SOC - Rutgers

Oct 05, 2018

Just so you know, I already know that I'm predicting a loss. If that's not something you want to read, I'd advise that you not click on this post and go watch YouTube videos of the 2001 season or something. If you do want to read why, well, here's my thinking.

I go with my gut on these. It's an informed gut, but it's just a gut. And I've spent decades removing my feelings from my gut. Many times, when I predict a loss in a game we're supposed to win, people will say it's an emotional hedge. That's not what this is. I've removed all emotion from this. I write these as a "stream of consciousness" because I want to best represent what's on my mind all week. Sometimes that's predicting a loss to Louisiana Tech in 2012. Sometimes that's predicting we'd beat 12-0 Wisconsin last year (no, really - I did that). I look at the matchup and I go with my gut.

(And can I just say WE SHOULD HAVE BEATEN WISCONSIN LAST YEAR. Yes, inches from the playoff, unbeaten Wisconsin. Total yards in that game: 303-286. In the first half we have 1st and goal and have to settle for a field goal. In the second half, we're down 17-3, we drive into Wisconsin territory, and fumble. Then we force a punt, drive into Wisconsin territory, and miss a field goal. Then we force a punt, drive into Wisconsin territory, and throw an interception. That 24-10 loss could have so easily been a 27-24 Illini win.)

What does my gut say tonight? This is a loss. Yes, to Rutgers. Why? Well, let me make a list.

  1. I believe Rutgers' defense is better than Purdue's. I think we'll move the ball better next week against the Boilermakers than we will this week in Piscataway. And the NERDstats back me up here. Rutgers defense: S&P+ #75. Purdue's defense? S&P+ #82.
  2. "But Robert, Rutgers lost to Kansas. Were blown out by Kansas." Yes they did and yes they were, but that was a -6 turnover margin game. Rutgers had SIX turnovers and Kansas had zero. As we've kinda sorta discussed this week, you can't really count on turnovers. You can increase your chances that you can grab some, but you can't really control when they come in waves. Against Kansas, for Rutgers, they came in waves.
  3. Rutgers is really susceptible to the pass. Can we pass on them? I'm not sure we can pass on them. Buffalo (yes, Buffalo) threw all of those long passes to beat Rutgers. Can we throw long passes to beat Rutgers? We haven't seen that kind of passing game yet.
  4. It's the first Illini road game. We last won our first road game in 2011 (at Indiana - the game where IU returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown). Every year we reach our first road game and look like we've never seen a football before. Remember Arizona State 2012? Remember Washington 2014? North Carolina 2015? South Florida last year? Our first road game is almost always a horrific loss.
  5. Let's be honest, this is a bad Rutgers team that is going to go 2-10. They finish the season at Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, at Michigan State. And any time I see a team like that, I always look for their one Big Ten win. Everyone gets up for one game when they know there's a chance (well, we don't, but everyone else does). This is that one game for them. We have three or four more chances to get that Big Ten win. This is probably it for them.
  6. We're +5 in turnover margin so far, but I don't think that holds for long. Young teams always turn the ball over a lot. It's science. So a Turnover Game is coming soon. It just is.
  7. Rutgers has a terrible offense but they have one tailback who can do some damage. And that guy (Raheem Blackshear) did some damage in Champaign last year (6 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown) as Rutgers ran for 275 yards on Illinois. It's a different offense this year, but I still fear that Blackshear will run wild. Going back to the NERDstats, the Illini defense rushing efficiency so far? 125th out of 129 teams.

So I just don't see how an Illini team which was only able to stop the Western Illinois rushing attack is going to stop a Big Ten team. Even 2-10, lost-to-Buffalo-and-Kansas Rutgers. Until we see it happen, we have to assume every Big Ten opponent rushes for at least 250 yards, right?

Sure, all of the things I'm saying about Illinois could be true of Rutgers. I'm sure their fans are saying they have no shot to win another game. Their fans expect another six turnover performance. Last week was their "good" game (they lost to Indiana by 7), and the next two weeks will be turnover fests.

But my gut just doesn't see it that way. We're on the road, with a young team, and pretty much the only thing our opponent can do well (stop the run - they're 41st in defensive rushing efficiency; we're 125th) is the only thing we can do well. So if they win that battle, what's left? We pass on them? I don't think we can. Not with these receivers playing like this. We shut them down defensively? Man, I'd love to see it, but so far, statistically, this is looking like the worst Illini rushing defense in a long time. I do think they'll be able to move the ball on the ground. Which means their freshman quarterback isn't throwing interceptions.

So try as I might, I can't see a win. I think it's close, but I don't think we pull it out. I'm off to bed to pray that I'm wrong.

Rutgers 27, Illinois 24


cuinsocal on October 05 @ 11:08 PM CDT

Robert, I've never known you as a glass half empty sort of guy. Come on, Rutgers has a horrible run defense. We'll control the lock while we run for 350. Add in our special teams advantage and I see an Illini victory.

tubbs81 on October 06 @ 12:21 AM CDT

Rutgers was destroyed by Buffalo even when Rutgers won the turnover battle 2-0. This is not a good Rutgers team and I think our weakness in the run defense is gonna benefit greatly from not facing a mobile QB this week. We can focus on Blackshear and not have to react to a read option.

illiniranger on October 06 @ 06:48 AM CDT

Good point about their Qb not being a runner. That should really simplify things for us

uilaw71 on October 06 @ 06:06 AM CDT

Mystified by your angst, Robert. Did you not see the Tech score? We lost to 2 really good teams - playing a true freshman at QB. And we’re coming off a bye week, healthy and fully stocked.

Thinking your SOC needs a TO!

PacNW Illini on October 06 @ 06:46 PM CDT


ktal on October 06 @ 08:44 AM CDT

Robert, the weaknesses you speak of in the Illini will be true in every other game this year, too. It makes no sense (to me) that you'd say we lose to Rutgers because of them, but that, "We have three or four more chances to get that Big Ten win." No, if we're not good enough to beat the Knights, we won't have another chance for a win. I hope your gut is uncharacteristically wrong, this week.

deadguy on October 06 @ 09:07 AM CDT

I can see Illinois losing this game but feel better about the fact that Sitkowski is starting (hopefully) rather than Rescigno.

The fact that they have moved to a Pro-style offense is also better for us since we have little to no chance of stopping spread offenses with the current scheme and personnel. With the 4-2-5 defense, I feel better about our abilities to stop pro-style offenses.

That being said, I would like to see them switch things up a bit and stack the box to force Sitkowski to beat us. If he has the best game of his career and they beat us, so be it. Don't let Blackshear, Hillman and Pacheco beat us.

Just from reading their forums, they are really down on how their DL and OL have played this year.

Their DL sounds like it's especially thin in terms of depth at the moment. They've moved a Freshman LB to DE ( Nihym Anderson). If Bush is starting, we need RPOs all afternoon. They are also weak in the secondary so it would be nice to get some deep pass plays but I don't think we have a QB who can do that right now. Feed the studs if they aren't stacking the box. They can open things up with jet sweeps and quick hitters.

The DL needs to step up and put pressure on Sitkowski in addition to stopping the run. I don't expect many or any sacks. As poor as the OL play has been for Rutgers, Sitkowski has only been sacked 8 times, but that's mainly because the playbook calls for him to release the ball quickly which he does. That's part of the reason why he has 8 INTs, however.

Win the TO batter by 2+ and we have a shot. The goal of this defense is to win the TO battle by 3+. The defense forced 3 TOs last year so I can see the same thing happening this year. We just need to execute and play to our strengths.

deadguy on October 06 @ 03:03 PM CDT

My comment aged well. Nicely done Illinois. BEAT PURDUE!

ATOillini on October 06 @ 09:28 AM CDT

"I've removed all emotion from this."

There are certain statements in life that I read or hear and say to myself, "That simply can't be true." I think I've just stumbled upon one of them.

Must admit your list of 7 red flags is pause for concern however. Go Illini.

HiggsBoson on October 06 @ 09:57 AM CDT

This one of those pivotal games for the program. Win, and lend some credence to the idea that we're actually getting better and following the plan. Lose, and it calls Lovie and the plan into question, and opens the possibility of another recruiting killer 2-10 season without a B1G win. Which terrible Rutgers will already have.

Sounds to me like Robert no longer believes in Lovie or the plan if he thinks this awful Rutgers team is too tough to beat.

track on October 06 @ 02:37 PM CDT

Well, even the odds-makers under estimated us on this one

OrangeBlazer on October 06 @ 02:39 PM CDT

This defense is still young, and it still has a lot of problems. But, Robert, I think one blind spot you have with Lovie is the fact that there isn't as much luck with turnovers as you're conditioned to think. If there is anything Lovie teams have done consistently it's exceptional special teams, and cause turnovers. You're never going to remove all the luck from turnovers, and no, maybe you can't ever truly count on them, but, it's not a coincidence, or luck, or the turnover fairly, that we're getting better and better at producing turnovers under Lovie than we have been for some time.

Lou-a-villini on October 06 @ 04:50 PM CDT

As long as your gut is wrong, it might as well be absolutely and completely wrong.

Illinimac68 on October 06 @ 07:54 PM CDT

The road at Rutgers is different from the road at Wisconsin or Nebraska. We saw young team mistakes but nothing they wouldn't have done at home IMO. This is progress. The next step is beating two of Purdue, Minnesota and Nebraska.

ktal on October 06 @ 11:23 PM CDT

How big was Quan's pick?!!!!!!! What a way to start on D. Couldn't be happier for him and the team.

Regarding turnovers, I think fumbles and tipped passes go 50/50 over large numbers of times, but not interceptions. Interceptions are teachable.

Robert, if you're correct that Rutgers' D is better than Purdue's, we're going to have a shoot-out next week. With a real chance to win.

Add a locker room feeling they have more to prove, and with the talent to do it...Man, how fun is this week going to be for Illini football fans?! W00T!!!

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