The Daily Illini sports staff makes predictions ahead of Illinois football’s game against Rutgers

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Ryan Ash

Wide receiver Isaiah Williams breaks through a line of Wisconsin player during the homecoming game Oct. 9. The Illini sports staff predicts the outcome of today’s game against Rutgers.

By The Daily Illini Sports Staff

Jackson Janes: Illinois 17, Rutgers 14

Fresh off a massive upset over Penn State in Happy Valley, Illinois returns to Memorial Stadium with lots of momentum and confidence, while Rutgers heads to Champaign on a four-game losing streak, capped off by a 21-7 loss to Northwestern in its most recent game. But, the other three of the Scarlet Knights’ losses came against top-10 teams in Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.

Scarlet Knights dual-threat quarterback Noah Vedral will be a handful for the Illini, who have had trouble dealing with dual-threat QBs all season — see Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez, UTSA’s Frank Harris and Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa.

I honestly don’t think Artur Sitkowski’s absence will be too big of a factor — as long as the running game can get going again. Chase Brown and Josh McCray have both been outstanding this season, and they’ll be the difference makers and give Illinois the edge on Saturday.

Wes Hollenberg: Illinois 20, Rutgers 14

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    I’ll take Illinois winning, 20-14. The Illini are coming off a huge win over Penn State and will likely come into the home matchup with momentum. They did, however, lose quarterback Artur Sitkowski to a broken arm last week and will have to go ahead with Brandon Peters the rest of the way. 

    It shouldn’t hurt the Illini too much, as they have functioned as a run-heavy offense all season. On that front, head coach Bret Bielema said leading back Chase Brown should be good to go for the matchup after also suffering an injury against Penn State. Rutgers hasn’t scored more than 13 points per game since its Sept. 18 win over Delaware, so this matchup could prove fruitful for the Illini defense.

    Josh Pietsch: Illinois 23, Rutgers 17

    Feeling dangerous today. But after what we saw last week out of the Illini and out of Rutgers in its last game, I think Illinois takes this one. The Illini are coming off an upset win at Penn State, while Rutgers lost at a not-so-good Northwestern team and really struggled to score.

    Illinois will have to run the ball down Rutgers’ throat if it wants to win this thing, but there’s no reason the Illini won’t do so. That was the game plan against Penn State in the later parts of the game, and it worked. Plus, with Peters at quarterback, it’s without question that the rush game is the strongest part of the offense. 

    Rutgers also doesn’t do anything particularly great on offense. They average 205 pass yards a game and about 130 rush yards, both of which are good but not outstanding. Considering how well we’ve seen Illinois’ defense play as of late, I expect them to frustrate the Scarlet Knight offense and not allow more than a couple touchdowns.

    Carson Gourdie: Illinois 20, Rutgers 13

    Welcome back, Mr. Peters. Here is your chance to recreate your image at Illinois and trailblaze the program for consistent bowl contention.

    Brandon Peters’ job isn’t to throw for 300 yards. His job is to extend drives and not commit turnovers that put Rutgers in great field position. Hopefully, offensive coordinator Tony Petersen will put the super senior in good positions — such as play action roll-out passes. Peters will then be able to use his legs, which will keep defenses off guard. 

    Even if the Illini don’t score, it’s fine. Field position will be key in this game between two smashmouth programs, and the special teams category clearly favors the Illini. If Blake Hayes can consistently pin Rutgers back deep, I have a hard time imagining Rutgers sustaining 90-plus yard drives.  

    Rutgers plays fundamental ball, but the Scarlet Knights have lost four in a row, including an ugly 21-7 loss to Northwestern last week. The way the Illini defense is playing, as long as they continue to crank up the pressure on the quarterback, Illinois will be able to pull away and beat the Scarlet Knights once again. 

    Claire O’Brien: Illinois 24, Rutgers 21

    Illinois enters the game coming off a nine-overtime, 20-18 win over then-No.7 Penn State. Rutgers lost to Northwestern on Oct. 16 and had a bye week last week.

    Rutgers scores more points per game and gives up fewer points than the Illini. Illinois’ primary quarterback, Art Sitkowski, who used to play at Rutgers, broke his arm in the Penn State game and will miss the rest of the season.

    Rutgers is slightly favored to win the matchup, but Illinois will likely benefit from the momentum gained in last week’s win. A field goal is likely to make a world of a difference in the outcome, and the home team might be the one to be victorious.