Admit it, long-suffering diehard Rutgers football fans. You expected the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to choke against the Maryland Terrapins Saturday with a slim lead with few minutes to go in the fourth quarter. You have been so conditioned to see Rutgers lose too often.
Somehow, Rutgers defense made stops and found a way to stop Maryland at fourth-down red zone to seal a 31-24 victory at High Points Solution Stadium. What was impressive was defensive end Kemoko Turay did not play and safety K.J. Gray and linebacker Denote Roberts missed time. Rutgers coach Chris Ash had to use three of his offensive players on defense.
This is not a signature win, but Rutgers should look at this win as a building block of what they can do in the future. They showed toughness in coming from behind a 24-17 deficit to tie the game and win it on Giovanni Rescigno’s couple of touchdown drives, not to mention their defense stepped up in the final play. This is the type of win where Ash can say his program is on the verge of making progress.
The team’s improvement comes from the defense. After only having eight interceptions all of last season, they now have 11 interceptions this season, including six over the last four games. This is all happening with Blessuan Austin out for the season, and Jawuan Harris having converted from wide receiver to strong safety.
Also, Rescigno has given stability on offense as the Rutgers quarterback. Since he started after the bye week, he is 30 of 61 while throwing for 384 yards and two touchdowns. He has a quarterback rating of 111.1. Most importantly, he has thrown only one interception.
Rutgers improved to 4-5, but most importantly, they are 3-3 in conference play. This is an improvement from last year when they were 2-10 and winless in conference play. Yes, they had nowhere to go but up, but no one knew if this team would make this much of an improvement as in being in a position to play in a bowl game. To beat a decent Maryland team is something to build on.
If the Scarlet Knights can have a winning season and make a bowl game appearance, beggars can’t all of sudden be choosers by nitpicking about their wins. Take it and hope they can build on it in 2018.
Rutgers needs to start from somewhere. That was the purpose of this season, which was building a foundation for the next few years. Maybe this season could be a start of something. That’s what Saturday’s win was all about. They need to take baby steps before they can build something special.
Going to a bowl game this season would validate the plan Ash has in building his program. It would show maybe Rutgers has something going. This is why no one can poo-poo Rutgers’ season. It beats being in a position Illinois and Indiana are, which is they are going nowhere fast.
Remember Rutgers needed to play in some meaningless bowl games to build a foundation under then-coach Greg Schiano. For Rutgers, a meaningless bowl game such as the Quick Lane Bowl might as well be the Rose Bowl.
Eventually, the Scarlet Knights will have to start beating quality opponents in the Big Ten. That means beating Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan. Maybe get a rare win against Ohio State one of these days. That’s where we can determine if Ash’s program is successful or not.
If nothing else, this past Saturday piqued curiosity of what Rutgers can do moving forward. Their next opponent is Penn State. It would be unrealistic to think they can beat Penn State on the road, but it’s realistic to think they can play the Nittany Lions to a close game this coming Saturday. If they can win this game, though, Ash can say he definitely has his program going in the right direction. This is where anyone can say there’s hope for Rutgers.
College football does not trigger the masses in this town. There’s causal interest, but not as big of an interest as Midwest and in the South. If Rutgers can ever be a good football team year in and year out, fans will start rallying around them. That’s the way it goes when a team is winning. They have to give a reason for fans to follow them. Rutgers has been mediocre to awful forever, and that’s not going to get fans to waste their time watching them on a Saturday.
Only winning against quality Big Ten competition will excite the fans. So Rutgers has an opportunity to do something special Saturday by making Penn State sweat for a win or dare I say beat them. They have to feel confident about the way they are playing by wins they are getting lately. The win against Maryland should have them ready to go.
Rutgers has an opportunity, and they are ready to seize it at Happy Valley. Beating Maryland was nice. Beating Penn State would show there is hope.
The Scarlet Knights can change the perception of maybe they got something going to they actually do on Saturday.
Who knew Rutgers got something to play for this Saturday? That’s an improvement, isn’t it?