Across Enemy Lines: Q & A with Rutgers’ The Daily Targum

By The Daily Illini sports staff

Editor’s Note: Every week The Daily Illini football staff will chat with a sports reporter from the opposing team. This week, our staff talked with Eric Mullin who is the associate sports editor for Rutgers’ The Daily Targum.

The Daily Illini:

How far away is Rutgers from being a legitimate force in the Big Ten?

Eric Mullin: There was a lot of positive vibes surrounding the program from the second Chris Ash took the reigns of the program right through Rutgers’ tight 14-7 loss to a slightly-above-average Iowa team in the conference opener. While no one expected Rutgers to upset Ohio State nor Michigan, I don’t think anyone expected it to get that out-of-hand in both games. But when it did, the Knights really had nothing to show for on either side of the ball. More than anything, the last two games were a reality check to how wide the talent gap is between the upper-echelon teams in the Big Ten and Rutgers.

DI: What is the main improvement heading into the Illinois game?

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EM: The offense, the offense and the offense.

Yes, Rutgers’ defense has given up 136 points across 1,269 yards of total offense over the past two games, but its offense hasn’t given it any help. In the past eight quarters the Knights have compiled 155 yards and 11 first downs. They’ve also punted 31 times, which is one more punt than Illinois has all season. Life without Janarion Grant, who went down with a season-ending injury against Iowa, has been tough for the Knights to adjust to.

DI: Is there a player or position group on the team that has provided a silver lining thus far this season?

EM: I’m not sure if there’s a single position group that has provided a silver lining, but a couple players on each side of the ball jump out.

Despite little production in the last two games, Robert Martin is still averaging 5.2 yards per carry across 81 rushes. Jawuan Harris, a multi-sport athlete who was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team this past baseball season, started football season as a depth player at the wide receiver position, but has risen to the Knights’ go-to player on the outside in Grant’s absence.

On defense, Julian Pinnix-Odrick is putting together a career season as a fifth-year senior with 23 tackles, four sacks and five tackles for loss from the defensive end position. At cornerback, Isaiah Wharton has quietly had a really solid season.

DI: What player/position from Illinois do you think will cause the most problems for Rutgers?

EM: Chayce Crouch. The dual-threat quarterback could cause a lot of problems for Rutgers’ defense if he gets the starting nod on Saturday. Crouch is lethal in the running game and has been efficient through the air as well. The Knights have had their struggles against dual-threat quarterbacks this season, which is why Crouch will likely be the game’s x-factor.

DI: Do you think Rutgers is better than Illinois?

EM: Yes, but that doesn’t mean much going into Saturday.

Saturday is the battle of the Big Ten’s basement. Yes, Rutgers is probably better than Illinois, but that doesn’t mean the Fighting Illini can’t leave Piscataway with a win. What we do know for sure is that both of these teams aren’t very good, which is why Saturday is essentially a toss-up.

DI: Do you think Rutgers is better than how they performed during the last few weeks?

EM: I don’t think the last couple weeks are the right barometer to gauge just how good/bad this Rutgers team is. The Knights’ final six conference games is when we’ll find out which tier of the Big Ten Rutgers falls in. Starting with the Illini, Rutgers closes out the season with Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland. No more powerhouses, nor top-25 opponents. Simply teams that Rutgers should, at the least, remain competitive with.

DI: Who would you rather see on the field, Chayce Crouch or Wes Lunt?

EM: I don’t have an inkling of who Rutgers would prefer to see behind center for Illinois, but I can imagine it would be Lunt. He’s the more conventional quarterback and can’t hurt you much at all with his feet. And with Lunt behind center it makes the Illini’s rushing attack less complex than it is with Crouch running the offense.

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