Rutgers beat Liberty 44-34 on Saturday in what was a much needed morale boost for the program and the fan base. Interim head coach Nunzio Campanile addressed the media after the game here. With four Big Ten games remaining, here are five thoughts on the team’s performance and what to hope for moving forward.
Nunzio Campanile is a leader of men
The famous quote from President Woodrow Wilson is so true of the interim head coach. He has brought true leadership to this program during a very difficult transitional period. Rutgers doesn’t win on Saturday if the players weren’t fully committed to Campanile and the staff. They had too many chances to give up, but instead responded in a big way. After answering three consecutive touchdowns with their own touchdowns in the first half, Rutgers took control of the game in the second half en route to a comfortable victory. Campanile’s new look offense has sputtered before this game, but considering all the responsibilities he has been handed in the last month, he has handled the position with class and care. He has kept this team together, which is much easier said than done. It was great to see Campanile’s postgame speech and showed the genuine emotion this team felt after the win.
“We love ya, we’re proud of ya, enjoy this!” pic.twitter.com/zegBM917s4— The Birthplace (@RFootball) October 26, 2019
Johnny Langan’s Toughness
Whether Langan is the answer at quarterback long term, he’ll always have his gutsy performance on Saturday. He passed for 192 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 118 yards and a score. His toughness has been evident throughout his four starts, so it was great to see him execute so well on the field. This great story by our former contributor Brian Fonseca gives great insight on the competitor he is. Regardless of his role after this season, he is the type of tough Jersey kid this program needs more of. Hopefully, he can build off this performance and play better in Big Ten play the rest of the way.
Isaih Pacheco is a gamer
It’s been fair for fans to focus on the players who are redshirting and not on the field, but it’s important to focus on someone like Pacheco who is giving it his all, despite not having the weekly results he was hoping for before the season. Pacheco has struggled to find space to run in Big Ten play but has battled throughout. He’s also been dealing with bumps and bruises that he is playing through. Even so, he suited up Saturday less than 100% and produced 106 yards on 5.6 yards per carry and two touchdowns in the victory. For the season he has now rushed for 561 yards on 4.4 yards per carry and 6 scores. This kid reeks toughness and has carried himself with class in two seasons on the banks. It’s guys like him that make this team easy to root for and don’t be surprised if he feeds off of this performance to deliver a big game against Illinois.
The defense’s surprising second half
The biggest reason I didn’t think Rutgers could win the game was how many big plays the defense has surrendered this season. Sure enough, Liberty rattled off long touchdown drives of just four and six plays to lead 21-14 midway through the second quarter. However, the defense showed great character by stiffening up the rest of the way and giving the offense a chance to pull ahead in the second half. Mike Tverdov has two big sacks, Avery Young stepped up and the defense showed heart in the victory. This unit desperately needed some confidence and success, which could help next week against the Illini offense that shouldn’t be overpowering.
Talent gap within Big Ten
Despite the great effort from Rutgers on Saturday, it’s hard to not see the talent gap that exists with this team and the rest of the Big Ten. The way they exerted their physicality and will over Liberty is exactly what conference opponents have done to them. The last three games of the season will likely be more of the same, but next week against Illinois gives Rutgers a real chance to compete and win a conference game.
Illinois is peaking at the right time, coming off of impressive wins against a top ten Wisconsin team at home and a gutty road win at Purdue. Still, the talent gap between those teams is arguably less than any other Big Ten program. It’s good timing that Rutgers heads to Illinois with some confidence and better understanding of the new offensive system they’ve been utilizing the past month. They’ll certainly be underdogs next Saturday, but if they can play with toughness and execute at a higher level, they’ll have a chance to break a 17 game Big Ten losing streak.