The morning after a tough loss is never fun and falling short of what would have been a major upset against Iowa is no exception. However, it’s important to remember the big picture and while moral victories are not the goal, the fact remains Rutgers has improved since the beginning of the season. This is especially important to remember in the next two weeks, as Rutgers is playing the two best teams they will see all season. Ohio State and Michigan are up next and both teams have been impressive so far this season and are loaded with talent. Playing them most likely without our best playmaker on the team in Janarion Grant will make the task even more difficult.
Even so, Rutgers showed yesterday that if they can continue to improve under this coaching staff, they have a chance to put together a string of wins during the second half of the season. It’s something that many hoped for all along, but signs are pointing to this becoming a reality.
First, let’s look at a couple key statistics from yesterday’s game against Big Ten West defending champion Iowa. The Rutgers defense showed up in a big way and on 10 Iowa possessions in the game, the Hawkeyes punted 7 times and turned it over on downs after a failed fourth down attempt deep in Rutgers territory. There was the 99 yard drive to end the first half with a touchdown, but that was the only sustained drive Iowa had the entire game. Of course, they did score on a 21 yard touchdown run to win the game in the 4th quarter, but that is where the drive started after Andre Patton fumbled on the previous Rutgers possession. It was a tough task on such a short field late in the game.
The Iowa offense was just 3-11 on third down conversions yesterday, in addition to their failed conversion on fourth down in the red zone. The Rutgers defense also forced three 3 and out drives, allowing themselves to get off the field quickly, something that has been a rarity in recent years. Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard is a legitimate NFL prospect, as ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. lists him as the top senior in college football at his position. Beathard threw for just 162 yards and completed just over 50% of his passes. The last two times Iowa scored so few points in a game were last season in it’s 16-13 loss in the B1G Championship game to #5 Michigan State and it’s 10-6 win at #19 Wisconsin, also in 2015. The Hawkeyes came into yesterday averaging 36 points a game and Rutgers held them to 14.
Regarding the offense, Rutgers outgained Iowa in total yards from scrimmage, 383-355. Rutgers had 21 first downs to Iowa’s 19. Time of possession was almost dead even. Rutgers has traditionally struggled in sustaining drives and typically lost time of possession by wide margins against Big Ten opponents in the past. Chris Laviano threw for more yards than Beathard and Robert Martin rushed for over 100 yards for the second consecutive game. It was the first time all season the Iowa defense allowed a player to rush for that many yards against them. Justin Goodwin also made an impact, rushing for 74 yards and picked up some key first downs on the only scoring drive of the game.
With all that being said, it is disappointing that Rutgers didn’t win this game. The playcalling was questionable at times and Rutgers ran out of timeouts with most of the fourth quarter still left to play. Ash addressed the timeout issue in his postgame press conference, stating players lined up in the wrong formations on offense and there was a substitution issue on defense. Those types of details fall on the coaches, but they are also teachable moments for the players that should lead to improvement. Mental mistakes have been much less an issue this season.
One area Rutgers has already improved with in a major way is with penalties, as this was the third game in a row they had far less than their opponent. That is a sign of a well coached team. I understand the frustrations with the loss, but progress is evident in the details.
We still don’t know the official diagnosis of both Janarion Grant and Quanzell Lambert, both of whom were carted off yesterday and spotted wearing hard casts. They would be huge losses on both sides of the ball. However, I don’t expect this team to fall apart. Ash and his coaching staff will make adjustments and it gives the opportunity for other players to step up. This is where Ash’s culture that he has created rises to the top.
The point is there is hope for Rutgers the second half of this season. After the next two weeks against Big Ten royalty, the schedule is significantly more manageable and wins will be there for the taking. Illinois is 1-2 and suffered an embarrassing loss at home to Western Michigan. Minnesota is 3-0 but are much more in the mold of Iowa and not an explosive team. It won’t be an easy game, but after seeing Rutgers give Iowa all they could handle, they should have confidence against the Golden Gophers. Indiana lost to Wake Forest at home yesterday. Penn State was blown out at Michigan 49-10, which is an even worse score than Rutgers had playing in the Big House last season. Maryland is improving and undefeated, but their best win is in overtime against UCF.
The biggest thing to remember is it is year one of the Ash Era. I know a lot of fans don’t want to hear it, but patience is needed. This coaching staff is still learning and developing themselves. Ash has implemented many positive changes within the program and it has led to improvements on and off the field. People on message boards and social media concerned that recruiting will suffer due to losses aren’t looking at the big picture and don’t value how Ash is selling the future. If this team continues to improve each week and can put together a few wins in the second half of the schedule, this season should be viewed a major success. Yesterday hurt for sure, but there are many brighter days ahead.