Another Saturday, another huge point spread as Rutgers hosted the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers. PJ Fleck’s squad arrived in Piscataway looking for their first 7-0 start since 1960. Right around kickoff, Minnesota learned undefeated Wisconsin had been majorly upset on a last second field goal by Illinois. As a result a win would move the Golden Gophers into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West Division.
Rutgers got the ball first and did register one first down, including a pass from Johnny Langan to Eddie Lewis for 5 yards. Aaron Young and Isaih Pacheco both got carries to move the ball, but RU went for a pass that ended in catastrophe. A fake toss right had all the RU linemen pulling right and two Minnesota defenders were right in Langan’s face as he rolled left. Rather than throw the ball away or lead Isaiah Washington who had good leverage on his defender, Langan threw the ball to a defender with literally no RU receiver in the area for an interception. Just like that, Minnesota had the ball at midfield.
The RU defense forced back to back three and outs, but eventually surrendered a nine yard 57 yard touchdown drive. Minnesota only completed one pass on the drive. So maybe that gave RU fans hope?
In the first quarter, RU managed 1 passing yard (after Eddie’s catch, a second completion went for -4 to Bo Melton), sound familiar?
RU faced a third down to begin the second quarter, but was unable to convert. After a punt, RU did not get the benefit of the doubt on a questionable spot that gave the Gophers a first down deep in their own territory. Minnesota made a huge play on a simple crossing route to get into RU territory, but then four straight runs resulted in an even more controversial first down ruling at the RU 33. Christian Izien came up to halt the ball carrier in his tracks then the cavalry led by Willington Previlon pounded Mohamed Ibrahim into the turf. The Rutgers crowd did not like the call and eventually the officials did take a look at it despite Minnesota’s best efforts to run a play quickly and avoid the overturn.
Luckily for Rutgers, the call was reversed and RU took over at their own 33 with 9:36 remaining in the second quarter. The momentum was short lived as RU got great protection for Johnny Langan who attempted a deep pass on the ensuing first down. Shameen Jones had a step on his defender, but Langan’s pass was well short of the intended target and Phillip Howard hauled in an easy interception at his own 23 yard line. Both Shameen and Bo Melton went vertical with no safety over the top, but instead the Golden Gophers got the ball back.
Minnesota then dodged back to back bullets when first Avery Young almost had an interception on a slant but was broken up by the wide receiver. Then Elorm Lumor ran stride for stride with running back Rodney Brooks deep down the sideline and tipped the ball into the arms of Christian Izien, but Lumor himself collided with Izien and the ball fell harmlessly to the turf. After a third down pass went for nine yards, Minnesota went for it again on 4th down, this time at their own 45.
On this 4th down, Minnesota ran the same dive play the failed the last time, but gained four yards. Three plays later, Avery Young was flagged for pass interference to set up a new set of downs. An excellent reach block on second down, set up a Smith run into the red zone. The first down play action caused all the RU defenders to bite, but a wide open receiver in the end zone was overthrown. The following play, Minnesota made the catch, but with no feet in the end zone. Sadly for RU, an identical route was caught in bounds and now it was 14-0 after the extra point.
RU managed a first down, but punted with four and a half minutes left in the second quarter. Minnesota then embarked on a 14 play, 68 yard drive that was infuriating to watch. Rutgers played tough, but was flagged for PI I believe twice, maybe three times (one declined). To their credit, RU continued to play tough and caused a missed field goal with two seconds left in the half. The score remained 14-0, so any offense with a pulse would be smelling upset at home against a ranked team.
Halftime stats: Minnesota 14 first downs to just 4 for Rutgers. Total yards: Minnesota 235, Rutgers 29. Time of possession: Minnesota 19:59, Rutgers 10:01. Penalties: Minnesota 1-10, Rutgers 3-30. ... And again at halftime just like last week, Rutgers had ONE passing yard. Langan 2-6, 1 yard, 2 INT.
I started feeling this way halfway through the second quarter, but when the second half kicked off I was really hoping Art Sitkowski would put on his helmet and come out firing to try and get RU a win. On homecoming, you know if he did lead a comeback victory against a ranked opponent, it would result in legendary status. Even if he just took the redshirt, never to play again for the Scarlet Knights.
Minnesota received the 2nd half kick and Previlon had a shot to stop them on a 3rd and short in the first sequence. Unfortunately Ibrahim slipped through with the help of a block in the back and a subsequent simple slant route pushed Minnesota in RU territory. After a few nice catches to break up power runs, Rodney Smith powered his way into the end zone for an insurmountable 21-0 advantage, with 9:23 left in the third quarter.
Rutgers did show signs of life on the following drive. An old school triple option to Avery Young nabbed a first down. Unfortunately a completely blown pass interference call made things a lot more difficult for the home team. On a third and medium, Johnny Langan elected to scramble and had the line to gain locked up, but the ball was stripped out.
Luckily Minnesota missed two easy opportunities to secure the fumble and Rutgers got new life at the Gopher 49 yard line after Langan emerged from the pile with the ball. Two plays later, once again a collision in the secondary caused the Rutgers fans to go bazerk. Bo Melton had two full steps on his defender, but the pass was thrown short and when Melton came back to the ball the defender just fell into him. It was an identical play to one where Tre Avery was flagged for pass interference in the first half against Minnesota big play wideout Rashod Bateman. Interim Head Coach Nunzio Campanile was so livid, he didn’t get a play in so Rutgers had to call a timeout.
With time to talk it over, Langan hit Eddie Lewis who made a circus catch along the sideline for a huge 11 yard gain to move the sticks to the Minnesota 38 yard line. On a third down and 12 throw that went out of bounds, the zebras provided Rutgers a give back call. Yes Isaiah Washington was open, but the flag admittedly should have been picked up because the ball was uncatchable and out of bounds.
Langan to his credit converted a critical third down run on a broken play to the Minnesota 13. Johnny missed a wide open Daevon Robinson in the end zone, but it didn’t mater because the separation was gained by Daevon pushing off. The following 3rd and 19 play was a complete breakdown by the offensive line as the five offensive linemen completely whiffed on two interior linemen and Langan was crunched. Justin Davidovicz’s ensuing 47 yard field goal try was wide left. On the plus side, it was only the fourth time in seven games the Rutgers field goal/XP unit got into the game.
Minnesota’s ensuing drive brought the end of the third quarter. That drive continued a few minutes into the 4th and eventually on a 4th down and 1 from the RU 6, the Gophers capped an 11 play, 71 yard journey with an Ibrahim TD and ensuing XP to make it 28-0.
It was a nice moment on the point after as Minnesota sent out four-time cancer survivor Casey O’Brien as the holder. He shared an embrace that lasted for several minutes with PJ Fleck, only to be interrupted by what would be his second collegiate play. It wouldn’t take long for Minnesota to beat the point spread because on RU’s first play of the final stanza was a pick six by Antoine Winfield Jr. 35-0.
After a three and out, Minnesota scored on a 66 yard TD pass to make it 42-0.
Rutgers finally got on the board courtesy of a 40 yard Elijah Barnwell run that Kay’Ron Adams punched in for a touchdown four plays later. A 12 yard pass to Prince Taylor and a 10 yard to Washington also fueled the scoring drive. It doubled RU’s point total in B1G play this season. At least we got a cannon fire, 42-7.
Not much of consequence happened in the final 5+ minutes.
Key stat(s): Johnny Langan’s statline, 9 for 19, 48 yards, 3 INT.
Additional Takeaway(s): Tanner Morgan was not impressive even with his 15-28, 245 yards (inflated by the 66 yard TD). Especially on the final two drives of the first half, Morgan would lock on to one receiver, stare him down, and just throw the ball there. Even if the guy was double covered. I guess you could say at least if he couldn’t see his man over the line, he checked down. It just goes to show that your team can be 6-0 if your team has any semblance of a passing attack. Bateman is a pretty good receiver and could like do a ton of damage with a star signal thrower, though.
The combination of Langan and the RU offensive line has no idea how to call protections. At times they did whiff on some blocks to make matters worse. In their defense though, so many Rutgers offensive line movements make absolutely no sense to me. People pulling to nowhere and too many unblocked defenders make it look like RU would be better off just blocking the man in front of them without trying too much finesse. More on a few plays to illustrate this later in the week.
Defensively, giving up 31 points when your offense doesn't help you at all is quite impressive. Other than Morgan’s simple reads that the RU safeties figured out for the most part, Deion Jennings played a good game for a banged up Tyreek Maddox-Williams at strong-side linebacker. If you are going to run the Chris Ash defense, like Andy Buh does, you better have one hell of an athlete at that SLB position. Jennings probably has the best combo of agility and quickness of anyone RU trotted out at that spot in the last four years.
No one will convince me (especially Steve Politi) that Minnesota has more noticeably talent than Rutgers overall. You can point to Rashod Bateman, a Brandon Coleman lite, that RU doesn’t have, but I think Isaiah Washington will be almost as good a receiver when he’s done in college. Minnesota’s offensive line at times was bull rushed by Mike Tverdov and wasn’t fast enough to get outside and block on the perimeter. Maybe the Gopher DBs are way better than RU, the committed penalties the few times they were tested.
Kay’Ron Adams (6 carries, 30 yards) is a good athlete, but really just runs forward. I’m not sure if you can learn vision, but he has physical gifts.
This rebuild will not take as many years as some think if RU can get a smart offensive coach and an above average (not even superstar) quarterback.
B1G Boy Football: Minnesota tried to wear out the RU defensive line, but the
Knights Queensmen continued to battle and though they gave up 198 rush yards, it came on 45 carries. That is not exactly a bludgeoning.
I know I have been hard on Langan, he did muster 19 yards rushing on 13 attempts.
Next up: Rutgers hosts Liberty next week at noon.
Look for more coverage of this game and the news heading into the Liberty game here at onthebanks.com
Check out the links below:
Watch Nunzio Campanile Postgame Presser
Call me crazy, but Rutgers could have won this game if Art Sitkowski played the second half.
This poll is closed
Yes, Minnesota is not good.
No, Fleck would have come up with something (ie just throw downfield and get PI flags).