Rutgers feeds off electric energy as No. 4 Michigan State enters Piscataway
When Michigan State rides into Piscataway to take on the Rutgers football team in a primetime 8 p.m. matchup on Saturday night, the experience expects to be reminiscent of the historic night that took place roughly a year and a week ago.
Fans descended from the bleachers and onto the turf at High Point Solutions Stadium following the Scarlet Knights’ first Big Ten victory in program history.
The 26-24 triumph over Michigan, the all-time winningest program in college football, served as Rutgers’ entrance statement to a conference flooded with perennial powerhouses capped an inaugural season in the Big Ten where the Knights finished 8-5 overall and 3-5 in conference play.
The atmosphere conjured up from the blacked-out crowd under the bright lights still resonates with returning players like Sebastian Joseph.
“It is (different), especially at home,” the sophomore nose tackle said. “(The primetime atmosphere) just brings out that energy that — you just can’t explain it.”
When the No. 4 Spartans (5-0, 1-0) invade the Banks for battle this weekend, the chances of Rutgers producing the latest version of “Pandemonium in Piscataway” cut to razor-thin.
After thrashing the Knights last year in East Lansing with a 45-3 rout in late November, MSU clearly left its mark on the conference’s newcomer.
While Norries Wilson admitted that the film from that game receives a thorough look in determining what the point of attack was, the interim head coach kept the main focus on the present.
“Each week it's about — we feel like it's about how we prepare and how we execute,” Wilson said. “We know we've got a quality opponent. But regardless of who we may be playing, we try to make it about what we're doing and how we're doing and how we're executing so our kids can stay focused on what we think's important.”
The Knights (2-2, 0-1) have had a turbulent start to the season both on and off the field. On it, their lone two wins have come against the likes of FCS foe Norfolk State (2-3) and Power Five bottom-feeder Kansas (0-4).
Off it — well, suspended head coach Kyle Flood doesn’t return to the sidelines Oct. 17 at Indiana (4-1, 0-1). But senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo is expected to return after his restraining order and charges for simple assault under domestic violence were dropped earlier in the week on Tuesday.
But even after taking the ups and downs of Rutgers’ early season woes into consideration and trying to stack that up against the Michigan State’s proven prestige, the Knights are the ones with the momentum in their favor.
While Sparty slipped by Purdue (1-4, 0-1) in a sloppy 24-21 survival on its home turf, Rutgers kicked back and refueled during its lone bye week of the season.
A good number of Knights are banged up per the latest injury report issued on Monday, but the Spartans are dragging as well in their own right.
The loss of a veteran safety in senior RJ Williamson, who suffered a torn biceps muscle against the Boilermakers last week, joins outside linebacker Ed Davis as the two members of a stout Michigan State defense that are done for the season.
Sparty’s offensive line hasn’t looked much better with right tackle Kodi Kieler missing three straight games and left tackle Jake Conklin sitting out of last Saturday’s contest.
As much depth as MSU might possess in the trenches in comparison to Rutgers, the question marks on the line of scrimmage only help the Knights out on defense.
If Rutgers hopes for the end result to be anything close to last year when the Knights blacked out the October sky and rewrote history, the program will need all of the help it can possibly get.
Whether that’s from the atmosphere itself, an improbable effort by Rutgers, an inconceivable blunder by Michigan State or an unorthodox combination of the three, sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano’s take assures the set of circumstances should anticipate to be different in this matchup between David and Goliath.
“You just get juiced up as a player,” Laviano said. “The blackout under the lights, it’s just no better situation no matter who you play.”
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