After a 3-0 start to this season, Rutgers football is currently mired in a four game losing streak. Frustrations within the fan base hit a high note during head coach Greg Schiano’s second tenure with the 21-7 loss to Northwestern on October 16. The Scarlet Knights struggled once again offensively and lost to the previously perceived worst team in the Big Ten by two touchdowns.
In his first press conference following the bye week, Schiano ended it with a heartfelt message to fans and supporters of the program.
“We have the pen in our hand. We get to write this story. It’s up to us to do it,” Schiano said. “I’d ask that our fans stick with us. It’s coming. I know it can get frustrating, no one more than us. I understand that when you follow a team, you don’t really have control. All you get to do is see what they do on game day. We obviously have more control because we’re doing it every day. But the arrow on this program is up. We’ll just keep moving. But we need our fans to stick with us. I guarantee you our players will continue to work hard, our coaches will. It’ll turn.”
Rutgers travels to face Illinois on the road this Saturday, October 30 at noon E.T. in a game airing live on the Big Ten Network. The Illini are coming off an improbable nine overtime victory over then No. 7 Penn State in Happy Valley by the final score of 20-18. Under first year head coach Bret Beilema, Illinois is 3-5 overall and also beat Nebraska in Big Ten play.
Former RU quarterback Art Sitkowski transferred to Illinois this past offseason and has started five games this season. However, head coach Bret Beilema announced on Monday that he suffered a broken arm in the win and will be out for the season.
This game is crucial to Rutgers’ chances to earn the program’s first bowl bid in seven years this season. A win would completely change the current narrative around the team. After winning three Big Ten games last fall, a win over Illinois would at least give the Scarlet Knights a chance to replicate the feat this season.
The remaining schedule is Wisconsin at home, on the road at Indiana and Penn State, followed by the regular season finale at home against Maryland. While the path to a bowl game is much smaller than a few weeks ago, a win over the Illini keeps hope alive. A loss would make it highly unlikely that RU could turn things around enough to qualify for the postseason.
The offense is averaging just 11.5 points per game in Big Ten play and the defense has surrendered four touchdowns of 60+ yards in the past two defeats. Illinois pounded Penn State on the ground in rushing for 357 yards and 5.3 yards per carry. The Illini have also beaten the Scarlet Knights four of the past five seasons.
After suffering from offensive line woes, starting quarterback Noah Vedral struggling to make plays and the need to play less experienced players due to injuries to key players, the bye week came at the perfect time.
Schiano was still optimistic on Monday that a turnaround is possible. He stated what his message to the team has been.
“We still have a chance to write the story for the 2021 season, however we see fit,” said Schiano. “We have five ballgames left, and it’s in our hands. We can have a very successful season, or we cannot. It’s all up to us. If anyone wants to talk about anything going on at other places, it doesn’t matter. It’s up to us. It’s what happens in this room, out on those practice fields. We have to make it happen. And that excites me. We’re headed into November and we still have an opportunity to do something special. It’s been a while for that around here. And that excites me. What we do with it is going to make the difference. That’s the key.”
Remaining optimistic is something longtime Rutgers fans are attempting to be, but recent history has made that a challenge. The week off was good for everyone. Hopefully, Schiano’s message to both the fans and his team proves him right.