After a forgettable effort on the road against Indiana last weekend, Rutgers limps home for the season finale against #21 Michigan State (8-3; 6-2). The line for the game opened with the Spartans as 12 point favorites for Saturday's game that will be broadcast live for a national audience on FOX at 4 p.m.
Rutgers and Michigan State have met eight times on the grid iron, with the Spartans holding a 5 to 3 edge in the all-time series. However, Rutgers has been blown out by a combined score of 94-3 in its two meetings on the road against Michigan State as Big Ten East foes in the past three years. The lone home game as conference members that the Scarlet Knights hosted the Spartans was a close contest, with Rutgers failing to execute on the final drive of the game in a 31-24 loss. This took place in the thick of the Kyle Flood scandal during the 2015 season and the team was coached by former running backs coach Norries Wilson for that game.
As for this matchup, Michigan State is coming into this contest after a 17-7 win over Maryland last weekend. After upsetting Penn State three weeks ago, the Spartans got rocked by Big Ten East champ, Ohio State, in what was the worse loss of head coach Mark Dantonio’s tenure with the program. Michigan State is a strong defensive team and held Maryland to just 2.7 yards per carry. The Spartans have struggled offensively most of the season, but they do still have running back L.J. Scott, who has rushed for 731 yards on 4.5 yards per carry this year.
How Rutgers responds from their worst effort of the season remains to be seen. Despite progress this season, Saturday’s blow out loss to Indiana was a disappointing step back. Regardless, it’s senior day for the graduating class and Rutgers needs all the help it can get from the home crowd, who we hope turn out in strong numbers. Ash was asked about the week ahead at his Monday press conference:
“As we head forward here this next week, it's Senior Week. That's our focus. We have a great group of young men that are going to play their last football here at home. They have gone through a lot here. They have given a lot to the university and to the program. They have gone through a lot during their tenure here, and it's our responsibility to do everything we can to hopefully give these guys one last opportunity to celebrate together with their team and here in our stadium.”
Ash was asked specifically about the situation at quarterback and he made it clear no decision has been made for this Saturday’s game:
“No. The quarterback situation is the same. The last couple weeks, we have had conversations about the quarterback position a lot. We'll go through the week and evaluate it, and we'll play the person that gives us the best chance to win this next Saturday. And if that's Johnathan (Lewis), great; if it's Gio (Rescigno), someone else, whatever, but we'll manage that through the week, evaluate that through the week, and make a decision later on who gives us the best chance to go out and play our best game.”
When asked if it would be a game time decision, Ash shot down that notion:
“No. We'll make a decision before that. I mean, that's what's right for the team. But we are not going to make a decision today, on Monday. We have got to go through some practices and we've got to look at what we need to do against Michigan State, which is a very good defense and see who gives us the best chance to win.”
In regard to the Michigan State defense, the updated advanced statistical rankings via Football Study Hall have its unit ranked 6th in the country per S&P+. For a Rutgers offense that was just shutout by Indiana, whose are ranked 26th in S&P+, it will be a major challenge no matter who is under center taking snaps on Saturday. The hope is that Rutgers can rebound from its worst performance in conference play and end Ash’s second season on a high note. The head coach wasn’t backing down from the importance of this game for the program before heading into the offseason.
“Oh, absolutely. It's a big deal. Any time your last game is a positive game as you go into -- whether like it will be for us, the last game of the regular season, a Bowl game. You go to a Bowl game, you want to win that Bowl game. If you lose it, you go into the off-season with a negative feeling. Any time you can play your last game and it's a positive feeling, you've played your best football going into off-season workouts and everything, it is, it's a momentum boost. It's an attitude boost. You know, it excites people for the future.”
In a season where Rutgers has made progress, but took a step back last week, they have one more chance to make a statement in the 2017 campaign. In what will be a critical offseason for the program, let’s hope there are at least some positives to take away from Saturday’s matchup against Michigan State.