As Rutgers has shown obvious improvement on the field this season, a big reason why has been how they have started games. They are currently outscoring opponents 54-24 in the first quarter and have scored touchdowns on three of six opening drives this season. The preparation and game planning from Greg Schiano and his coaching staff has been a major upgrade compared to the Chris Ash era. Their play at the start of games has made this point obvious.
While there has been some criticism on Schiano’s adjustments in the second half of games, aside from the win over Purdue when the staff was brilliant on both sides of the ball, the numbers don’t bear a major deficit. Rutgers has been close to even in the second half, having been outscored 55-52 in the third quarter and leading opponents 45-41 in the fourth quarter. Take the Purdue third quarter out of the equation and they’ve been outscored 48-31 in the third, but that still isn’t a terrible deficit spread over six games. They outscored Purdue 3-0 in the fourth.
The real issue for this team has been in the second quarter, as opponents have outscored RU 81-27. This point was astutely pointed out by reader TJ Snook and I promised to cover it this week. The only games in which Rutgers outscored opponents in the second quarter was the season opening win over Michigan State (14-6) and the painful triple OT defeat to Michigan (10-7). In the other four games, in which Rutgers has gone 1-3, they’ve been outscored 68-3. Even against Purdue, the Scarlet Knights saw a lead turn into a multiple score deficit after they were outscored 16-0 in the second quarter last Saturday.
Head coach Greg Schiano was asked about the repeated problems in his weekly press conference and said “We have talked about it a lot actually. The second quarter is like a dirty word around here lately.” He continued, “We have to figure out how we can perform better. Again, in our mentality, chop is one play at a time, one action at a time. So I don’t like to get to into this quarter or that quarter. I try to look more at what are we doing differently in the second quarter than we are in the first, third, or fourth, rather than what can we do differently. And we have been looking at it.”
An interesting facet of this Saturday’s matchup against Penn State is that the Nittany Lions have also had major struggles in the second quarter. The good news is that PSU has been outscored 48-24 by opponents in the first quarter, a trend that bodes well for Rutgers. Where things are even is in the second quarter, as Penn State has also been outscored by a wide margin of 76-26. They have been far better in the second half of games, outscoring opponents 41-21 in the third quarter and 52-38 in the four quarter. However, it’s been in comeback mode after trailing at the half in every game by double digits aside from last week’s win over Michigan, the only time they have led at the break. Hence, why PSU is just 1-5 on the season.
In a general sense, the key for Rutgers this weekend is solving its second quarter woes. Penn State has lost every game it has trailed at halftime this season. The Scarlet Knights did what PSU hasn’t just last week after trailing Purdue by 10 points before dominating the Boilermakers in the second half. However, they don’t want to have to rely on second half comebacks two weeks in a row.
There is no magic solution and we don’t even know who will be lined up under center on Saturday for Rutgers. It’s possible all three quarterbacks will play depending on the health of starter Noah Vedral. We know Johnny Langan will get opportunities and Artur Sitkowski might as well if Vedral sits out a second game or struggles due to his injury. That certainly makes it difficult on Penn State from a preparation standpoint, as all three QB’s possess different skill sets. No matter who plays and how much on Saturday, limiting mistakes with turnovers and penalties will be key to the entire game, not just the second quarter.