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The one thing we know about Rutgers football after 21-7 loss to Northwestern

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The Scarlet Knights suffered a damaging defeat as making progress this season is in jeopardy.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers lost to Northwestern 21-7 on the road on Saturday for its fourth straight defeat. The first three came against teams ranked in the top ten nationally. Saturday’s loss came against the team generally considered the worst in the Big Ten…..until now.

After an inspiring 3-0 start to the season by sweeping the non-conference portion of the schedule, Greg Schiano’s second season has gone off the rails. You can’t sugarcoat this loss. The only hope is to douse it with gasoline.

It was a troubling performance in many ways.

Rutgers averaged 2.2 yards rushing per carry against the worst rush defense in the Big Ten as Northwestern allowed 234 yards on the ground per game coming in.

The offensive line has regressed the past two games to a level that makes you wonder if the problems are fixable anytime soon.

Noah Vedral has made a valiant effort, is a warrior and is a class act, but simply hasn’t been good enough to deserve to remain the starter. The problem is who do you replace him with that can do better at this point?

The Rutgers defense allowed 231 passing yards in the first half alone and another 60+ yard touchdown.

The defense also was unable to force a turnover for the fourth time over the last five games.

And after committing the fewest penalties per game in the country before last week, Rutgers has committed 18 in the last two games including a ridiculous 11 penalties in this loss.

Injuries have piled up but even Bo Melton was able to return and made a spectacular touchdown reception. It’s obvious the absence of Reggie Sutton, Cedrice Paillant and a banged up Raiqwon O’Neal has negatively impacted the offensive line. No more than Sutton, who was a rock at guard. And with Max Melton and Chris along returning from suspension, the younger Melton left injured in the first half.

We knew this rebuild would take time. But we also know for sure now is what we all feared. Last season wasn’t real.

Schiano himself questioned what happened and said before this season he wasn’t sure if the progress made was real based on all of the unique factors that took place during that shortened season impacted by COVID-19. We know now that Rutgers winning three Big Ten games last season wasn’t a true marker for where this program is at.

The Scarlet Knights returned 92% of its production, most in the Big Ten, and all but two starters from last season’s team. They are now 0-4 in the Big Ten and look like a broken team with not a lot to hope for the rest of this season. Anyone who thinks there is still a path to a bowl game needs to be admitted to the psychiatric ward as soon as possible.

Not making a bowl game and not finishing with a winning record this season would not mean progress didn’t occur. The general consensus had Rutgers going 5-7 in year two of Schiano 2.0. Now it’s fair to wonder if this team can win another game this season.

The offense is averaging 11.5 points per game in Big Ten play and looks like a shell of what Sean Gleeson was able to accomplish last season. Ever since the defense played the half for the ages against Michigan, they’ve been below average.

There is a lot wrong with this team and fortunately heading into a bye week allows the coaching staff time to try and sort things out. Facing Illinois out of the bye is a great opportunity to apply those changes and earn a much needed victory.

Whatever happens, things need to change. The team plays hard but the execution is nowhere at the level it needs to be.

The biggest change needed for fans and people around this program is to accept that the results of last season weren’t a real indicator of how far this program is along. Schiano has certainly made progress and led positive changes, but patience is needed now more than ever.

A non-competitive loss to Northwestern, a team coming off of a 49 point loss to Nebraska, has made that crystal clear. This wasn’t Kansas bad from 2018, but it was the worst defeat since in regard to what it meant for the program. Turning things around is still a far, far away from happening.

For Schiano and this coaching staff, there is only one thing to do. Head back to the drawing board and start over.