Rutgers vs. Illinois: Stock Up, Stock Down
CHAMPAIGN, Ill -- It was a big day for the Rutgers football team, as the Scarlet Knights (2-4, 1-2) won their first Big Ten game since 2016, defeating Illinois by a score of 35-24.
These players/coaches performed well and improved their stock.
The big guys at front really only get noticed when they don't do a good job, but deserve recognition for the way they played against the Illini. They paved the way for 280 rushing yards -- the most the Knights have ever had in a Big Ten game -- and dominated the line of scrimmage. Redshirt-freshman Michael Maietti showed improvement and had the key block to spring Gus Edwards free on a first-half touchdown run. The line also did a very good job of keeping quarterback Gio Rescigno protected on passing plays in his first start of the season, which goes a long way for his confidence.
With the help of the offensive line, the running backs, who make up arguably the deepest position group on the team, were able to run for 239 yards on 6.3 yards per carry. Four different backs -- Raheem Blackshear, Josh Hicks, Gus Edwards and Robert Martin -- ran for touchdowns and helped control the tempo of the game and set up passing plays. Despite being a small and shifty back, Blackshear leveled a defender at the goal line at the end of his 19-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Raheem Blackshear sent an Illinois defender into orbit at the end of his touchdown run. Wow. pic.twitter.com/uVwCKUXGoe
— Griffin Whitmer (@GriffinWhitmer) October 14, 2017
The junior quarterback got his first start of the season and did not disappoint. He did not need to throw the ball that much and ran very hard when he took off. He was able to move the offense as well as it has all season and was able to do it for more than just the first drive. He got banged up late with a knee injury and had to come out of the game, but showed incredible toughness and grit throughout the contest.
These players/coaches did not perform well and need to show improvement.
This is a little nitpickey, but the guys up front on defense struggled to get pressure early on. While they generated 2 sacks, they weren't able to get early pressure. On Illinois' first touchdown drive of the game, the Illini were able to run the ball effectively to get into the red zone and ultimately punch it in with a rushing touchdown. Despite that, the group does deserve credit for not wearing down late in the game.
Twice in the game, Illinois nearly broke kickoff returns for touchdowns. One one, freshman Mo Jabbie made a shoestring tackle that saved a touchdown. On another, the Illini returner dropped the ball at the goal line, picked it up and made it out to the 30-yard line. If it weren't for a tackle made by former walk-on Larry Stevens, it would've gone much further. True freshman Justin Davidovicz has been stellar kicking the ball, but his coverage has not been good enough.
While the expectations were not high for a group that was missing 3 of 4 starters, the corners and safeties were very vulnerable on Saturday. Isaiah Wharton and Damon Hayes once again struggled to make plays on jump balls. Safety KJ Gray got burned on a long pass in the fourth quarter and Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr. threw for 308 yards and 2 touchdowns. The defensive backs will get better with the return of starting safety Kiy Hester expected soon, but the play still needs to improve.