Rutgers football: What to make of loss to Illinois

Rutgers football got lucky in being paired up with Illinois, a weak team that should have been easily defeated by the Scarlet Knights. In fact, nearly every prediction on the internet had Rutgers winning by a large margin. But, at the end of a tough game for RU, Illinois came out on top 23-20. This is a crushing loss for the Scarlet Knights, who need to win games like this if they want to come anywhere near a .500 record at the end of the season. Rutgers lost this game because of sloppy play and a lack of preparation. If it wants to compete against the stronger teams on its schedule, lots of work needs to be done, and some things may need to be switched around. Let’s look at what went wrong in this game, and how it can be fixed.

Defense needs to learn to adapt

Illinois has been rotating quarterbacks due to players getting the coronavirus and needing to sit out. It was unclear who would start before Saturday, but freshman Isaiah Williams stepped up and ran all over the Scarlet Knights for 192 yards. Rutgers allowed a quarterback to rush the ball that far. This is not something that can happen, and the defense needed to be prepared to face any kind of quarterback play. This should have been fixed during the game, as Rutgers needs to learn how to adapt to whoever it is facing.

Vedral might need to be replaced

Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral could lose his starting spot after his performance on Saturday. The Nebraska transfer did not step up in the way that was needed for this game. The only strong offensive performance came from running back Isaih Pacheco, who racked up 134 yards for the Scarlet Knights. But, Rutgers cannot just rely on one player to carry the team. It will continue to lose to weak teams if it does.

Vedral threw three interceptions in the second half, making it difficult for Rutgers to have a chance to score. The last interception was the most brutal, as it followed a 16-yard run by Pacheco and essentially took away hope that Rutgers could work together to get the ball down the field.

It seems Vedral might not be the right fit for quarterback right now, and heads are turning to redshirt sophomore Artur Sitkowski, who started every game in his freshman year in 2018, then sat out last year after former head coach Chris Ash was fired. He averaged 105 passing yards in 2018 and has the strong arm that Vedral lacks. It will be interesting to see if he starts against Michigan next weekend.

Looking forward

Rutgers football will play Michigan next weekend in a game that is still winnable for the Scarlet Knights. Their performance against Illinois doesn’t make it look too likely they can top Michigan, but if big changes are made, it’s possible. This Rutgers football team needs to learn from its mistakes, because if it can, it still has the opportunity to come back and find some success this season.

Photo by Kelly Carmack | The Daily Targum

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