The first truly bad performance of the Greg Schiano 2.0 era came on Saturday in a game that was over before the tortuous hour long first quarter even ended. After a fake punt that sabotaged the defense on the first drive, followed by quarterback Noah Vedral throwing his worst pass of the season to that point for a pick six, No. 11 Ohio State led 14-0 before a good amount of Rutgers fans even found their way to their seats. Credit the Scarlet Knights for never giving up, but they didn’t have the talent or depth to scare the Buckeyes, let alone climb out of the six foot hole they dug themselves in to start the game. The final score was a 52-13 that was an absolute drubbing.
When asked about the poor start to the game, Schiano said, “The fake punt, we felt we had an opportunity all week in studying it. Didn’t go exactly the way we thought obviously. Right? But, you know, that’s not one that I sit there and say that’s the game changer. We had plenty of chances to stop them. We had plenty of chances to score. There’s many ways you can go down seven nothing. Right? But the fake punt didn’t run all those yards untouched either. We have to really look at what happened and how do you fix it. And I’m not dodging the question because, yeah, momentum is critical, but in a big-time game, there’s several momentum swings. There wasn’t any today.”
After the best defensive performance in years and an inspiring comeback that fell short in the second half against Michigan in the Big House last week, hope that Rutgers would give Ohio State a real test was up in smoke much faster than the Big Ten officials could call a questionable targeting call against the Scarlet Knights for a second week in a row.
Vedral had one of his worst performances of his career with three interceptions. RU ran for just 111 yards on 3.6 yards per carry, including Isaih Pacheco having six carries for only 8 yards. The defense gave up 541 total yards and didn’t force a takeaway for a third straight game. The secondary gave up a lot of big passing plays while RU only had 1 sack and 1 hit on the quarterback. Valentino Ambrosio had an extra point attempt blocked on what appeared to be a bad snap.
Aside from a poor performances from just about the entire team, there were potential complications moving forward that resulted from this game.
Bo Melton left with an injury after trying to make a tackle on the first interception by his quarterback. Schiano said after the game that “I haven’t even gone there” in regard to a status update and that “I’m praying that he’s not going to be out long term.” Left tackle Raiqwon O’Neal left the game early on as well and was seen on the sidelines later in the game with a boot on his foot. Naijee Jones was ejected in the second half for a questionable targeting call and will miss the first half of next week’s game against No. 17 Michigan State.
All in all, it was a bad day for Rutgers football. How it is ultimately remembered in the context of this season is still to be determined.
The best news that came from Saturday’s game is that Ohio State is no longer on the schedule for the remainder of the 2021 season. Everything else was awful.
While the talent gap between the two teams is still massive, Rutgers played well below their potential and that’s the most disappointing takeaway. However, the silver lining is that this outcome has no impact on the Scarlet Knights ability to still have a successful season. To get to six wins and a bowl game is in no way off the table, regardless of how poor of a performance this was.
“I think that they’ve shown in the short time we’ve been together that they can step up and play with just about anybody,” said Schiano. “But we haven’t done it over four quarters against the best teams we’ve played. And that’s really our challenge. Today we didn’t do it for a quarter, so I can’t say — like I told you, today I have to — I have to look at it. I have to figure it out as a head coach. Then I have to ask my staff to figure it out. And then we’ve got move on because if you think you’re going to fix everything that happened out there — there’s some stuff that happened out there that you’re just going to have to flush it and move forward.”
Rutgers can burn the tape and regroup with their main goal still in front of them. Obviously, the Scarlet Knights need to improve in all three phases to accomplish it but they are capable of doing so.
I said earlier this week that there was no worse opponent for Rutgers to face after the strong second half performance against Michigan than Ohio State. It’s hard to build momentum and apply positives against a team as loaded as the Buckeyes, even if they are perceived to be down this season. While I didn’t expect an uncompetitive game wire to wire, a blowout to OSU shouldn’t be shocking. It’s disappointing for sure, but Rutgers has never given them a real test. That being said, I think the opportunity against Michigan State next week is actually good timing.
Yes, the Spartans will be ranked in the top 15 nationally and have cruised to a 5-0 record this fall in head coach Mel Tucker’s second season in East Lansing. However, they haven’t beaten a winning team yet and while they’ve been very solid, they don’t scare you like Ohio State does. Rutgers will have confidence having beaten MSU last season. It’s the homecoming game and comes against a program that has inexplicably incorporated the long used mantra “keep chopping” that Schiano and the Scarlet Knights began using in 2005 as part of their own culture.
If there was ever an opponent to get the attention and focus back for a Rutgers team that just got embarrassed in front of home crowd that was a near sellout, it’s Michigan State. The Spartans will certainly be looking for payback from last season’s loss and are hitting on all cylinders on their way to Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights will be looking for its first ranked win in 12 years and 33 tries against a team that can be viewed as being disrespectful to their program.
Even if Rutgers doesn’t beat Michigan State next week, their fate is still in their control. Northwestern follows and they were blown out by Nebraska 56-7 on Saturday. The Wildcats are now 2-3 and only average 22 points per game. After a bye week, RU travels to face an Illinois team who are 2-4 and only average 20.7 points per game.
Once a pipe dream, a beatable Wisconsin team comes to Piscataway in early November. The Badgers were far less competitive against Michigan on Saturday in a 38-17 loss in Madison compared to how Rutgers fared in the Big House last weekend. They are now 1-3 this season and only average 18.5 points per game. Granted, Wisconsin’s three losses are all to top 15 teams, but it’s clear their offense is not explosive.
That’s the real reason for hope. The Rutgers defense has proven to be good before facing the top offense in the Big Ten on Saturday. Michigan State is averaging 37.8 points per game and were fifth in total yards in the conference before this weekend. It won’t be easy by any means, but MSU doesn’t have an abundance of elite playmakers the way the Buckeyes do. The following three opponents after facing the Spartans do not possess explosive offenses at all. And don’t forget Maryland comes to Piscataway for the last game of the regular season. While Rutgers certainly has issues on offense, their defense should give them a chance to achieve several Big Ten wins in the coming weeks.
Losing so badly to Ohio State is a major disappointment. It was the worst performance in 14 games that Schiano has coached since returning to Rutgers. Being competitive against the best of the Big Ten is a category that the program and fan base wanted to finally check off this season. They failed, but it doesn’t change the road ahead of them. We can’t fully evaluate the context of this loss until after the season is over, but we do know now that the outcome probably has no impact on the fate of this team. They are 3-2 entering a crucial four game stretch just like we hoped they would be. What they do moving forward will be how this season is ultimately judged.