Noah Vedral threw for 138 yards and rushed for a touchdown to lead Rutgers past Illinois 20-14 on Saturday.
Isaih Pacheco rushed 21 times for 91 yards and Kyle Monangai ran 15 times for 77 yards and a touchdown for Rutgers (4-4, 1-4 Big Ten).
Brandon Peters, starting for the injured Art Sitkowski, was 14 of 19 passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns for Illinois (3-6, 2-4), including a 52-yard TD pass to Isaiah Williams. Williams caught 3 passes for 67 yards and the touchdown. Daniel Barker caught 2 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Chase Brown carried 18 times for 67 yards for the Illini.
Illinois only managed 107 yards on the ground against Rutgers after racking up 357 last week in a stunning 9-overtime win against then-No. 7 Penn State.
“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.”
Schiano said he saw improvement in his defense.
“If you can be a great tackle team, you can play great defense,” he said. “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.”
‘LAID AN EGG’
Rutgers put the game away in the second half. Vedral ran it in from 15 yards out early in the fourth quarter to give the Scarlet Knights a 17-14 lead. Valentino Ambrosio kicked a 25-yard field goal with 3:58 left in the game to make the score 20-14.
Illinois was unable to muster much on offense in the second half after leading 14-10 at the half.
“It’s very discouraging,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “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.”
Rutgers quarteback Vedral left the game early in the first quarter with an unspecified injury and was replaced by Cole Snyder. Vedral returned midway through the second quarter after spending several minutes in the injury tent.
Rutgers scored first on a 7-yard run by Monangai that capped a 10-play, 61-yard drive that saw three personal foul penalties resulting from a brief scrum between players.
Illinois scored with 10:13 left in the first half on a 52-yard pass from Peters to Williams to make the score 7-7.
“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.”
The Scarlet Knights took a 10-7 lead with 5:42 left in the half on a 35-yard field goal by Ambrosia.
Illinois answered with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Peters to Barker to make the score 14-10 at the half.
HE SAID IT
Rutgers coach Schiano: “That was a team victory. We were far from perfect. But that was what we said it was going to be. It was a tough, Midwestern football game – had to really get dirty today to win the game. I thought our guys just kept chopping every play. That’s what we talked about. Can you sustain that, stay focused? That’s the hardest thing.”
THE BIG PICTURE
There was some concern that the Illini, on the heels of a 9-overtime upset win over Penn State last week on the road, would come out lackluster. They were, despite what was perhaps Peters’ best quarterback performance of the year. Rutgers needed its first conference win and got it.
Rutgers: Hosts Wisconsin on Nov. 6.
Illinois: At Minnesota on Nov. 6.