The Illini have lost 3 straight games and are 0-2 in the Big Ten. Rutgers comes with 2 straight losses and also 0-2 in the Big Ten. Rutgers is favored by 2.5 points on the road in Champaign. This is a must win game for the Illini, who are 13-16 in Big Ten games since October 2015. Here is how this game is going to play out.
Location: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Il
Time: 11 AM
TV: BTN, FoxSportsGo
Keys to the Game for Illinois
Jeff George Jr. has 1 TD and 5 interceptions this year in 6 quarters of play. Last week, he threw a costly interception in the red zone that took all the spirit out of the Illinois team, who went scoreless for the rest of the game. Jeff George has questionable decision making skills, especially in the red zone, where the Illini were scoreless last week. He can make plays in the pocket and create plays out of the pocket in Lovie’s pro-style offense, until he gets into the red zone. Luckily, Rutgers defense isn’t that great. If the O-line gives JGJ enough time to make his reads, Illini could get the win they very well need. If JGJ can’t get it done, we may see Freshman, Cam Thomas in the game.
Jeff George, however, can control the Illinois offense. Yes, the red zone production was not favorable for the Illini last week, but the offense racked up 446 yards, a season high. In 2 quarters against USF, JGJ had 211 yards passing yards. Jeff George has found other receivers in Ricky Smalling and Louis Dorsey, even with Mikey Dudek and Malik Turner being non existent when George was quarterback. There is a chance this Illinois offense can explode this week in Champaign against a lackluster Rutgers D.
The young Illinois defense will probably struggle again. Illinois starts 5 true freshman on the team. Even with the Rutgers offense struggling and turnover prone (8 INTs and 11 fumbles lost), Illinois will be sure to make rookie mistakes. Illinois mistakes aside, Rutgers is having its own quarterback controversy. Starting QB Kyle Bolin has 700 yards on the season with 3 TDs and 6 interceptions. Fans are already calling for Freshman QB Johnathan Lewis to start this week against Illinois.
Last week, the Illinois defense held strong for 3 and a half quarters against a tough Iowa team. Rutgers is much weaker than Iowa and certainly does not have a quarterback like Nate Stanley or a running back like Akrum Wadley. If Illinois can keep the running game in check, they can win the game. However, the x-factor is WR Janarion Grant. Grant has missed the last 2 games for Rutgers and is the number 1 threat on offense. If Grant is cleared to play, it could spell trouble for Illinois secondary.
This is another Big Ten toilet bowl. Illinois is a 2.5 point under dog at home. There are so many variables that this could go either way. Illinois needs a moral victory at home and a B1G win. The watchability for this game is low and I don’t expect much. Illinois win in a punt-fest, 23-17.