Rutgers endures sloppy, upsetting 16-13 loss at hands of Eastern Michigan
On my way to the game, I trailed a car with both "Rutgers Mom" and "Howard Mom" stickers on the back.
Seeing Howard's name before a fixture that had many similarities to last year's game against Howard — in both matchup and timing — seemed like a premonition.
An interception and 71-yard return by Brody Hoying of Eastern Michigan sealed whatever signal that was with two and a half minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
By that point, the Rutgers football team would have welcomed an outcome like that of last season.
In what could possibly go down as one of the worst losses since head coach Chris Ash took over last year, the Scarlet Knights were silenced by Eastern Michigan to the tune of 16-13.
"Disappointed in the outcome of the game," head coach Chris Ash said. "Several things there that we've gotta clean up in all three phases to be able to come out on top and win a game."
It was an assault on all fronts, as Ash said, much of it inflicted by Rutgers itself, and it persisted throughout the entire game.
Eastern Michigan got out to an early lead off of an eight-play, 70-yard drive resulting in a touchdown from quarterback Brogan Roback to wide receiver Antoine Porter.
Unlike Howard, the Eagles held that lead for virtually the entire game, only surrendering their edge for a few minutes in the third quarter only to take it back in the fourth.
It came after a choppy drive for the Rutgers football team, in which it mustered only one forward completion amid four total penalties on both ends.
In a sloppy first half that ended in a 10-3 scoreline in favor of the Eagles, the Knights found themselves void of any production on the offensive end, aside from a 40-yard completion to fifth-year senior wide receiver Janarion Grant, which led to a field goal from kicker Andrew Harte.
The team was unable to put up anything else throughout the first half.
Bolin opted for downfield passes quite a bit following his success in finding Grant, but the subsequent attempts brought nothing in return.
To boot, the running game was less than stellar to supplement Bolin. Eastern Michigan, by way of running backs Shaq Vann and Breck Turner, outran a deficient Rutgers backfield in the first half, 65-27, in only four more attempts.
The running game revived itself for the time being in the third quarter for the Knights, with senior Robert Martin rushing for 52 yards on Rutgers' first drive of the half.
It all culminated in a 23-yard carry through the middle for fifth-year senior Gus Edwards, collecting his first touchdown in a Knights uniform to give them their first lead of the game.
And aside from a few assorted receptions shared among Grant and junior tight end Jerome Washington, that was it. That was the extent of Rutgers' offensive production.
Besides a final two drives that saw Bolin beef up his total yards to 198 thanks in large part to Grant's contributions, he was unable to match up against Roback of the Eagles, who threw for 260 yards and a touchdown.
Beyond the quarterback position, Ash maintains that the team was physically outmatched by Eastern Michigan overall. He holds that the team's mental preparedness leading into Saturday had little to do with its loss, despite that being its greatest crutch in the loss to Washington.
“I thought we had a good week of preparation. If anybody took these guys for granted, I sure wouldn’t have noticed it throughout the week," Ash said. "We just didn’t make some plays that were there.”
It stands that Rutgers being downed by a Mid-American Conference (MAC) team has some to do with the MAC team itself.
Along with Roback, Vann and Turner finding their footing against the Knights defense, wide receivers Sergio Bailey and Porter had their way with the Rutgers secondary, as junior cornerbacks Isaiah Wharton and Blessuan Austin were beaten on numerous occasions down the sideline.
Despite a seemingly one-dimensional throwing plan for the Eagles — throw wide to Bailey — it worked.
It was one of many reasons High Point Solutions Stadium cleared out at record pace in the final few minutes.
It is not 78-0, but it may be worse.
And yet, despite a hurt mood in the locker room, some players on this team refuse to take this as anything more than a blip, however misguided that be, considering the team's 11 straight losses following Saturday.
"I know that we're going to continue to get better," said fifth-year senior nose tackle Sebastian Joseph. "Yeah, Eastern Michigan outplayed us today, but is that who we are as a team? No. You saw against Washington, that's not who we are as a team. Obviously we had a bad day, and we just gotta get those things fixed, gotta get those things corrected, and we'll be fine.