Sustaining the peace
No greater theme emerged from Lovie Smith’s Monday press convention, two days after a 41-14 residence loss to Minnesota dropped his Illinois soccer crew to 0-3, than the fifth-year coach making an attempt to foster a relaxed environment.
Sure, the Illini have simply 5 regular-season video games remaining on their docket, together with solely two in Champaign. However Smith insisted hope shouldn’t be misplaced in Illinois’ locker room.
“Do I seem like the man that’s going to panic? We’re not panicking,” Smith mentioned. “We’re dissatisfied in three video games we’ve performed, and we have to play higher this fourth recreation of the soccer season. There’s plenty of soccer left to go.”
To that time, Smith refused to burn recreation tape from the lopsided defeat versus the Gophers. He mentioned the crew “watched this recreation intimately — each snap, quite a few occasions.”
Now the Illini are shifting their focus to the Scarlet Knights, who’ve dropped their final two video games after a season-opening victory over Michigan State.
“We’re underdogs once more (by 61/2 factors), and I see why,” Smith mentioned, “as a result of as a lot as something we’re taking part in Rutgers, but it surely’s about us taking part in our greatest ball, and we haven’t carried out that. That’s why we’re anxious to observe this week and put a greater product on the soccer discipline this weekend.”
Take it on the run
Illinois’ operating and passing assaults have churned out almost an identical internet yardage positive aspects — 489 on the bottom, 488 by way of the air. The issue is that these yards have led to only a mixed 5 touchdowns.
That features two of the speeding selection, each produced by Mike Epstein. One other situation: these had been placed on the board when the Illini trailed Purdue by 14 factors and Minnesota by 21 within the second and third weeks, respectively.
Occasions the place throwing the ball turns into a bit extra distinguished.
“We consider that if we will run the soccer then we’ve an opportunity to win,” Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith mentioned. “You’ve obtained 4 of 5 offensive linemen which might be returning starters, that’ve been three-year starters, four-year starters. To me, why wouldn’t you (run)? That needs to be your power. It’s best to be capable of do these varieties of issues.”
Rod Smith is happy with the one-two punch of Epstein and Chase Brown within the backfield, though Brown’s 4 carries versus the Gophers prompted Rod Smith to notice that “we undoubtedly have to get Chase the ball extra. We have to do this, as a result of he’s a man that to me has residence run-type capacity.”
And with middle Doug Kramer anticipated to return to the beginning lineup after being out because of COVID-19 contract tracing, feeding the Epstein-Brown mixture as early as doable could possibly be crucial in opposition to Rutgers.
“It’s our accountability to get began out quick,” Rod Smith mentioned. “We’ve obtained to get out of the gate lots sooner than what we’ve been. We’ve stalled method too many occasions early on.”
Sense of familiarity
Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano is in his second go-round overseeing the New Jersey-based program. Schiano made a pair stops between his first stint from 2001-11 and this one, together with a 2012-13 run guiding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers within the NFL.
The person who changed Schiano in that position after he was let go by the Bucs? Lovie Smith, who coached the Buccaneers in 2014 and 2015.
“Greg has a historical past as a very good soccer coach. You simply take a look at his first time round at Rutgers,” mentioned Lovie Smith, referencing Schiano directing the Scarlet Knights to a No. 7 Related Press ballot rating and this system’s first bowl recreation victory in 2006. “He introduced that program to the brink of among the best within the Large Ten or simply in school soccer.”
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Illinois secondary vs. Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral
It’s no secret the Illini protection struggled mightily in opposition to the primary three opposing quarterbacks it confronted in 2020. Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz, Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell and Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan have mixed to finish 66 of 83 passes for 835 yards to go together with eight touchdowns and one interception.
Vedral, a redshirt junior switch from Nebraska, has accomplished greater than 60 p.c of his throws to the tune of 61-for-96 accuracy, although he’s thrown 4 interceptions to simply three touchdowns.
“Have a quarterback … that’s a very good chief, is aware of run the offense,” Lovie Smith mentioned of Vedral. “I wouldn’t say that he’s a operating quarterback, however he’s undoubtedly able to doing that and simply operating their offense. … There’s plenty of completely different flavors offensively that they offer you all through.”
Illinois run recreation vs. Rutgers entrance seven
Again to Rod Smith’s speak about getting Mike Epstein and Chase Brown rolling. The Scarlet Knights gained’t be pushovers on the subject of the Illini making an attempt to put in the run recreation early.
Their beginning linemen and linebackers all are seniors or redshirt juniors: Julius Turner, Michigan switch Michael Dwumfour, CJ Onyechi and Mike Tverdov on the road, in addition to Olakunle Fatukasi and Tyshon Fogg at linebacker. And so they’re not allowing a lot in the way in which of speeding success, permitting a median of three.1 yards per carry and three whole touchdowns in opposition to foes that included No. 3 Ohio State and No. 10 Indiana.
“With Rutgers, they’re a a lot improved crew,” Rod Smith mentioned. “You possibly can inform they’re well-coached. You possibly can inform that their scheme’s completely different than what it’s been prior to now. They’re a way more aggressive scheme.”
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
The variety of performs that Illinois’ offense has run this season, a complete that ranks second-to-last within the Large Ten amongst groups which have performed three video games (Maryland has run 176 performs). Rutgers, by comparability, has run the convention’s fourth-most performs at 220. A straightforward method for the Illini assault to snap out of its season-long funk: keep on the sector longer.
ILLINOIS WILL WIN IF …
That run recreation does get going early and takes some strain off whoever begins at quarterback, possible both Isaiah Williams or Coran Taylor. After all, that’s merely one facet of the coin because the Illini protection has each struggled to fill gaps and end tackles when it does. If Illinois can lastly include a quarterback in Noah Vedral, it has a a lot better shot at choosing up win No. 1.
RUTGERS WILL WIN IF …
The Scarlet Knights’ line of defense is allowed to wreak havoc unchecked and Vedral is allowed to get right into a rhythm. Vedral has accomplished 10 or extra passes to 5 completely different receivers, led by Bo Melton (15 for 184 yards and two touchdowns). The Illini’s back-to-even-strength offensive line might want to step up in a giant method in opposition to a equally veteran group trying throughout from them, and Illinois’ secondary might want to put forth a extra persistently robust effort than within the first three weeks.
Rutgers 28, Illinois 14
The Illini offense hasn’t proven the flexibility to get on monitor for a whole recreation this season, whereas the Scarlet Knights’ offense is averaging 28.7 factors per recreation. Rutgers’ offense isn’t fairly as daunting as among the others Illinois has confronted this yr, but it surely’s onerous to favor Lovie Smith’s crew when it’s but to place collectively an entire effort on each side of the ball.