Giovanni Rescigno, Rutgers' offense continue regression in shutout loss to Michigan State
EAST LANSING, Mich. — It's safe to assume that this wasn't the kind of homecoming that Giovanni Rescigno had hoped for.
After posting 200-plus passing yards and leading his team to one-score losses in his each of his first two career starts, Rescigno returned to his home state on Saturday to play in his first game on Michigan soil since his senior year of high school at De La Salle three years ago.
But the Warren, Michigan, native's return home was everything short of welcoming, as performance and score-based reasons prevented him from simply playing it into the fourth quarter of the Rutgers football team's (2-8, 0-7) ultimate 49-0 loss to Michigan State Saturday.
With a lopsided scoreboard favoring the Spartans (3-7, 1-6) and the Scarlet Knights in the midst of one of their more underwhelming offensive performances on the season, the sophomore starting quarterback was relieved by true freshman Tylin Oden in the final minutes of the third quarter after going 6-of-16 through the air for 40 yards and two interceptions.
In what was their least effective offensive outing of the year against a non-ranked opponent, the Knights totaled just 149 yards and eight first downs, finishing 3-of-12 on third downs.
"You look at the stats, it wasn’t good. And we had hopes that (Gio) would be better and he wasn’t today," said head football coach Chris Ash. "And it wasn’t just him. It starts up front and if we can’t run the football, we’re not gonna beat anybody by standing there in the pocket and throwing it all over the field and expecting it to beat someone. We gotta be able to run the ball and we gotta be able to protect the quarterback and again, we struggled to do that. That’s two weeks in a row we struggled to do that. We gotta get that fixed."
In now two of their last three games, the Knights got off to a slow start on the offensive side of the ball and compounded that rugged start with a costly turnover.
On the second of three consecutive three-and-outs that Rutgers began the game with, a Rescigno pass in the flat intended for redshirt freshman Jawaun Harris was picked off by Demetrious Cox. After jumping the route, Cox returned it for a 30-yard touchdown giving the Spartans a 14-0 lead.
By the time the Knights were finally able to piece together a drive longer than three plays, they were already facing a steep 21-0 deficit.
"Things just didn't go our way to start off," Rescigno said. "We couldn't really bounce back from the couple-touchdown deficit. So we didn't really bounce back well enough. From here on out we gotta learn from that and keep getting better."
For the second time in as many games, Rutgers failed to establish any semblance of a running game as its front line failed to consistently win the battle of the line of scrimmage.
On the heels of a 2.7 yards-per-carry performance in their 34-32 loss to Indiana last week, the Knights amassed 109 yards on 36 carries. Subtract Oden's 40 yards across seven attempts and those overall rushing numbers look even more inept.
Junior running back Robert Martin made his return to the backfield for the first time since the bye, but only had his number called eight times to gain an efficient 32 yards.
Senior Justin Goodwin and junior Josh Hicks both unofficially out-snapped Martin and combined for 33 yards on 19 carries. Even the dual-threat Rescigno recorded just one rush for a single yard.
For an offense's success that has been mostly synonymous with the success of its running game, it comes as no surprise that the Knights not only failed to put points on the board, but to sustain drives consistently as well. Across its 13 drives, Rutgers went three-and-out five times and totaled more than one first down on the same drive just once.
"We gotta be a balanced offense, we gotta be able to run the football and we could not do that today," Ash said. "That’s disappointing (because) it’s two weeks in a row."
One of the few positives to come out of the Knights' blowout loss was being able to get Oden a considerable amount of snaps. As he's done in his past appearances, the true freshman flashed his potential in the running game, dashing for 40 yards out of read-option sets.
But, while in a small sample size, Oden's need to improve his accuracy as a passer was highlighted in both of his two attempts, which fell incomplete.
While Rescigno hasn't been perfect, he's not at the root of Rutgers' recent struggles on offense and Ash reaffirmed the sophomore will continue to be the starting quarterback moving forward.
If and when the Knights break out of their offensive rut over its final two games, it will be because of the play of its offensive line.
"Right now, we still feel Gio gives us the best chance to go out and play," Ash said. "Tylin played some today. Tylin wasn’t a lot different than he was a couple of weeks ago. He struggles with a lot of the throw game stuff and you saw that today with some of the opportunities we gave him to throw. We gotta continue to bring him along but the whole things starts up front. Right now, we’re going to expect a quarterback on our roster to go out and win games for us, it’s not gonna happen."