The good, the bad, and the ugly.
All three were on display when Rutgers hosted Illinois on Saturday afternoon at SHI Stadium in Piscataway.
After missing on his first two attempts, James McCourt sunk the Scarlet Knights with a 47-yard field goal with three seconds left on the clock. After a failed lateral play, the clock hit zeroes and it was a 23-20 loss for Rutgers.
Bo Melton has thrived under Sean Gleeson and Tiquan Underwood through the first half of the season. He got the scoring started on Rutgers’ first possession with a 29-yard touchdown. Melton would add an explosive 66-yard touchdown in the third quarter, the longest of his career. Melton finished with 4 catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
The Scarlet Knights have been waiting for that breakout game from Isaih Pacheco and they got it here. Pacheco looked explosive with the ball in his hands. He was able to find holes opened up by the offensive line and run aggressively. Pacheco totaled 134 yards on 20 carries for an average of 6.7 per rush.
Defensively, Tyshon Fogg was all over the field finishing with 14 tackles. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s move on.
Noah Vedral, play calling, red zone efficiency. There are many places to begin.
Vedral started out well in this one leading the offense right down the field and converting on a fourth down situation. From that moment on, his decision making was poor. Vedral got away with a few throws early that should have been picked off but his luck quickly ran out.
Vedral finished 21-34 for 255 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. None were more costly than his final one with 1:28 left in the game. Rutgers was running the ball well on the drive. Pacheco has just picked up a first down on a 16-yard run and the Scarlet Knights decided to mix it up. This led to an inaccurate throw that ended up in the hands of Nate Hobbs.
Rutgers squandered away opportunities early in the game. They were able to force a fumble on Illinois first possession giving them the ball at the Illini 29-yard line. some questionable play calling led to a field goal and a 10-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Rutgers faced a third-and-six from the Illinois eight-yard line. Johnny Langan checked into the game and took a handoff for two yards. This would be another drive ending in a field goal. At one point, Rutgers had run six plays inside the red zone without gaining a yard.
Rutgers kept Illinois in this game early by settling for field goals and not putting the ball in the end zone.
When facing an 0-3 team that is coming off a blowout loss the week before, the last thing you can do is give them hope by turning the ball over and committing penalties. Rutgers did both on Saturday.
The Scarlet Knights entered the game leading the Big Ten in penalties. They added seven more in this game for a total of 56 yards. That, mixed with three turnovers, is not a recipe for success.
There is clearly some fine tuning that needs to be done on both sides of the ball and that was to be expected, but this is a tough one to swallow when wins have been hard to come by. Unlike Week 3 against Ohio State, there are no moral victories after this one. Rutgers is 1-3 with a matchup against Michigan in Piscataway in Week 5.