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OTB staff predictions: Rutgers at Northwestern

Our contributors make their picks for Saturday’s game.

Michigan State v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Rutgers (3-3; 0-3) takes on Northwestern (2-3; 0-2) in Evanston, Illinois at 12:00 p.m. ET this Saturday airing live on BTN. It’s a huge game for both teams, as they are each looking for their first Big Ten win of the season. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week, while the Scarlet Knights bring plenty of questions regarding injuries into this matchup. Our contributors considered all the factors and made their predictions ahead of Saturday’s game.

Art Stein: Rutgers travels to Evanston for the second time ever to take on the Wildcats. The two teams have met just once as Big Ten foes with Rutgers losing 18-15 at SHI Stadium back in 2018. Northwestern is not the same team that won the Big Ten West last season. The Wildcats offense is proficient but like Rutgers has had problems along the offensive line. Northwestern’s defense has had major challenges to date. The Wildcat’s run defense has been porous. With Bo Melton still questionable, Northwestern should see a healthy dose of Isaih Pacheco, Aaron Young and Kyle Monangai. If Rutgers succeeds in not beating itself, they should be able to leave Evanston with a victory. Rutgers 31 Northwestern 13

Dave White: North by Northwest is largely considered the “first Bond film.” The classic Hitchcock movie features Cary Grant wrongly accused of being a spy and then on the run from New York to the Dakotas in a dashing gray suit (Hello, Daniel Craig). There are a ton of classic scenes, but most memorably Grant being chased through a cornfield by a cropduster. A clever bit of trivia: Hitchcock created Cary Grant’s terrified reaction in the cornfield by at the very least telling him or hiding a tarantula in the field with Grant as he ran. A great movie, it was almost called The Man in Lincoln’s Nose. Rutgers 17 Northwestern 14

Fred Gaudios: Not sure how I can compete with Dave White above, but I’ll give it a shot. :) I’m going to be in flight Saturday afternoon, please put your prayers up for my airplane having functional WiFi so I can at least get game updates while in the air. I do like Rutgers in a game I mentioned previously that this may be the most important football game they’ve played in seven seasons. Northwestern is a well-coached team, but they struggle to move the ball on offense worse than Rutgers struggles, and I suspect Rutgers’ defense will play much better than they’ve played the last three games. The last time I was in flight during a Rutgers game, by the way, was Michigan at Rutgers, October 2014. Though the opponent is different, we’re all living in a simulation, so I’m going to predict the exact same score as that game. Rutgers 26 Northwestern 24

Lawrence Krayn: I was wrong when I predicted the Ohio State score. I missed last week’s predictions, and for that, I apologize to the readers. As for this week, look, the Big Ten is a gauntlet, and this is still a program trying to regain its footing and define its culture amidst a pandemic, transfer/recruiting turnover, and a complete staff overhaul. So far, it looks like the team is on schedule, but there will be bumps in the road playing in this conference and this division. Injuries and suspensions to key playmakers do not help in that regard either. I’m confident that the team understands what’s at stake, and has had about enough of losing. I’m also confident they will show up prepared in Chicago. I predicted pre-season that Northwestern would be a loss. For the second time this season, I am going to go back on my pre-season forecast to predict a Knights victory. This one won’t require the same blind optimism as the Ohio State prediction, however; Northwestern does not look good. They are not the same team they were last season. Rutgers, on the other hand, took #8 Michigan to the wire, got punched by #6 Ohio State, and played #10 Michigan State tough but for 4 crucial plays on defense, and a few missed chances on offense. I’m not convinced that our 3 game slide is due to the team being bad, but of the competition being so good. Our student-athletes have a chance to get back on track this week, and I expect them to go 1-0. Rutgers 24 Northwestern 17

Cara Sanfilippo: I have to admit Rutgers fans, I am on a bit of a hangover still from the Ohio State loss and now have had the same rollercoaster of emotions after the Michigan State loss. This Rutgers team has me and I have to say that while I am feeling a bit down and out, I do believe in this team and the coaches. What worries me most is that we have had a lot of injuries coming out of the initial B1G gauntlet and an offense that already was not a huge strength is potentially missing some big playmakers. That was felt in the loss against the Spartans last week. With those questions marks, some injuries on the defense and Max Melton’s continued suspension, I am having a hard time predicting what in my mind should and needs to be a win for this season not to go off the rails. I am actually curious, if Noah Vedral is out or limited, how Snyder does in a starting spot. I think Vedral is a great guy but I am not sold on him but I am also not a football coach. Northwestern is a much weaker team than our previous Top 25 competition so I am predicting a very close win by Rutgers. I am feeling maybe 60-40 at best about but I am echoing the optimism above. Rutgers 21 Northwestern 14

Andrew Cangiano: After three straight losses against BIG 10 opponents ranked in the top 25 with a combined record of (17-1) the Scarlet Knights need a win against Northwestern in the worst way. Like the Scarlet Knights, the Wildcats come into this homecoming contest without a win in the conference. This is a game Rutgers can certainly win. The Wildcats have struggled this season, particularly in a 56-7 drubbing by Nebraska. They have given up the most yards in the Big Ten this season and the second most points. Rutgers should be able to tally more than the 13 points they have put up in each of the last three contests. However, Greg Schiano and his coaching staff have to be concerned about who will and will not be on the field tomorrow, particularly at wide receiver. If Aron Cruikshank and Bo Melton both can’t go in this road contest, you have to wonder if the team will be able to make enough explosive plays. It looks like quarterback Noah Vedral is a go. This is a great opportunity for Isiah Pacheco to have a breakout game running the football. I believe he will and the Scarlet Knights will make just enough plays to win this game in a squeaker. Rutgers 20 Northwestern 17

Sean McGrath: I see Rutgers bouncing back here as this Northwestern team is struggling in every department. I do think it will be close due to the injuries that have started to pile up. At the end of the day, Rutgers will limit the big plays that have plagued them the past two weeks. Look for them to establish the running game against a Northwestern rushing defense that is ranked 126th in the country. Rutgers 21 Northwestern 13

Aaron Breitman: I think it’s going to be an ugly game that will keep both fan bases tense and unsettled the entire way. It’s really a must win for both teams and I expect a very tight game. With both teams lacking explosive offenses, obviously taking care of the football and winning the time of possession battle with sustained drives is so important. Establishing the run against Northwestern is so important and you have to think Rutgers can do that using multiple backs. Special teams could be the x-factor and Adam Korsak could be the key to winning the field position battle. Rutgers is going to take chances and be aggressive in their play calling, so they have to hit on them more times than not. Also, don’t be surprised if Johnny Langan emerges a hero once again playing an important role down the stretch. I think it’s going to be one of those low scoring, strange games that come down to the final minute. Ultimately, I think Rutgers has the better defense and that’s the difference. Rutgers 19 Northwestern 15

Greg Patuto: Both teams need a victory in this game. Rutgers is looking to end a three-game skid while Northwestern is at home coming off a bye week. The good news for both sides is that neither is going to run away. Rutgers has been down big right out of the gate over the last two weeks. Northwestern is going off a 56-7 loss to Nebraska. Neither the Scarlet Knights or Wildcats have the offense to take over the game early. This will without a doubt be an ugly game that will be decided in the trenches. Rutgers has a non-existent rushing attack and will have to find a way to get it going against a struggling front for Northwestern. If there is a year to trip up the Wildcats, it is this year. In the end, Rutgers just might make fewer mistakes. Rutgers 22 Northwestern 17

David Anderson: Forget Xs and Os in this one. It’s going to come down to who wants it more and which team can tackle better. If either team can throw the ball in traffic or down the field with any success that will require downfield tackling to live and fight another down, another drive. I picked with my heart last week, but this week my head says Rutgers is average at best, slight below average with the injury bug and Northwestern is just not good. They don’t stop the run well and with Rutgers receivers questionable, that will hopefully be the difference in a slugfest. Get the tums out, this must win game for both sides is going to be a slog. It’s possible that there may only be one touchdown in this game, total. Rutgers 17 Northwestern 16

B Vincent P – The next four game stretch is critical to demonstrating the evolution of the Rutgers program. It all starts with the Northwestern game. RU is favored on the road, which is interesting, as NW has run into its own challenges. The Scarlet Knights are hard to gauge, as they have lost to 3 top 10 programs in a row. It is equally hard to predict which team will show up on Saturday, the team that could have been victorious against UM on the road, or the team that was never really in the games against OSU and MSU. The Rutgers offence needs to step up and put more than 13 points on the board, if they want to win this game. Vedral’s chokehold on the QB position maybe be strained if his performance does not produce points in the first half. As for the defense, they gave up four big plays last week, which I don’t expect to be a trend and more of a learning curve for the many freshmen that played. This game will be close and may even come down to late in the 4th quarter. This is a winnable game. Rutgers 24 Northwestern 21

Are we a bunch of homers blinded by optimism or do you agree? Let us know your prediction in the comment section.