There were no fans in the seats during the 2020 season to watch Greg Schiano and Rutgers but that did not stop them from making some great improvements.
The Scarlet Knights finished 3-6 while playing an all Big Ten schedule that spanned over nine weeks. Schiano made an immediate impact on the field and that is expected to continue heading into this fall. Rutgers recently announced that SHI Stadium will run at full capacity when games begin this season. This will be the first time that Schiano will be able to coach in front of fans since returning to Piscataway.
There are some expectations for Rutgers to take another step in 2021. Before we get there, it is time to be a bit nostalgic and look at some of the top performances of the 2020 season.
Honorable Mention: Week 1- Team vs. Michigan State
In Schiano’s first game back on the sidelines for Rutgers, the team did not disappoint. The defense forced seven turnovers (2 INT, 5 fumbles) on the way to a 38-27 victory over the Spartans. This got the Scarlet Knights off to a 1-0 start on the season and showed fans the changes are coming.
5. Shaheem Jones vs. Purdue: 8 catches, 88 yards, 2 touchdowns
Jones did not put up the most eye-popping numbers this season but he turned in his best performance when it mattered most. The Scarlet Knights entered a game against Purdue in Week 6 having lost their last four games.
Jones set the tone early in this one catching two touchdowns in the first quarter from Artur Sitkowski. Rutgers was able to get in the end zone early in this one and finished with a 37-30 victory. Jones totaled eight catches for 88 yards and two scores on the day.
4. Bo Melton vs. Illinois: 5 catches, 150 yards, 2 touchdowns
This entry is a bit bitter sweet for Rutgers’ fans. The Scarlet Knights entered a Week 4 matchup against Illinois at 1-2 and favored at home. Against a down Illini squad, Rutgers was beaten on a late field goal and this turned out to be the most disappointing loss of the season.
What Bo Melton was able to do cannot be ignored. He got the scoring started when he caught a 29-yard touchdown from Noah Vedral. Later in the third quarter, Melton would show that big-play ability with a 66-yard score down the sideline. The No. 1 weapon for the Scarlet Knights totaled five catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. This was the best performance from a wideout all season and Melton’s best of the year.
Melton is a proven commodity that is a force on the outside in the Big Ten. Rutgers will get him back for the 2021 season and that is a huge boost for the offense.
3. Olakunle Fatukasi vs. Michigan: 15 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 TFL
Olakunle Fatukasi asserted himself as one of the best tacklers in the Big Ten. He totaled 101 on the season including six games with double-digits. His best performance of the year came in Piscataway against Michigan.
Fatukasi logged a season-high 18 tackles against Penn State but he was able to be a true force against the Wolverines. In a triple-overtime loss, Fatukasi finished with 15 tackles, two sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. He even added a pass defended. There is no doubt that Fatukasi is an elite linebacker and the Scarlet Knight defense is better with him in the middle.
2. Johnny Langan vs. Purdue: 3-for-3, 84 yards, 1 TD, 21 rush, 94 yards
We mentioned the importance of the Purdue win above. Vedral was out with an injury and Sitkowski got the start under center. He played a solid game where he did not turn the ball over but it was Johnny Langan who was able to make the biggest impact.
Langan was a rather one-dimensional player in 2020. He was used as a rusher and defenses began to catch onto the trend. In this one, Langan got comfortable and made a huge impact in the second half, including a 62-yard touchdown pass to Kay’Ron Adams to get Rutgers back within three. The ground game of Langan was hard to stop on this particular night. He finished with 94 yards on 21 carries and was a workhorse to finish out the game.
This entry comes a bit higher on the list because it came in a victory. Heading not 2021, the Scarlet Knights might have to find a way to expand the role of Langan but in this particular game, he was a beast.
1. Noah Vedral vs. Michigan: 29-for-43 for 381 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
Coming off the Illinois loss, Rutgers returned home to host the Wolverines and they might have turn in the best overall performance of the year by the team. It was certainly Vedral’s best performance in a Scarlet Knight uniform.
Vedral led the way in an offensive battle that featured 90 total points. Vedral finished 29-for-43 for 381 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The drive of the year came with Rutgers trailing 35-27 with just over five minutes left. Vedral led a 16-play, 75-yard drive that ended in an 11-yard pass from Vedral to Cruickshank. To add another highlight, Vedral got in the end zone for the two-point conversion to send the game to overtime.
Rutgers ended up losing the game in triple overtime but this showed a huge step forward for the Scarlet Knights against a team like Michigan. Vedral showed plenty of inconsistencies over the course of the 2020 season and that is something that can improve heading into the fall. The importance of a full offseason cannot be downplayed.
Despite losing the game, Vedral put up big numbers and showed what he can do. This is what fans have tor look forward to come the fall season.