Rutgers embraces electric environment
Two weeks after the Rutgers football team duked it out with then-No. 4 Michigan State under the lights on national television, another top-five opponent comes marching on into High Point Solutions Stadium.
And this time, the stakes are twice as high.
For the first time since Miami came to town in 2002, the Scarlet Knights (3-3, 1-2) host the No. 1 team in the country when Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) storms the Banks on Saturday night.
As if the pressure of playing college football’s perennial powerhouse wasn’t enough, Rutgers will do it in front of a national television audience on ABC Network for the first time in program history.
Factor in the struggle to stay alive for bowl eligibility at the .500 mark midway through the season and the implications are closer than they might feel.
But head coach Kyle Flood and the Knights are embracing the spotlight and the weight it carries head-on.
“Saturday night will be the best atmosphere in all of college football,” Flood said on Tuesday during the Big Ten Coach’s Week 8 Teleconference. “Anybody who’s ever been to a primetime night game at High Point Solutions Stadium will tell you that.”
While Flood’s bold assertion might be a bit of a stretch, the recent environment for night games in Piscataway has not disappointing.
When the Knights faced the Spartans (7-0, 3-0) on Big Ten Network, the Blackout crowd of 50,373 poured into the Point and nearly upset the No. 4 team in the country when their home team didn’t stand a chance in the eyes of national analysts.
Last year, Rutgers made a splash in its inaugural Big Ten season with two electrifying atmospheres. There was the Sept. 13 conference opener with Penn State before the historic first Big Ten win in Rutgers athletics history against Michigan on Oct. 4.
Prefacing that, Piscataway has witnessed pandemonium in top-five upsets on the primetime stage with a 28-25 upset of No. 3 Louisville in 2006 before delivering a 30-27 stunner against No. 2 South Florida one year later in 2008.
From the days of being known as the 41,500-seat Rutgers Stadium to its expansion and sponsorship in its naming rights to High Point Solutions Stadium, much has changed for the Knights’ home field in the past decade.
And the atmosphere has only grown with it.
“Especially when it’s primetime, it’s packed. You got that juice flowing,” said sophomore nose tackle Sebastian Joseph. “It’s a great feeling, it’s a blessing. Not many people can experience it. I’m just thankful for it and I know we’re gonna be ready.”
But that might not entirely faze the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s home venue, Ohio Stadium, stands as the third-largest college football venue in the nation with a 104,944-seat capacity.
As the lone arenas ranking ahead with Michigan Stadium (109,901) in Ann Arbor and Beaver Stadium (107,282) in State College, the Big Ten brings some of the best football environments in the country.
The level of difficulty that comes with it has stifled Rutgers since it joined its conference peers, but Flood sees the latest opportunity with the No. 1 team in the land as the best shot yet.
“It's another great sign of what life will be like in the Big Ten,” Flood said. “Every week in the Big Ten, you're going to play against really high quality football teams. And when high quality football teams get together on Saturday, national TV wants to put those games on air.”
In their first meeting with the Buckeyes, the Knights were chopped to pieces in an overwhelming 56-17 blowout at the Horseshoe last year in Columbus. Just last month, Penn State ran Rutgers out of Happy Valley, 28-3, in front of a primetime audience of 103,323 at Beaver Stadium.
With Ohio State beating its chest, as a winner of 20 consecutive games dating back to Sept. 6, 2014 —the longest active streak in the nation — there’s an obvious reason why the Buckeyes enter as heavy favorites.
And despite the turnaround from its 25-point comeback win at Indiana last weekend, Rutgers doesn’t even come close to matching the momentum of a program with a 45-3 mark to its name under the direction of fourth-year head coach Urban Meyer.
But if the Knights like their chances anywhere on any stage and in any conditions, it’s primetime on national television at High Point Solutions Stadium.
“Every week we go into, it’s a chance to win,” said senior running back Paul James. “We just happen to play the No. 1 team. I just feel like it’s an opportunity to shock the world.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.