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Injuries a major concern for Rutgers

Head coach Greg Schiano provided status updates on half a dozen starters on Monday.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Ohio State
Aron Cruickshank and Bo Melton are questionable ahead of Saturday’s game against Northwestern.
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

After several players missed Saturday’s game and more left during the action in the loss to Michigan State, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano was asked for updates on all the known injured players during his Monday game week press conference.

The good news was that starting quarterback Noah Vedral and starting safety Christian Izien, both of whom left the Michigan State game early banged up, are fine and will play this Saturday against Northwestern. Vedral left with an apparent arm injury and Izien had a leg issue, but neither was serious.

Izien has been fantastic this season and made three tackles for a loss and ten tackles total in Saturday’s defeat despite leaving early. Vedral struggled against Michigan State with a season low 51.6% completion percentage and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first game this fall. However, he was missing his two best receivers for most of the game and the pass protection was a major issue. Having him available to start on the road in a winnable game against Northwestern is a positive, even if he has struggled against top competition.

The bad news is there are four starters that are questionable to play on Saturday.

Schiano was asked about leading receiver Bo Melton first and replied, “We’ll see how he comes along during the week.” After then being asked about receiver Aron Cruickshank, who left the MSU game with an injury, and left tackle Raiqwon O’Neal, who missed last week after leaving the OSU game early, Schiano said “same” in regard to their status. In addition, linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams missed the Michigan State with an undisclosed injury and Schiano said that it was a “wait and see on him too.”

The biggest concern is at receiver, as Rutgers could potentially be missing its best two receivers in Melton and Cruickshank in a winnable game on Saturday. While Shameen Jones stepped up with eight catches for 109 yards in the loss to Michigan State, offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson needs as many weapons in the passing game as possible. If Melton and Cruickshank can’t go, other receivers like Isaiah Washington and Brandon Sanders will have opportunities to step up.

“I’m not coach speaking; I don’t know if they’re going to be able to play,” Schiano said later in the press conference. “I know this, if they can, they will. Those two are warriors. AC and Bo are warriors. They want to play desperately. So we’ll see if they heal up. They’re doing everything they can treatment-wise. We have the best training staff in America. The doctors, I think they are unbelievable. We’re doing everything we can. We just have to see if it works in time for the game.”

The offensive line had it’s worst game of the season last Saturday without O’Neal and are also missing starting guard Reggie Sutton, who was declared out for the season after the Delaware game. The toll of missing two of their most experienced linemen seems to be taking a toll. They committed four holding penalties (another two were committed by a wide receiver and tight end), they were unable to generate a push and open up holes for the run game, while also failing to provide ample protection in the pass game by allowing four sacks in addition to three quarterback hits and well over a dozen hurries.

While Rutgers has depth at linebacker to replace Maddox-Williams, he is the best at pass coverage in the position group.

Obviously if any of the four players mentioned can play on Saturday, it would be a big positive for this team.

The Scarlet Knights have a tremendous opportunity to go on the road and earn the program’s first Big Ten win of the season. The past three games were disappointing but also were all defeats at the hands of teams ranked in the top ten nationally. The winnable second half stretch of the season begins Saturday, but the injuries to so many key players is certainly a major concern heading into the game.