Can a game with the No. 11 ranked team be a must win game for Rutgers? Read my R-E-S-P-E-C-T article here. Is Saturday’s game against Michigan State the one that will end the longest FBS losing streak against ranked opponents, now standing at 32 straight defeats? Was The Ohio State game a wakeup call, an expected outcome, or foreshadowing for how things will go for the rest of the season?
Rutgers has not won a game against a top 25 team since 2009 when it dominated No. 23 South Florida 31-0. As bad as that sounds, it feels like an eternity since their last win. How long has it been? We have had three United States Presidents, three Rutgers University Presidents , four head football coaches, three athletic directors, Hurricane Sandy, and now IDA. As a season ticketholder, the only thing we were winning was the tailgate (We always win the tailgate)! At least we were 1-0 before kickoff. Sigh!
RU Trivia question: Who was the coach for the last top 25 win? Wait for it...…Schiano!
In my opinion, this is a must win game for the Schiano 2.0 era.
Don’t believe it?
Compare the two second year coaches who went head-to-head in 2020. Greg Schiano and Rutgers beat Michigan State and Mel Tucker last season in the debuts for both coaches. After the Scarlet Knights beat MSU last year on the back of 7 turnovers on the road. Coach Tucker has guided the Spartans to an impressive 5-0 in year two and a No. 11 national ranking. There can be no better barometer to compare two second year coaches than another head to head matchup.
It’s hard to argue that the Scarlet Knights 3-2 record is not much different than MSU’s 5-0 record. (Editor’s Note: This sentence was revised after being published). Did I hear a gasp of skepticism from a few readers? The Spartans haven’t beaten a winning team yet. Rutgers dominated all three of their wins, including Syracuse where they won 17-7 in a game that the score does not reflect the true dominance. Rutgers only losses are to two top ten teams. Michigan is 5-0 ranked No. 8, but RU could have won on the road, holding an edge in several categories but the final score. Ohio State is 4-1 and No. 7 in this week’s polls. Looking at who MSU has beaten, the list is not impressive. It includes a Northwestern team who is 2-3 with losses against Duke and to Nebraska 56-7, a tight win of their own against Nebraska, who lost to Illinois, and wins against 1-4 Western Kentucky, FCS Youngstown State and Miami, who is 2-3 with one of them against FCS Central Connecticut State.
This should be the Rutgers streak breaking party, on no better day than HOMECOMING! This is by far the most realistic chance this season to end the 32-game skid against ranked opponents. A win would firmly elevate RU into the middle tier of the Big Ten conference.
To MSU’s credit they have two marquee players (both transfers), amongst a solid team. NCAA leading rusher Kenneth Walker III is averaging 136 rushing yards per game and gaining Heisman consideration, while junior wide out Jayden Reed is demonstrating he too could be a candidate with a standout season so far. Stopping them will be a daunting task. However, RU has proven they can rise to the occasion. They shut down the three headed rushing machine at Michigan when they were leading the country on the ground. There is no better time than Homecoming to demonstrate they belong in the Big Ten East and can win in the trenches.
Expect Rutgers to bring everything they have to win this game, as every contest after this one in the Big Ten is winnable with the exception of Penn State in Happy Valley. The Ohio State game was a wake-up call. Not because they should have won, but because RU went up against the best team in the Big Ten team over the past 15 years and it proved they have a long way to go. RU demonstrated they can play with most teams in the Big Ten, but not yet OSU. That is why the OSU game was a wake-up call, not the precursor for things to come.
It was hopefully a lesson learned for the coaching staff. Going for it on 4th and 8 from your own 45 on the first offensive series of the game, was well…. a bit offensive! Could there be a more desperate play for an opening offensive drive? The message they sent to the team was that if we don’t get a first down this game could well be over…eh hem….it was. I don’t think that was the intent of the coaching staff, but as a fan in the stands everyone was feeling the desperation. This week is the “Redo of all Redoes” and I expect the coaches and the players to come out and demonstrate they are ready to take the next step.
There are concerns with injuries and questions about the two deep for Rutgers, with Bo Melton, and Raiqwon O’Neal questionable. Expect to see a lot more of Aron Curickshank, Shameen Jones and Brandon Sanders as the go to receivers. The tight end game has not yet demonstrated they are true play making options, which was a hallmark of past Schiano teams. I expect this to change on Saturday. On the offensive line, there is talent and depth, but the real issue is game day experience. It is interesting to see Ireland Brown having swapped trench responsibilities and giving it a go on the O-line. Expect to see a lot of movement on the O-line to keep the defensive off balance and to find out who can fill the shoes of O’Neal, if he cannot go.
The game is going to come down to Noah Vedral. RU faithful, it really will. He must demonstrate he can rebound from a tough outing against OSU, keep the clock moving with first downs by quickly identifying the open receivers and not holding on to the ball. If you notice, the longer Vedral holds on to the ball the more bad things happen as he tries to force plays. He must leverage his game IQ, that the coaches have highlighted to be his on-field advantage, and take what the defensive will give him. He has Pacheco, Young, and Monangai to check off to, but he must find his wideouts and the tight ends to stretch the field. RU cannot afford to have MSU stack the box with 8 defenders and incapacitate the run game.
Rutgers also must win the crowd. The Scarlet Knights will need a packed house for the 12 pm kickoff with fans ready to energize the home team, bring on the noise to disrupt MSU, and let the opposing team know THIS IS “R” HOUSE! Get to the Tailgate early, eat your breakfast sandwich and crumb cake, drink your favorite libations (it is an early game so Bloody Mary is my choice), but get to your seats before kickoff.
I am bullish on RU’s chances. A loss does not prevent RU from going to a bowl, however, a win against another second year Big Ten coach, who has a top 11 ranked team, is a statement opportunity.
This is a must win game and hopefully will be an RU coming out party where they “MUST” breakthrough and end the longest FBS ranked opponent losing streak.
Bring on the Dogs and share your thoughts……. See you in the Blue Lot!