Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas at 11 am local time, the Jayhawks came out with good energy. Rutgers never recovered and the final score was mostly representative of the Scarlet Knights committing six turnovers, including Art Sitkowski throwing two pick sixes in the first half. Kansas patiently waited on offense, refusing to throw the ball downfield at all, and eventually wore out the Rutgers defense.
It went down like this ...
Rutgers did not and was in an early 10-0 hole after Art Sitkowski threw his first pick six of the first half. Rutgers gave it right back with a Jon Hilliman fumble two plays later setting up the Jayhawks with field goal position immediately and threatening to really blow it open.
After typical zone runs and jump balls (more on those later), Kansas was forced to try a field goal. Deonte Roberts came so unblocked the kick practically hit him in the chest and after the ball bounced around a bit, Roberts scooped it up. The blocking wasn’t perfect, but Roberts was on a mission and would not be stopped on his way for a touchdown. After a successful extra point, Rutgers had momentum down just 10-7.
The defense who had been on the field all quarter did a poor job keeping contain and allowed Kansas’s first real drive of the day the length of the field behind a few nice Pooka Williams runs. Kansas elected to substitute Miles Kendrick in at quarterback and he promptly ran a keeper to the right but was stuffed at the line. Kendrick tossed one up for grabs on second that fell incomplete and another jump ball on third was hauled in by tight end Jeremiah Booker for what would be the only passing TD for the Jayhawks on the day. Kansas did convert the PAT and led 17-7.
Rutgers came out firing with a long bomb to Shameen Jones on the first play. Jones had two steps on the defender and the ball was a tad underthrown, but he leapt untouched and the ball bounced off this hands on what should have been a big gain into Kansas territory. The team picked him up as Blackshear had a nice carry and a big reception by Jerome Washington got RU to the Kansas 42 with a nice block by Shameen. On the first down play Blackshear fought for extra yards and coughed up the ball, the Knights’ second fumble of the day.
Kansas drove it down and a touchdown that would have made it 23-7 was called back by a lineman holding Elorm Lumor, so RU dodged a bullet. On the final play of the first quarter, Kansas attempted a field goal that was blocked by Jon Bateky. Rutgers could not return it to the house though and the score remained 17-7 heading into the second.
Two plays into the ensuing drive, Sitkowski threw into traffic again and was intercepted. A convoy of blockers got the ball into the end zone again for Kansas’s second pick six of the game. The ensuing point after made it 24-7 and Rutgers was in deep, deep trouble.
With all that Rutgers burned their final timeout of the first half with 12:49 left when they could not get a punt off. Kansas failed to capitalize and punted it right back. Rutgers got good field position on the next drive but squandered it with a third down drop by Travis Vokolek at the sticks. Sitkowski had all day to throw (mostly true all game) and yet Rutgers could not get points. If Vokolek catches the pass it would have set up at worst a fourth and one from the Kansas 34 yard line. Instead Rutgers punted for just the third time and pinned Kansas at their own five yard line. Kansas got two first downs but was forced to punt after a third down deep pass went to nowhere and curiously no one even complained for an intentional grounding with the rush closing in. A 49 yard punt flipped field position yet again.
Jerome Washington made a nice catch and run on a key third down (although Rutgers would have gotten one automatically due to a questionable hands to the face call on the defense.) Then Raheem Blackshear imposed his will and paraded his way downfield with some big holes and nice stiff arms for extra yardage. Once inside the ten I almost threw something at my TV when RU decided to throw a fade to Hunter Hayek incomplete on first. Luckily Hilliman bulldozed his way behind some effective blocking into the end zone. Adding injury to insult, Kansas best NFL prospect Daniel Wise was shaken up on the play. After the extra point, the score was cut to 24-14 with 3:07 left in the first half.
The obvious run situation with Kendrick back in the game and Kansas wanting to play it safe seemed like RU had a chance to get the ball back with time to narrow the deficit again before half. After stuffing the first down play, Rutgers was flagged for unnecessary roughness moving the ball out to the 41 yard line. Rutgers then had the next play stacked up in the backfield, but three missed tackles somehow turned into a Khalil Herbert 59 yard touchdown. Trevor Morris was injured on the play and after the extra point it was 31-14.
So Rutgers took over at the 25 with 2:29 left in the half. Kansas sold out on a blitz which was disaster for Rutgers as Sitkowski was hit despite Kamaal Seymour getting called for holding on the play. After that it was obvious Rutgers was trying to just limp into halftime. A 42 yard punt left Kansas 53 seconds to to need only about 25 yards to be in field goal range. Rutgers avoided disaster when a Pooka Williams run was called back after an obvious holding penalty. Rutgers blew up the backfield to send the game to halftime, still down 31-14.
The Kansas crowd was pumped at the break, believing they were poised to win back to back games for the first time since 2011. The stats were predicated on the turnovers in the first half, four for the Scarlet Knights and zero for the Jayhawks. Sitkowski was just 5 of 15 for 34 yards, while Kansas only tallied 104 yards through the air. On the ground Pooka Williams had 77 yards on 12 carries toward 168 total for Kansas with 59 on that single Herbert TD run, his only carry of the half. Blackshear had 13 for 89 making many fans on twitter and our game thread clamor for RU to just pound the rock.
Kansas got the ball to start the second half and had a quick three and out after an inaccurate throw by Kendrick on third down. Rutgers ran for a minimal gain on 1st, then a Sitkowski bomb with no pass rush at all was nowhere near complete to Hunter Hayek. So Rutgers had a third and long but was forced to call their first timeout of the half. A well drawn up play (sail concept) had Art (again with infinite time) connect with Jerome Washington but he was stopped just short of a first when Eddie Lewis seemed open at the next level heading toward the sideline. Mike Lonsdorf who had returned to the lineup was injured on the play. Rutgers opted against any trickery and punted.
Rutgers corners played 12 yards off the line on the next play and even though Kendrick stared down his receiver before the snap and after, got 9 yards. After a first down, Kansas dodged a bullet when Herbert hauled in a screen that was tossed into traffic by Kendrick. Kansas committed another holding penalty and Kendrick did a good job to avoid being stripped on second. Pooka Williams made an awesome cut on third down but Isaiah Wharton made a shoestring tackled to avoid catastrophe and set up a fourth and 8. Kansas curiously ran up to the line trying to draw Rutgers offside even though a penalty would have still resulted in fourth down. A questionable coaching decision then caused the Jayhawks to call timeout with one second on the play clock rather than just take the delay of game before punting.
So Rutgers again was somehow still in the game, down 31-14 not even halfway into the third quarter. On second and six with plenty of time to pass, Sitkowski threw the ball directly to a defender for his third interception. The defender decided to just fall on the ground luckily for RU because had he not, it would have been another pick six. Pooka Williams did his best throw an interception on a HB option pass, but it fell incomplete as Wharton and Hester were there, luckily for Kansas. Kendrick turned it into a rushing touchdown for a 38-14 lead and the game was hanging by a thread.
Rutgers finally inserted backup quarterback Giovanni Rescigno and the Knights moved the ball upfield quite well before a fumble on the exchange between Gio and center Michael Maietti was recovered by Kansas. Kansas scored to go up by an insurmountable four scores and after that it was garbage time. The only major takeaway is probably that 5th year senior captain and fan favorite Giovanni Rescigno is not the answer at quarterback either.
This was an absolutely embarrassing loss and fans need to face the reality that if Rutgers can’t do leaps and bounds better than this, they will not win another game. On the other hand, it’s just one game that featured six turnovers. Rutgers could win next week.
Next up: Rutgers hosts Buffalo at noon next Saturday, September 22.