SOC - Rutgers
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.
- 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.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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