Rutgers has chance to collect 2nd consecutive win as Purdue comes into town
There was a lot to like about the Rutgers football team last Saturday.
It flew into Champaign, Illinois two weeks removed from a terrible loss to Ohio State and put 35 points on the board, enough to take down the Illini. The Scarlet Knights collected their first Big Ten win since 2015, when they took down Indiana on the road, 55-52.
"It was good preparation throughout the past two weeks on the bye ... Everybody was just locked in and focused, so we went out there and it was just like second nature," said senior running back Robert Martin. "Everybody was just going hard and executing, and when we execute, we just put drives together."
Martin was part of a running back core that saw the end zone five times, but as anybody on the team would say, last weekend's game was exactly that — last weekend.
As for this weekend, Rutgers (2-4, 1-2) will welcome the Purdue Boilermakers (3-3, 1-2) to High Point Solutions Stadium at noon on Saturday.
The Knights play host to a Purdue side unlike teams of years past. The Boilermakers have already matched their win total from last season and against a difficult early schedule at that — they have come up short against then-No. 16 Louisville, then-No. 8 Michigan and then-No. 7 Wisconsin.
But even losing against those squads, Purdue kept the matchups relatively close, finishing within a score against the Cardinals and the Badgers.
Still, head coach Chris Ash is adamant on focusing on the consistency of his team rather than the recent successes of Purdue.
"Purdue is a much-improved football team," Ash said. "But I'm not worried about that. I'm more worried about our team being able to, again, refocus and prepare the way that they did for that Illinois game if we're going to have a chance in this game."
If the Knights are going to have a chance, it is undoubtedly going to come through the run game. Rutgers put up 274 yards on the ground last Saturday, and the team squares off against a rush defense that leaves a lot to be desired in Purdue's.
The Boilermakers are ranked 80th in the country in rushing yards allowed with 1,050, and the foursome of Gus Edwards, Robert Martin, Raheem Blackshear and Josh Hicks in the backfield could find themselves repeating their efforts from last week.
For Ash, that starts with the offensive line, a unit that had considerable success blocking and paving the way for the running backs against Illinois. The group has also performed well throughout the season in protecting the quarterback — which will be junior Giovanni Rescigno once again on Saturday — only allowing five sacks so far this year, which is tied for ninth best in the nation.
"Offensively, our whole line was the unit of the (Illinois) game," Ash said. "I thought outside of the Washington game that was the best that our offensive line had played so far this season. Outstanding in the run game, pad level was better, footwork was better, stayed on blocks better."
Just like last week, that offensive line will play in front of Rescigno, whose status was day-to-day until a couple of days ago following a knock to his knee last Saturday.
Rescigno assumed his old starting spot for the first time against Illinois, allowing the run game to dictate the offense. Rescigno only threw the ball 10 times, posting 89 yards to go with the 41 yards he had himself on the ground.
So much of last week's game for the offense was controlled by the four in the backfield, which makes the Purdue matchup uncertain at best. The Boilermakers are already favored as the road team and if the running backs don't show, another offensive unit will need to step up for Rutgers — something that hasn't happened through six games.
And there's always the other side — the physicality and emotion that the Knights will want to replicate in order to capture their second Big Ten win in two years.
"Get our guys to forget about it and remember about the process to create that and what they did, how they practiced, how they prepared. ... We've got to be able to do that each week, and that's a measure of a consistent head coach and a coaching staff to be able to get that done. It's a measure of a consistent player to be able to get that done," Ash said. "That's really what it is."
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