After getting off to a slow start in the non-conference schedule, Isaih Pacheco reminded everyone why he is one of elite running backs in the Big Ten with a strong performance against Michigan in Rutgers’ 20-13 defeat in Ann Arbor last Saturday.
The resurgence of Pacheco, who carried the rock 20 times for 107 yards against the Wolverines and added two receptions for 14 yards, was one of the major bright spots for the Scarlet Knights in the loss.
Pacheco was especially effective in the second half, as he ripped off runs of 16, 26 and 19 yards, helping the Scarlet Knights claw back from a 20-3 halftime deficit.
Head Coach Greg Schiano said that while stopping the run was important, getting the ground attack going against Michigan was just as crucial.
“Equally important in the second half is the way we ran the football,” Coach Schiano remarked in his post game press conference.
Along with Pacheco, backfield mate Kyle Monangai (5 rushes, 22 yards) and quarterback Noah Vedral (11 rushes, 46 yards) contributed to the Scarlet Knights strong rushing attack against the Wolverines.
After Michigan pushed Rutgers around in opening half, the Scarlet Knights flipped the script over the final two quarters, controlling both sides of the line of scrimmage and outgaining the Wolverines 196-112 on the ground for the game.
Prior to the contest Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh praised the ability of Rutgers backfield, Pacheco in particular.
“Rutgers, they’ve got really good backs,” Harbaugh said in his pre-game press conference via WolverinesWire. “Always have great respect for Pacheco and they’re extremely athletic. He’s a really good runner. Always gets north-south, breaks tackles, can make the big play.”
One of the keys for Pacheco’s breakout game was the play of the offensive line. Coach Schiano said although that unit is not where he wants it to be yet, he has seen growth.
“We’re making progress, it’s not close to where I want it to be, no,” Schiano said at his weekly press conference Monday. “But we’re making progress, If you can continue to make progress you’ll get it to where you want it to be; but we have a long way to go.”
Pacheco has seen his yards on the ground increase each contest this season, as Pacheco totaled 14 carries for 35 yards in the opener against Temple (including 1 touchdown), 19 carries for 50 yards against Syracuse, and 12 rushes for 67 yards against Delaware (2 touchdowns). He finally broke the 100 yard mark against Michigan.
Pacheco and the running game will be especially important in establishing balance to the Scarlet Knights offense as they host #11 Ohio State at SHI stadium this week. The junior from Vineland, NJ needs 53 yards rushing this week against the Buckeyes to reach 2,000 yards for his career.
So far the Buckeyes defense ranks in the middle of the pack nationally against the run this year, surrendering 4.0 yards a rush (68th) and 155 yards a game (69th).
The offensive line will have its depth tested again this week, as guard Reggie Sutton, who was injured in practice last week and did not play against the Wolverines, will need surgery and will not play again this year, coach Schiano confirmed Monday.
Schiano praised the play of Troy Rainey, a converted defensive lineman, who made his first start at right guard against Michigan in Sutton’s absence.
“We needed Troy and I thought he stepped up,” Schiano said.