Student News Chronicles: Rutgers vs. Illinois
Looking ahead to the Rutgers football team's game against Illinois, the Daily Targum reached out to the Daily Illini, the student newspaper of Illinois. Daily Illini sports editor Cole Henke was kind enough to answer some questions ahead of the matchup.
Q: Jeff George came in and gave the offense a spark against Iowa, but did turn the ball over 4 times, while previous starter Chayce Crouch played tight end. How would you describe the Illinois quarterback situation?
A: The only word I can think of to describe the Illinois quarterback situation is fluid. Chayce Crouch’s time as quarterback for the Illini this season is over. He just doesn’t quite have the arm to run this offense the way it needs to be run. Right now, Jeff George Jr. is the guy, but Lovie Smith has been committed to playing his freshman (I’ll touch on that in the next question) so I think George Jr’s time is limited. I give it two weeks after the game against Rutgers before Freshman Cam Thomas takes over.
Q: Head coach Lovie Smith seems to be committed to a "youth movement" of sorts. What exactly does that mean and what are advantages and disadvantages of playing so many freshman?
A: The Illini are an incredibly young team. They have 9 seniors on the roster, compared to over 50 underclassmen. From the first day Smith arrived on campus, the motto has been “We will win.” In order for them to do that, you have to plan for the future, and that is what he is doing. By playing his younger players, he is getting them experience and how they improve at a high rate. This Illini team was not going to win games whether the freshman sat or played, so there really is no disadvantage to playing them.
Q: Who is the best player on Illinois and why?
A: That is a very tough question. On defense, I give it to linebacker Tre Watson. The guy is the unquestioned leader on that side of the ball for the Illini, and he backs it up with his play. On offense, I will say it is a tie between two of our wide receivers. Mike Dudek and Malik Turner are the two most talented and skilled players we have on this roster. Dudek dominated as a freshman, but he tore his ACL twice and missed two seasons because of it. But now, he is back, and he doesn’t look like he lost a step. Turner has been more of a late bloomer, but I really believe he is one of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten, and I think he has a future in the NFL. Unfortunately, the Illini offense hasn’t been able to utilize them to their full potential. Rutgers’ fans should definitely keep an eye on these three.
Q: What is the perception of Rutgers in Illinois and what are the fans and media expecting when the Scarlet Knights come to town?
A: I have a feeling the perception of Rutgers here in Illinois is the same one that Rutgers has of Illinois. This is the last time Illinois is going to be favored in a game the rest of the season. This is the last realistic shot at a win that the Illini have, and the fans know that.
Q: What is an area of strength for Illinois? An area of weakness? Why?
A: Watch out for our running backs. It’s not known whether freshman running back Mike Epstein will play this weekend, but even if he doesn’t Reggie Corbin is ready to pick up the slack. The two have very comparable running styles, and Corbin has shown in the past that he has big-play potential every time he touches the ball. If Epstein doesn’t play, then that opens up some carries that Senior Kendrick Foster might pick up. This guy was the team MVP last year, but has been all but forgotten because of the coaches favoring the freshmen. If they give him the ball, I expect him to be hungry, and for him and Corbin to do a lot of damage.
Q: What is your prediction for the game and the final score?
A: 19-14 Illini
I am expecting a ton of field goals from the Illini, but I don’t think Rutgers is going to have much luck against the Illini defense.