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.
Indiana Hoosiers vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Previews, Predictions and Prognostications
When: Sat. Nov. 5, 2016; Noon ET
Where: Piscataway, NJ; High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454)
All-Time Series: Rutgers leads 2-0
Last Meeting: Rutgers won 55-52 (last year)
Line: Indiana (-14)
This game means much more to Indiana than Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights would like to build towards something, anything … to get the program turned in the right direction, but the Hoosiers still have hopes of going bowling.
It’s only the second ever meeting for these two, and surprisingly Indiana has yet to notch a win despite the offensive fireworks it’s been able to launch the last couple of years.
Rutgers actually came to the stadium with a pulse two weeks ago and gave the Minnesota Golden Gophers a run for their money. But in the end, new head coach Chris Ash is still winless in the conference. It’s about pride in this one, but it’s also about more.
1 Burning Question: Can Rutgers find a way to beat Indiana for Ash’s first Big Ten win?
With the current state of the Rutgers program, there’s only so many real opportunities to walk off the field as a winner. This week would be one of those weeks.
Indiana has been solid at times this year, but it has also left the door open consistently against teams that it should beat. The offense has moved the ball but had problems finishing the deal and getting seven on the scoreboard. And while the defense has been much improved, it’s still just a middle of the pack defense. It hasn’t been quite enough in the grand scheme of things.
So here comes a Rutgers team that is coming off one of its most complete showings two weeks ago in a near miss versus a Minnesota team playing on the upswing. Will the bye week help any more, or was the improvement that we saw fool’s gold?
2 Key Stats
— 168.6: That’s the number of passing yards per game the Rutgers defense is giving up. For all the troubles in Piscataway this year, the passing defense has been great. It’s the one area the defense can hang its hat on, and it might be something to keep this game close. Indiana is at it’s best when it can open up the play book, but it may have to rely mostly on the run in this one.
— .719: That’s the percentage of red zone opportunities the Hoosiers are scoring on in 2016. That’s not good, and in fact there’s only three teams with a worse percentage. If Indiana still has designs of getting to a bowl game, it has to step on the throat of Rutgers when it gets the chance. Not converting in the red zone flies right in the race of that notion.
3 Key Players
–Devine Redding, Indiana RB: Redding has been solid this year but has been unable to really get crankin’ like he was expected to this year. Against a defense that’s stingy with the air assault, Redding must find a way to move the chains and get the tough yards.
–Gio Rescigno, QB Rutgers: He’s gone from scout team quarterback to the starter under center in a flash. And the team seemed to rally around Rescigno two weeks ago — almost pulling off a big upset against Minnesota. He won’t catch anyone by surprise going forward, but he does seem to be just a little more dynamic than what was happening with Laviano calling the shots. He now gets start number two to cut down on the turnovers and prove that he’s the answer going forward.
–Robert Martin, RB Rutgers: Martin has been the Scarlet Knights’ best offensive option through most of the season. That was before a two-week hiatus because of missing the game against Minnesota, and then the bye-week. For Rutgers to continue its improvement and possibly get a win, it’ll need a balanced attack against a Hoosier defense that has been much more productive against one-dimensional offenses. Look no further than Martin to provide the spark on the ground to open things up through the air.
4 Staff Predictions
Andy: Indiana 38-10
Dave: Indiana 27-17
Phil H.: Indiana 27-20
Philip R-R.: Indiana 38-14
Zach: Indiana 31-13