There are three phases of a football team. On Saturday, Rutgers was behind in all phases.
The offense was putrid early on, the defense was solid but the team still fell behind by 18 points. And of course, the special teams didn’t even get off to a hot start but in the end, it proved to be a difference maker.
Early in the contest, Rutgers muffed a punt that led to a Michigan State touchdown. It was not a perfect performance but the unit took advantage of blunders by the Spartans and provided the spark needed.
“We do some things that are a little bit different in our punt block and in our punt team,” head coach Greg Schiano said following the win on Saturday. “So we don’t always know what we’re going to get, so what we see and what we prepare for, sometimes they change.”
“They change their protection. They did some things that they have not shown. But our kids look at that as a play that’s a viable play and they made a big one on that and then the sky kick was a tremendous play by Thomas Amankwaa and a great kick by Jude, to place it where he did. Razor — razor thin. The margin for error was razor thin. Really proud of those guys.”
First, it was a dropped punt by Michigan State that Aaron Young recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. That is when the momentum changed. It brought Rutgers to within 11 in the fourth quarter.
After the offense put together its best drive of the day that led to a touchdown and two-point conversation, Jude McAtamney sent a pooch kick in the field of play and Amankwaa made the play of the game for the Scarlet Knights.
“It’s an intentional sky kick,’ Schiano said. “The on-sides is boom, boom. The sky is you kick it for a spot down around the numbers area. So yeah, that was very intentional. Something we practice all the time and Jude hit it exactly where he wanted to hit it.”
Amankwaa flew in to make the recovery that set up Kyle Monangai’s game-winning touchdown.
“If it’s a normal kickoff team, usually there’s a tight end there so he fair catches it or catches it and runs, right,” Schiano said. “But they were out with their hands team because they thought we were probably going to on-side and then we had one returner deep. He almost got it; he was close. But I thought Thomas did a great job of — quite honestly, I wasn’t watching him per se, I was watching the kick. And then all of a sudden a blur shows up in the moment, and I thought great focus and concentration to catch that ball.”
On an afternoon where the Scarlet Knights needed a spark, it came in the form of special teams.