Rutgers' 'not even one-dimensional' offense sputters once again in shutout loss to No. 8 Penn State
PISCATAWAY— On a night that saw the Rutgers football team set a Big Ten record for the most punts in a single season, the Scarlet Knights put on the kind of offensive performance that is more-than-occasionally required to shatter that type of mark.
For the fourth time this season, punter Michael Cintron had his number called more than the Knights had first downs (five) and total points combined in Rutgers' (2-9, 0-8) 39-0 shutout loss to No. 8 Penn State (9-2, 7-1) at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday night.
After David Bonagura missed a 43-yard field goal on the Knights' opening drive, a Cintron punt would end Rutgers' final 12 possessions of the game as the sophomore punter flew by the former conference-high tally of 86 and ended the night with 89-and-counting punts on the season.
For an offense that could only seemingly go upward following its 149-total-yard shutout effort against Michigan State last week, the Knights somehow managed to regress.
Rutgers failed to reach the century mark in total yardage for the second time this season, throwing for 48 yards and rushing for another 39.
"You look at the stats, we're not even one-dimensional," said head football coach Chris Ash. "There's a combination of things. Like I've said before, I'm never going to make an excuse. I'm not going to ever say it's about players. It's about us coaching and executing and finding out what our players can do and we've got to do a bet eastbound job of that."
The Knights' opening drive was indicative of the kind of night Rutgers' offense would go on to have. After the Nittany Lions fumbled the opening kickoff, the Knights took over at Penn State's 19. On the first play Rutgers called a sweep to running back Josh Hicks, who was dropped for a loss of 7 yards after Malik Golden broke through the Knights' offensive line.
Sophomore quarterback Giovanni Rescigno's pass on second down would fall incomplete and Rescigno would be stuffed for no gain on a third-down rush.
Rutgers had the opportunity to seize momentum and get on the board first, but it wound up being pushed back to the limit of Bonagura's range and came away with nothing to show for. Following that missed field goal, the Knights would go three-and-out on eight of their final 12 drives.
"It hurt," Ash said of failing to score on the opening drive. "You know, you go down the field, you kick the ball off, you recover a fumble and we lose yards, and then can't put the ball between the uprights for some points. That hurt."
The root of Rutgers' struggles on offense was its inability to generate a consistent rushing game. On 33 attempts, the Knights were able to gain just 39 yards rushing, which is good for a measly 1.2 yards per carry.
Rutgers had early success in rotating in Tylin Oden at quarterback for draw plays, but the Nittany Lions quickly caught on and began to sit on the rush when Oden entered the game. The freshman quarterback finished with 19 yards rushing across seven carries compared to just one pass attempt that fell incomplete.
That inability to establish a running game put Rescigno and the Knights in long, obvious passing situations on third down, which Rutgers has consistently struggled with converting this season. Saturday night was no different either, as the Knights finished 1-for-14 on third downs.
"I just don't think we were together as a whole executing," said senior wide receiver Andre Patton. "It wasn't one person specifically, it was just us as an offense. We (weren't) clicking, we (weren't) doing what we (were) supposed to do."
After seemingly finding an offensive groove for the first time in Big Ten play in its 34-32 loss to Minnesota, Rutgers' offensive performance has exponentially regressed in the three games since.
But despite being shut out and failing to muster any sort of rhythm on offense for the second consecutive week, the Knights were quick to defend the play calling of offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer, who was not made available for comment postgame.
"One-hundred percent confidence in coach Mehringer," Rescigno said. "Every single call he gives me I feel like he puts us in the best position to win the game. Coach Mehringer's always someone that's straight up, I talk to him a lot about what's going on, what I'm seeing and whatever play call he gives me and whatever the gameplan is going into it I'm 100 percent confident and I know he's 100 percent confident in me. And I wanna be out there."