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Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

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When: October 15, 2016; Noon ET
Where: Piscataway, NJ; High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454)
TV: ESPN News
All-Time Series: 1-1 tie
Last Meeting: Rutgers Win, 33-0 (2006)
Line: Illinois (-6)

And here we go. Somebody has to win this thing right? Both Illinois and Rutgers are looking for their first Big Ten win of the season, and both are trying to set a new culture in motion by seeing some tangible improvement so that the buy-in of the current players start to take shape.

Both have been bitten somewhat by the injury bug, and both don’t yet have the depth to compensate. Maybe both will be glad to play a game against a team that it has a chance to beat. Or so the thought goes.

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1 Burning Question: Which team will get its first conference win of 2016?

This game won’t make any top ten lists for DVR space on Saturday, but it’s a key matchup for both teams nonetheless. Illinois has been terribly inconsistent, taking Nebraska almost to the wire, but getting blown out against North Carolina and Western Michigan.

For Lovie Smith, this would be a good week to get things back on track because Rutgers may be in the midst of its biggest spiral in years. Queue understatement language.

New Rutgers head coach Chris Ash is trying to get any kind of positive results on the football field, but his offense has failed to score a point in two straight weeks. The team is in danger of falling deeper into the abyss unless it can see something positive on the field. A win would do wonders.

Both teams are winless in the Big Ten, but somebody will be ringing the victory bell on Saturday.

2 Key Stats:

— 9.2. That’s number of penalties per game the Illini are averaging per game. When you don’t have much room for error, the little things can make a huge, huge difference. Unfortunately for Illinois, it is committing way too many turnovers, making things that much harder. Lovie Smith is trying to set a tone of accountability, and the first order of business might be cutting down on the mental mistakes.

— 284.0. That’s the average yards per game the Rutgers offense is putting up. And … that is dead last in all of the FBS. Yikes. Of course it didn’t help that the Scarlet Knights had to go against two of the top defenses in the country the last two weeks by way of Ohio State and Michigan. But you have to be able to put something on the scoreboard. The team has really missed its heart and soul on offense, wide-receiver Janarion Grant who was lost to a leg injury for the season, but it has to find someway to string together some plays.

3 Key Players:

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Wes Lunt, Illinois QB: Will he or won’t he? That’s the question on everyone’s mind. Lunt was knocked out of the game against Purdue on Saturday, and Illinois is being very coy about what exactly ails him, and if he’s going to be able to go against Rutgers. When on, Lunt has a big arm that can stretch defenses and open up things on the ground. If he can’t go, Illinois will rely on backup Chayce Crouch who was able to do some good things in relief last week.

Jawaun Harris, Rutgers WR: The loss of Janarion Grant has left a big, big void on offense. Harris is the best option to bridge the gap, but he’s been far too inconsistent in the last couple of games. Hopefully getting away from the likes of the Buckeye and Wolverine secondaries will provide some much-needed space to make some explosive plays. Boy do the Scarlet Knights need it.

Kendrick Foster, Illinois RB: Foster is the main squeeze in the Illini backfield and he’s most certainly licking his chops at the prospect of going against the nation’s No. 123 ranked rushing defense. The Scarlet Knights are yielding just under 270 rushing yards per game, and you can bet Foster will get plenty of touches on Saturday.

4 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Illinois 31-17
Dave: Rutgers 24-21
Phil H.: Illinois 31-20
Philip R-R.: Illinois 42-13
Zach: Coming

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