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2021 Rutgers Football Game Preview #7 at Northwestern

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The Scarlet Knights will travel to Evanston on Saturday to take on the Wildcats.

Michigan State v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (3-3; 0-3) at Northwestern (2-3; 0-2)

Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, IL

Kick-off: Saturday, October 16 at 12:00 PM ET

Weather: 59 degrees, mostly sunny with a 3% chance of rain, 15 mph winds

TV: BTN with Mark Followill (play-by-play), Matt Millen (color), Krystle Rich (sideline)

Stream: FOX Sports App

Radio: RWJBarnabas Health Rutgers Sports Network (WCTC 14-50-AM, WOR 710-AM, XM 207, Sirius 99) with Chris Carlin (play-by-play), Julian Pinnix-Odrick (analyst) and Anthony Fucilli (sideline); WRSU 88.7 FM - Chris Tsanokas & Dylan McCoy

Current Spread: Rutgers -1.5

Series History: Rutgers leads 3-1, Northwestern defeated Rutgers 18-15 in 2018 in last meeting

Northwestern SB Nation Site: Inside NU

Northwestern scouting report

Statistical Leaders

Rutgers

Passing: Noah Vedral - 108-for-169, 63.9%, 1,122 yards, 6 touchdowns, 3 interceptions

Rushing: Isaih Pacheco - 314 yards on 82 carries, 3.8 ypc, 3 touchdowns

Receiving: Bo Melton - 24 catches for 253 yards, 10.5 ypc, 2 touchdowns

Defense: Olakunle Fatukasi - 52 tackles and 3.5 sacks, Max Melton - 2 interceptions

Northwestern

Passing: Hunter Johnson - 45-for-75, 60.0%, 424 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

Rushing: Evan Hull - 509 yards on 70 carries, 7.3 ypc, 4 touchdown

Receiving: Stephon Robinson Jr. - 23 catches for 309 yards, 13.4 ypc, 2 touchdowns

Defense: Chris Bergin - 53 tackles, Jeremy Meiser - 3 sacks, Bryce Jackson, Brandon Joseph, Chris Bergin - 1 interception

What To Watch For

When Rutgers has the ball

The offense for the Scarlet Knights has been non-existent over the last three years. Coming into the season, the non-conference schedule was supposed to be a chance to get warmed up but that has not carried over into Big Ten play.

Now, Rutgers has a date with a Pat Fitzgerald defense that is usually stingy.

This season, that has not been the case. Northwestern allows 234.2 yards per game on the ground, which is by far the most in the Big Ten. Its 27.2 points per game allowed is second-most in the Big Ten. This is not to say that Rutgers is going to light up the scoreboard but this is the perfect opportunity to get the run game going.

This is something that needs to happen in conference play. It has been said many times — an effective rushing attack allows a team to control the game. Isaih Pacheco has left plenty to be desired this season. Yes, some of it is a product of the lopsided scores but that is only over the last two weeks.

Pacheco totaled 107 yards against Michigan. Other than that, he put up 35 yards against Temple and 50 against Syracuse while averaging under three yards per carry in both games.

This is a road game in the Big Ten. Rutgers had three victories on the road last season but it is looking like the 2021 season might be a bit different. The Scarlet Knights have a golden opportunity to get back on track here but have to do it by running the ball.

When Northwestern has the ball

If you are looking for an x-factor in this game, it is the ground game. As bad as Northwestern is against the run, the Scarlet Knights are not a whole lot better. They allow 151.8 rushing yards per contest, which is the third-most in the Big Ten.

Overall, Rutgers is allowing 22.8 points per game but that number has skyrocketed over the last two weeks. The good news is that Northwester’s offense is not that of Ohio State or Michigan State. This is a group that has struggled to put points on the board, averaging just 22 per game.

Hunter Johnson and Ryan Hilinski have gone back-and-forth for the Wildcats under center. Having uncertainties at quarterback makes a team look even worse quickly — remember this when you get angry at Noah Vedral. There is no consistency this season for the Wildcats and it is clear that this will be chalked up as a lost season. They are hoping that is all it is and this doesn't become the norm.

Northwestern is not going to run away in this game or hit the big plays that have burned the Scarlet Knights over the last two weeks. This is going to be a grind-it-out game where the Wildcats will come in with a similar game plan.

The Big Ten used to be all about the run game. While it still is to a degree, teams are beginning to air it out more. Well, the offensive weapons of the Buckeyes will not be on the other side in this game. The Wildcats will also have to establish the run and take care of the football to come away victorious.

Could Rutgers win this game?

Rutgers is favored in this game so yes, they could certainly win it. Should they? Will they? Those are different questions entirely. As bad as Northwestern is, the talent level is still a huge step up from the likes of Temple and Delaware. Rutgers needs to prove that the 2021 team can win a Big Ten game. If they can get a road victory, the Scarlet Knights will be riding sky-high back over .500.

Final thoughts

Is the goal still six wins and a potential bowl for Rutgers? If so, this is a monumental game. If they lose, the season might be dead but with a win, the Scarlet Knights keep their heads above water moving forward.

And looking ahead, the schedule is not as tough as it once looked.

Illinois is at the bottom of the Big Ten. Wisconsin is unimpressive, even though they should handle Rutgers. Indiana and Maryland are not as tough as once assumed. There could be some wins on the board but this is all on paper. Rutgers needs to show that they can perform on the field.

Not much was expected in these first three conference games. The 2020 season is over and it is time to show those improvements in 2021. It begins this weekend in Evanston.