Illinois is a football program in search of an identity, and have seemingly done everything this season to try to form one. Lovie Smith has played and started a handful of freshman at multiple positions, and made a change at quarterback before last weekend’s game at Iowa. With all those changes, the Illini have improved every week, but the results are still not what they want.
This coming weekend, Illinois plays Rutgers at home. Rutgers comes into the game with a record of 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten. It is a very winnable game for the Fighting Illini, and if they win it will be a big confidence booster now and in the future. Winning this game would mean a 3-3 overall record for the Fighting Illini, including a 1-2 record in the Big Ten. The three wins would match their win total for last year, as they went 3-9 overall and 2-7 in conference play.
Here are two players I think have to play well for the Fighting Illini to win this weekend.
Quarterback Jeff George Jr.
The defense for Illinois has been solid to start most games this season, but as the game wears on they get tired. Part of that has to do with the offense not consistently being able to sustain drives and give the defense rest. If George Jr. can be a game manager and not turn the ball over Illinois will be successful on both sides of the ball.
Defensive End Bobby Roundtree
Freshman defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree had a fast start to the season, and has since slowed down a little bit. In large part I think that has to do with the competition he is playing, as every week the Big Ten is grueling, especially for a freshman. Illinois needs someone who can pressure the quarterback which forces indecision and turnovers. Roundtree can be that guy that the Illini defense looks to for emotion, passion, and energy during the game.
If the defensive line can get to opposing quarterbacks quicker, then the secondary does not have to chase the receivers around for an extended period of time and lose their man. Also, it puts less pressure on the linebackers, as they do not have to constantly spy on the quarterback in case he decides to scramble outside the pocket.
What to Expect vs. Rutgers
Illinois and Rutgers both need a Big Ten win desperately. I believe that both teams are evenly matched, and the game will come down to the fourth quarter. With Illinois hungry to get to 3-3 on the season and the game at home, I think that they will come out victorious against Rutgers. Illinois will beat Rutgers 24-17 led by Jeff George Jr. and his leadership on the offensive side of the ball.