Improved Rutgers ready and favored against Illinois
Rutgers joined the Big Ten Conference in the 2014 season and this season the Scarlet Knights have finally managed to score at least 20 points in three straight conference games.
The Scarlet Knights may have only one win to show for the improved offense, but it is a sign of their improvement under coach Greg Schiano as they head into Saturday’s game against Illinois in Piscataway, N.J. Yet, Schiano isn’t ready to accept congratulations quite yet.
“Other people’s records and everything going on in the league, it means absolutely nothing to the result on Saturday,” Schiano said. “It can’t. Everything has to be focused on our preparation to go out and play the best we can play against Illinois.”
Rutgers (1-2, 1-2 Big Ten) began Schiano’s second stint with the team — the first was from 2001-11 — with an eye-opening, 38-27 win at Michigan State on Oct. 24. The Knights followed that with a 37-21 loss to Indiana in their home opener, and then last week’s 49-27 loss at Ohio State, when they trailed 35-3 at halftime.
“We feel some confidence just from the fight,” Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral said. “I’m proud of my guys for not laying down. They showed a lot of grit and ability to chop even in tough circumstances.”
Vedral was 22 of 33 for 168 yards at Ohio State and has a 63.5 completion percentage for the season, with three touchdown passes.
Illinois (0-3, 0-3) will be without quarterback Brandon Peters for a third straight game as he recovers from COVID-19. Sophomore Coran Taylor started in Saturday’s 41-14 loss to Minnesota, and threw (106 yards) and ran (42) for a combined 148 yards as Illinois was outgained 541-287.
“They dominated us on both sides of the football,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. “We had a couple of takeaways, and that was good, but not much else happened.”
On Saturday, Smith will have a second quarterback at his disposal: Isaiah Williams is expected to be available after finishing his 14-day quarantine. He was among 12 players unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols.
“He’s getting all the coaching in the film room that Coran, and everybody else was getting while he was away,” Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith said of Williams. “What Isaiah missed is the physical reps.”
Whoever gets time at quarterback, the Fighting Illini hope to see improvement for an offense with the fewest average passing yards (162.7 per game) in the Big Ten. The offense is 13th in the conference in total yards at 325.7 a game.
“We’re underdogs again, and I see why,” Smith said, alluding to Rutgers being established as a favorite for the first time since 2014 (against Indiana). “As much as anything, we are playing Rutgers, but it’s also about us not playing our best ball.”
–Field Level Media