PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - Rutgers coach Greg Schiano recalls the first time he met Illinois coach Lovie Smith.
Schiano had been hired as the defensive coordinator for the University of Miami in 1999 and Smith was a linebacker coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bucs head coach Tony Dungy used invited college coaches to watch a practice and sit in when the coaches meet to discuss the workout in a room that really wasn’t big enough for visitors.
It was a valuable learning experience that Schiano and Smith might share again when Rutgers (1-2) plays host to Illinois (0-3) on Saturday.
“I can remember sitting there and just being like, this is unbelievable, listening to those four talk,” Schiano recalled, noting the defensive staff included Herm Edwards, Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin in addition to Smith. “Herm was always great. Herm would give you time. And I always thought Lovie, he was a young coach back then, I looked at him. I said: ‘This guy knows football.’”
After beating Michigan State in Schiano first game back as the head coach, Rutgers has dropped games to nationally ranked Indiana and Ohio State.
A season after playing in their first postseason bowl game since 2014, the Illini have gotten off to a slow start. A big part of the problem has been playing without a number of key players sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic.
The last games was particularly tough, a 41-14 loss to Minnesota.
“When you play the way we played this past Saturday, you can’t continue on that same path,” Smith said. “So you have to make changes. We need to shake some things up a little bit. And play a lot better.”
HELP ON WAY
The Illini had 12 players out due to COVID-19 protocols against Minnesota. And they were down to fourth-string quarterback Coran Taylor, with starter Brandon Peters and backup Isaiah Williams out and third-stringer Matt Robinson (leg) unavailable.
Smith said several players who were quarantining because of contact tracing are ready to return, including center Doug Kramer, kicker James McCourt and Williams. The Illini are tied for last in scoring (15 points per game) in the Big Ten, while giving up a league-worst 39.
In his second stint as head coach, Schiano has dusted off more trick plays in three games than most coaches would use in a season.
Against Ohio State last weekend, the Scarlet Knights used a lateral on the opening kickoff, scored on another lateral during a later punt return and scored a touchdown on a throw to offensive tackle.
There was also a big run on a direct snap to a halfback and a couple of onside kicks.
It should be interesting to see what Rutgers rolls out this week.
Peters is expected to miss his third game in a row following a positive COVID-19 test. Smith anticipates having him back at Nebraska on Nov. 21.
As for who will start this week? Smith wouldn’t say.
Taylor had a rough outing against Minnesota after a solid showing the previous week facing Purdue. He went from throwing for 273 yards to passing for 106 while rushing for 42 against the Gophers.
Even if Taylor starts again, Williams could be in the mix now that his quarantine is up.
Rutgers, which had lost 21 straight Big Ten games before knocking off Michigan State to start the season, is a seven-point favorite. That’s might seem off since Illinois has won the last two games in the series and three of four.
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