When it rains, it pours. Rutgers began its most disappointing performance in Big Ten play this season with two penalties on the first drive of the game. After the defense forced Indiana to punt, returner Hunter Hayek had the ball bounce off his chest and the Hoosiers recovered it on the Rutgers 5 yard line. Morgan Ellison ran it in for a touchdown on the next play and the rout was on for Indiana, who won 41-0. The Scarlet Knights continued to make mistakes in a lackluster, head scratching performance. Rutgers was 11 point underdogs, but to deliver such a non-competitive effort, just a week after leading Penn State on the road midway through the second quarter, made this game all the more difficult to swallow.
Indiana scored on its next three drives and frankly, Rutgers was fortunate to only be down 20-0 at the half. Star receiver Sammie Cobbs Jr. dropped a sure touchdown, leading to a 26 yard field goal by Griffin Oakes, and Ellison was close to another score, but was called down at the 1 yard line. The Rutgers defense held up on the next two plays and the Hoosiers kicked a 20 yard field goal instead.
While Rutgers was able to move the ball somewhat in the second quarter, Chris Ash failed to go for it on 4th and 3 from the Indiana 40 yard line down 17-0, electing to punt. As bad as the Scarlet Knights looked in the first half, this coaching decision was downright baffling. The call equaled the effort on the field by Ash’s team, uninspiring at best.
On the first drive after the half, Indiana converted on two consecutive 3rd and long situations. However, quarterback Richard Lagow made his first mistake of the game, forcing it into traffic and converted wide receiver Jawuan Harris pulled down the interception, his third of the season. Unfortunately, on the first play from scrimmage after the Indiana turnover, quarterback Gio Rescigno was pummeled after dropping back and the Hoosiers recovered on the Rutgers 24 yard line. Credit offensive coordinator Jerry Kill for calling a deep pass play on 1st down in an attempt to get something going on offense, but left tackle Tariq Cole, arguably the best at his position in the Big Ten, was beaten badly, leading to the sack of Rescigno. Indiana scored its third touchdown of the game soon after and any hope of a repeat 20+ point comeback against the Hoosiers in Memorial Stadium was put to rest.
Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow had a second consecutive big game against Rutgers, after throwing for 394 yards and three touchdowns in the win last season. Today, Lagow wasn’t as sharp, but he was effective enough and passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns. The Hoosiers dominated the Rutgers defense on third downs, something that had been a strong suit for the unit entering the game in allowing opponents to convert just 35% of the time this season. Instead, Indiana was 10 of 17 on third downs, which was a big issue in this game. The defensive performance was a complete failure and Indiana generated 503 yards of total offense.
The biggest positive was the performance of punter Ryan Anderson, which is sad because its true. He averaged 50.7 yards on nine punts, including 2 of them downed inside the 20 yard line. Good for Anderson, who has probably been the most consistent player on this team this season. Another positive was that young receivers Bo Melton, Mo Jabbie and Everett Wormley each had two receptions. Lewis had a 25 yard pass to Melton that was a sign of things to come.
Janarion Grant saw his frustrating senior campaign continue by missing his fourth game due to injury, while he has also left another three contests early. Rutgers simply got nothing going in the passing game without him. Starting quarterback Gio Rescigno had a miserable game, throwing for just 67 yards and turning it over on the fumble in the second half. He did have a couple good runs, but his inability to generate any type of consistent offense was his undoing.
Freshman Johnathan Lewis, who has been dealing with an ankle injury and had it taped heavily, entered the game midway through the third quarter. He wasn’t able to get anything going on that drive and Rutgers punted yet again. The weather worsened after a steady rain turned heavy and due to lightning in the area, a delay was called. It was mother nature twisting the knife for a team that deserved a slow death after a complete no show performance. It lasted almost two hours before play resumed.
After the long delay, Lewis stayed on at quarterback. He did lead Rutgers into the red zone late in the game, but his pass to tight end Jerome Washington was incomplete on 4th and 6 from the Indiana 8 yard line. At least Lewis was able to gain more experience in this game. He ended up leading Rutgers in rushing on the day with 36 yards on 6 carries, which highlights how little offensive production this team had in the game. Put me firmly in the camp of letting him lead the offense in the season finale against Michigan State and giving him a full week to prepare as the starter. It could be a positive jumping off point for Lewis heading into the offseason. At this point, we know what Gio can do and its obvious its not enough to lead the offense in a sustainable fashion. Give the kid credit for his heart and guts, but he just isn’t getting it done.
It was a pleasant surprise that Rutgers entered this game in the position they were in. Playing a meaningful game in mid-November is one of several signs that progress has occurred in Ash’s second season. However, it was a terrible time for this team to lay an egg and it really dampens what could have been an exciting opportunity next week at home against Michigan State on national television. It’s still an important game, and it will be senior day for the graduating class, but Rutgers will need to figure things out quickly in order to rebound from its most disappointing game in Big Ten play.
In a season that started with several bad losses, followed by three conference wins in four games, this contest was a step back. No rebuild is fluid and this team has lost by wider margins the past two seasons under Ash as head coach, but it’s hard to argue they suffered a more embarrassing defeat, considering the opponent. Give Indiana credit for a complete performance, but the most disappointing thing about this loss was the total lack of effort and fight displayed by Rutgers today.
If you are glutton for punishment, click here for the box score.