The first game of the season is always a bit strange and this one was the level of full-on David Lynch weird. After trailing by two touchdowns on two separate occasions in the first quarter that left most Rutgers fans wishing the 15 minute old season was already over, they produced one of the best stretches of offense the program has had in years. The second half was more mundane and the same issues continued, penalties and turnovers, that plagued the Scarlet Knights in the first half and of course, all of last season. Even so, the fourth season of the Chris Ash era began with a 48-21 victory that Rutgers ultimately dominated at the line of scrimmage and with speed at the skill positions.
The first half was a rollercoaster of emotions. UMass set the tone with an impressive opening season drive that led to a touchdown on 12 plays and 75 yards. The Minutemen converted on two fourth downs, including the second on a Rutgers penalty to extend the drive. On the first offensive possession for Rutgers, McLane Carter threw into triple coverage and was intercepted. Shortly after, UMass running back Cam Roberson ran it up the middle for a 39 yard score and less than six minutes into the season, Rutgers trailed 14-0.
The offense responded with a lengthy drive of its own, going 75 yards on 13 plays that ended with a 2 yard touchdown run by Isaih Pacheco to put the Scarlet Knights on the board. Unfortunately, after the defense stopped UMASS on their own 32 to bring up fourth down, the drive was extended due to a second costly penalty by Avery Young, arguably the best defensive player in scarlet. UMass took advantage once again, as Bilal Ally ran for a 33 yard touchdown up the gut. The first quarter ended with Rutgers trailing 21-7, likely triggering every fan to suffer from severe anxiety and anger just 15 minutes into the 2019 season.
Thankfully, Rutgers produced its most dominant quarter in quite some time, outscoring the visitors 31-0 behind several big plays on offense and solid defense. Isaih Pacheco, Raheem Blackshear and Bo Melton took over the game, showing their potential to be legitimate player makers this season. After starting his Rutgers career 0 for 2 and an INT, Carter finished the half completing 15 of 20 passes for 268 yards and 2 touchdowns. Melton made more big plays in this first half than his first two seasons on the banks, producing 6 catches for 127 yards and a beautiful 33 yard touchdown.
Blackshear caught 7 balls for 114 yards and a score, as well as 22 yards rushing on 6 attempts.
Pacheco had 9 carries for 87 yards and 3 touchdowns., including this 57 yard scamper.
The offensive line was much better than expected, creating holes for him to run through and was solid in pass protection. All in all, Rutgers scored more points in the first half, leading 38-21, than in any game last season. Progress for sure.
Rutgers did get lucky midway through the second quarter with the game tied at 21, as a punt ricocheted off of Larry Stevens and should have been UMass ball near the RU 30. Instead, there was no review and Rutgers ultimately took the lead for the first time on a 27 yard field goal from Justin Davidovicz.
After halftime, there was a lot less action, with the first Rutgers drive after the break stalling in the red zone, leading to a 23 yard field goal by Davidovicz. The next possession, Carter threw a long interception near the UMass 10 from midfield on a ball the defender fought from Paul Woods, the intended receiver.
The Rutgers held the Minuteman to two punts in the third quarter, including one three and out. The Scarlet Knights led 41-21 headed into the final frame.
It started with the third interception of the game by Carter, this one in the end zone. Overall, he played a good game and definitely made more big throws than Rutgers made all of last season. He also made bad mistakes in two of the three picks. On the day, Carter finished with the following line: 21 of 31, 340 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. A mixed bag but a value bag nonetheless. Johnny Langan relieved Carter late in the game, not Artur Sitkowski, so it’s clear who QB1 is.
Isaih Pacheco became the first Rutgers player to run for four touchdowns since Ray Rice, as he finished the night with 156 yards on 20 attempts for a 7.8 yard per carry average. He got stronger as the game wore on and is off to a great start in a pivotal season for him.
Blackshear ran for just 39 yards on 12 carries, but flourished in the passing game, catching 9 passed for 126 yards and a touchdown.
As for the receivers, Melton didn’t make a catch in the second half but his first half performance demonstrated he is much closer to reaching his full potential and could be a huge factor this season. Mo Jabbie made 3 catches for 44 yards and redshirt freshman Matt Alaimo, the only tight end on scholarship currently available, had 2 receptions for 32 yards in his college debut.
The Rutgers offense outgained UMASS by 247 total yards, including 348 yards passing overall and held a 24-18 edge in first downs. However, three turnovers and six penalties, several costly, for 75 yards, were more mistakes than are acceptable if this team wants to win games in the Big Ten. The talent and depth of the UMASS roster is world’s away of any of the nine conference teams the Scarlet Knights will play.
A big concern with the defense, despite not surrendering a score after the first quarter, was that they surrendered yards rushing, including two 30+ yard touchdowns. Stopping big plays in the run game has been an issue during Ash’s entire tenure and it continued to be a problem tonight. UMass averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 33 attempts, which is a giant red flag. The defense obviously was much better as the game went on, led by linebacker and captain Tyshon Fogg, who led the team with 11 tackles. They forced two turnovers, which were interceptions from Avery Young and Tre Avery.
It was a night with a big scare to start, an impressive offensive outburst that followed, and it ended with solid defense. Still, Rutgers won the opening game of the 2019 season by multiple scores and ended the nation’s longest losing streak at 11. Credit this team for recovering the way they did. Last September, Rutgers routinely fell apart in the first half of games. Down two touchdowns after one quarter and their best players took over the game. That’s a positive sign for sure.