Everyone knew it was going to be a long haul for new Rutgers football coach Chris Ash, and that was made extremely evident in back-to-back blow out losses to Ohio State and Michigan. So, a trip to Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Gophers had to feel like a lot of relief.
At least it appeared that way as the Scarlet Knights offense caught fire inside TCF Bank Stadium. New starting quarterback Giovanni Rescigno threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns and Rutgers compiled 372 yards of total offense against a solid Minnesota defense.
It was all part of an incredible comeback from an 18-point deficit at one point in this game.
Unfortunately, all that offensive effort mattered little as the defense couldn’t get a stop when it needed it.
With the Gophers leading 31-29 late in the fourth quarter, Rutgers seemingly made the play that would finally end its miserable losing streak.
Ironically, it was a punt after a failed drive that would seemingly turn things around. As Drew Wolitarsky sat back to collect the Rutgers punt at his 23-yard line he forgot about actually collecting the football and muffed the return.
Muffed punt, #Gophers. Drew Wolitarsky coughs it up. Rutgers takes over at Minnesota 23.
— Andy Greder (@andygreder) October 22, 2016
Rutgers’ Isaiah Johnson jumped on the punt and suddenly the Scarlet Knights were in scoring position.
After gaining just one yard on the ensuing drive, Rutgers knocked home a 39-yard field goal to go up 32-31 with just 4:01 left to play.
It apparently was the final wake up call for the Gophers offense though, because they managed to ride a 13-play, 59-yard drive all the way down to the Scarlet Knights’ 10-yard line. Minnesota connected on a 28-yard field goal with just 10 seconds left in the game to go up 34-32 and eek out a win.
Heartbreaking to say the least for a team that was finally competitive throughout a full game for the first time in Big Ten play.
However, head coach Chris Ash did see signs of progress even in the heartbreaking manner it lost the game.
“They took Minnesota’s best punch at the start of the game,” Ash said, via NJ.com. “If you don’t have good character kids, you fold in that situation, especially with the (five-game) losing streak we’ve been on. We’ll get there. We’re knocking on the door.”
That’s not to say Ash or anyone in the Rutgers locker room were happy with just being competitive. Rather, it was motivation that indeed this team can win games when it puts it all together.
“I think it’s both,” safety Anthony Cioffi said when asked if it was optimism or heartbreak, via NJ.com. “The first quarter we got punched in the mouth, but then we rallied up as a defense and an offense. We kept swinging, but these are the games we’ve got to came away with.”
Rutgers found themselves in a 21-3 hole as the first quarter came to an end, and it proved to be too big of a hole to overcome.
“That’s (the 21-3 hole) hard for any team to dig out of,” Hamilton said. “To even be in the position we were in after (21-3), that’s almost impossible. We’ve got to find a way to settle in faster. If we give up seven settling in, I’m not going to be upset about it. But 21-0 settling in is too big a hole. “
Good teams, teams that are finding winning culture taking full effect have the ability to find ways to win games like this.
Rutgers just simply hasn’t turned the corner yet. But, at least it is showing it isn’t a complete pushover with a quarterback who fits this offense and a team-first attitude on the roster.
Rutgers offense today scored 26 points. The previous four Big Ten games they scored 14 points combined. The Gio Effect! #AshEra
— On the Banks (@OTB_SBNation) October 22, 2016
With most of the biggest names on Rutgers’ schedule in the rearview mirror, Ash and Co. appear well on their way to figuring out how to win Big Ten games.
It just appears to be coming in baby steps for the Scarlet Knights.