The Rutgers Football season wrapped up at Michigan State on Saturday. Despite the Spartans as heavy favorites, this grudge match came down to the final minute.
Rocky Lombardi got the home start for a banged up Brian Lewerke at QB for MSU. Giovanni Rescigno got the start for Rutgers. After the teams exchanged three and out punts, Michigan State went for it on 4th down from their own 33 yard line and was completely stuffed by Rutgers. A last ditch attempt to bounce it wide was greeted by Redshirt Senior Cornerback Isaiah Wharton. This move seemed absolutely idiotic at the time, but maybe Mark Dantonio knew something the rest of us didn’t.
Rutgers took over and faced a critical third and 9 from the 32 yard line. Rescigno scrambled and was at least four yards short when he was initially held up by eventually four defenders, but he kept his legs moving long enough for the cavalry to arrive and help push the pile to the line to gain. On the ensuing play, Michigan State’s #1 ranked rush defense in the entire FBS stuffed Raheem Blackshear for a loss of four setting Rutgers in a 2nd and 14, not their speciality. The FOX audience including this viewer was completely shocked when Rutgers went downtown and a perfectly thrown ball was hauled in at the goal line by a leaping Travis Vokolek for the score. It was Rescigno’s first TD pass in 385 days and gave Rutgers a 7-0 lead. It was also his first against a team from his home state in 5 career games, including four starts.
The teams both achieved first downs on their next drives, but exchanged punts once again. Michigan State got the ball with less than a minute to play in the quarter and Rutgers had them stopped on a third and six inside their own 20 after an incomplete pass, but an offside penalty on Elorm Lumor gave the Spartans another opportunity to convert. On the third and one it looked like Connor Heyward had sure daylight, but Tyshon Fogg delivered a monster blow at the sticks to halt Heyward in his tracks. The officials gave a very conservative spot it seemed and upon measurement, Michigan State was awarded a first down by less than one inch. That play ended the first quarter and Rutgers remained ahead 7-0.
Michigan State moved the ball near midfield, but a shanked punt set up RU with good field position. Rescigno defeated a blitz with a solid completion to Vokolek on 1st down, but RU could not convert on third and was forced to kick the ball back to MSU.
Michigan State converted a first down by inches on their third play and was gifted a first down on a terrible pass interference call against Saquan Hampton two plays later. Then on the next play where Lombardi was forced to scramble for a minimal gain, Damon Hayes was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to get MSU all the way to the RU 31. The Spartans dodged a bullet on the next play when they fumbled the snap, but a false start blew the play dead before it was recovered. The next play was a screen pass where the Spartans got away with an obvious hold for a big gain and the next snap was cashed in for a touchdown. Matt Sokol caught a pass in the corner of the end zone after a likely blown coverage and the extra point tied the game at 7.
The teams both moved the ball a bit in what was becoming a steady rain and it seemed like going into half the score would remain tied up before several bizarre sequences took place. With 53 seconds left, a Michigan State punt caromed off Saquan Hampton’s left foot setting up Michigan State at the RU 13 yard line. The first down play was a toss to the end zone and Avery Young was flagged for pass interference in what looked like pretty good coverage that would have placed the ball at the 2 yard line, but a personal foul was called on Michigan State for taunting moving the ball back for a first and 10 from the 17 yard line. Tyshon Fogg (starting for Deonte Roberts) made a touchdown saving tackle on second down then after both teams called timeouts before the third down play, Lombardi fired a pass into the ground setting up a field goal attempt.
In wet conditions, extremely reliable kicker Matt Coghlin was unable to get a kick because Brian Lewerke in there as the holder mishandled the ball. Lewerke did scramble after controlling it and throw back across the field, but was intercepted by Trevor Morris. Morris returned the ball at the way to the RU 35, but Chris Ash elected to kneel out the last 15 seconds and go into half tied 7-7.
At the half MSU had 179 total yards to RU’s 85. MSU was flagged twice for 20 yards compared to RU 5 times for 51 yards. Rescigno himself was 4-9 passing for 42 yards and a TD. He also rushed four times for 29 yards. So despite the Spartans possessing the ball for almost 20 minutes of action the game was deadlocked. Adam Korsak had a lot to do with that, as he punted 4 times for 182 yards, dropping all four inside the MSU 20 yard line.
Rutgers elected to receive the second half kick. RU managed a first down on another Rescigno scramble but was forced to punt. Korsak pinned MSU back at their own 10, but the Spartans methodically moved the ball near midfield when a tipped pass was picked off by Saquan Hampton, or was it? After official review Rutgers got the ball, but the first play from scrimmage, a halfback option pass from Isaih Pacheco was underthrown and easily intercepted to give the ball back to MSU. To his credit, Pacheco went beast mode and made a huge tackle on the opposite side of the field to stop a decent return. RU’s defense held and MSU elected to punt and pin RU back.
After a complete defensive battle in quarter number three, the teams entered the fourth still even 7-7.
The 4th quarter began with a solid Pacheco run and facemask penalty to move RU to midfield. RU moved the ball to the Michigan State 26 on a dive from Gio at the sticks on third down, but the ball was ruled a fumble and that it bounced back behind the line to gain somehow setting up fourth and inches, sort of. Rescigno was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and just like that RU was out of field goal range, forced to punt.
After MSU was forced to kick from the shadow of their own goal post and a solid return by Avery Young, RU had first and ten from the MSU 25. RU was held just short of converting on second and third down, but rather than go for it on 4th down, Chris Ash opted for a field goal attempt. Justin Davidovicz was solid and RU took a 10-7 lead with 7:52 to play.
Michigan State converted two first downs barely and moved the ball to midfield. Three straight incompletions, including a pass batted down at the line by Julius Turner forced a punt. Naturally as the season has gone, the punt was downed at the RU 1 yard line after an extremely favorable roll. If the Scarlet Knights wanted to get their first conference win of the season, it would take a lot of heart in the final 5:23.
Jon Hilliman somehow avoided a safety on the first play and got four yards to the 5 yard line before MSU called a timeout. RU was forced to punt with 4:49 left and MSU having just one timeout left. Korsak’s punt sailed just 43 yards and MSU returned the ball to the RU 35.
MSU tried a throwback to the QB on 1st down and Lombardi threw the ball right to Trevor Morris who could not hold on for the interception. Morris played a great game even in coverage but could not make the play. On third and ten on the fringe of field goal range, Lombardi carried the ball through traffic for a first down. On the very next play, Cody White ran for a 22 yard touchdown. The extra point made it 14-10 and Rutgers was in real trouble.
3:57 left to play and MSU led 14-10.
A good kick return by Pacheco and completion by Gio to Blackshear moved the ball to midfield. Then a 25 yard pass to Vokolek after a broken play got the ball to the MSU 25.
On 1st Blackshear was stuffed, on 2nd Gio scrambled for five, but on third a pass to Vokolek was over his head setting up fourth down and six from the 21 yard line. Gio threw into traffic that included Vokolek and Bo Melton, but the pass was intercepted at the 3 yard line with 1:32 on the clock. On 2nd an 8, MSU’s one remaining playmaker Connor Heyward ran 26 yards up the middle to seal the game. It was Michigan State’s longest play of the day. The Rutgers Football season ends on an uneven note with a 1-11 record, including 0-9 in Big Ten play.
Look for more season wrap up coverage from OTB and information heading into National Early Signing Day.
UPDATE: AD Pat Hobbs issued a statement confirming Chris Ash will remain as head coach of Rutgers football.