CHAMPAIGN — One week after Illinois’ running game couldn’t be stopped, it was stopped in its tracks.
The Illini rushed for only 107 yards Saturday against Rutgers, seven days after piling up 357 in a stunning nine-overtime win against then-No. 7 Penn State. It proved to be the difference in a 20-14 loss to the Scarlet Knights, who won their first Big Ten game of the season.
“It’s very discouraging,” said Illinois coach Bret Bielema, whose team led 14-10 at halftime. “We can’t seem to play a four-quarter game at home for some reason. And that’s one-hundred percent my responsibility. We came out in the second half and laid an egg. My fault.”
Brandon Peters, starting for the injured Art Sitkowski, completed 14 of 19 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns for Illinois (3-6, 2-4 Big Ten), including a 52-yard scoring strike to Isaiah Williams. Daniel Barker caught the other touchdown pass.
“I thought BP [Peters] this past week had his best week of preparation of the year,” Bielema said. “But that all gets lost in defeat, unfortunately.”
Chase Brown gained only 67 yards on 18 carries, and Joshua McCray had just six yards on four carries.
“I thought today was huge,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “After a team that really ran the ball well a week ago, to be able to stop the run was huge.
“If you can be a great tackle team, you can play great defense. We weren’t great tackling today, but we were much better than we were a week ago, and that’s what’s got to continue to improve.”
The Scarlet Knights (4-4, 1-4) had little trouble running the ball. Isaih Pacheco rushed 21 times for 91 yards and Kyle Monangai ran 15 times for 77 yards and a touchdown. Noah Vedral threw for 138 yards and rushed for a touchdown.
Vedral ran it in from 15 yards out early in the fourth quarter to give Rutgers a 17-14 lead. The drive was saved by freshman quarterback Gavin Wimsatt, who replaced an injured Vedral and took his first college snap facing fourth-and-five at the Illini’s 33-yard line on the last play of the third quarter.
Wimsatt, who played three games of his high school season before enrolling at Rutgers early, took a shotgun snap, rolled out and threw across the field for a 13-yard completion to Bo Melton for a first down. Vedral returned on the next play and scored two plays later.
Valentino Ambrosio kicked a 25-yard field goal with 3:58 left to give the Scarlet Knights a six-point lead. On the ensuing possession, Illinois drove to Rutgers’ 34-yard line and faced fourth-and-one with 1:08 left. But cornerback Kessawn Abraham upended Brown for a four-yard loss, and the Scarlet Knights ran out the clock.