Rutgers wins consecutive Big Ten games for 1st time ever with home win over Purdue
History doesn't need to be pretty. All it has to do is happen, and the Rutgers football team is glad it did.
For the first time since entering the Big Ten in 2014, the Scarlet Knights (3-4, 2-2) have strung together consecutive conference wins, earning a slow but earned 14-12 win over Purdue (3-4, 1-3) at High Point Solutions Stadium Saturday.
"Really excited about our team," said head coach Chris Ash. "We challenged them several weeks ago after the Ohio State game to bounce back and show tremendous grit and resolve and brotherhood, and they've done that, and it's on to the next one."
It wasn't a flashy or exciting win — like Rutgers' 35-24 victory at Illinois last week — but it was enough to put a struggling Knights offense over a struggling Boilermakers offense.
Despite hefty rushing and receiving numbers on both sides, neither team was able to put together consecutive first-down plays for a majority of the game.
At least until the third quarter, it was a game of one play offensively for Rutgers.
On just the second play of the game for the Knights, graduate transfer running back Gus Edwards burst through the Purdue defense for a 74-yard run — the longest for a Rutgers player in a Big Ten game.
Despite tying his longest single rush of his career, Edwards only ran for 20 yards on his remaining 13 carries, part of a stagnant offense that seemed to be held up by a solid defense.
It was an especially strong pass defense, as a normally pass-happy Boilermakers offense had a host of drives stopped short with pass breakups and interceptions.
It was sophomore safety K.J. Gray and sophomore cornerback Damon Hayes who nabbed the picks, recording the eighth and ninth interceptions of the season, respectively, already surpassing last year's total of eight.
"It's just our mentality and everyone maturing," Gray said, on how the secondary has played compared to last year. "Everyone is coming together as a team and we just performed well."
Still, many of the defensive drives for the Knights amounted to the defense watching the Purdue receivers drop pass after pass, especially on third and fourth down — the West Lafayette side went a combined 4-19 on those downs.
The times Purdue did get deep into Rutgers territory were thwarted by the Knights' defensive line, stopping the visitors numerous times in the red zone, forcing field goals following strong drives downfield.
Unlike the Boilermakers, the few times Rutgers made it far into Purdue's territory were fruitful. The team was able to put together a balanced drive halfway through the third quarter, going to senior running back Robert Martin on the ground and junior tight end Jerome Washington through the air.
Junior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno and freshman running back Raheem Blackshear capped off the seven-play, 69-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass — the team's first receiving touchdown since September 16 against Morgan State.
"It feels great," Blackshear said, on getting his first career receiving touchdown. "(They) can see I can do both, the coaches are seeing it, so it's helping us out."
Edwards' and Blackshear's touchdowns put paint over an anemic Rutgers offense, as Rescigno could only muster up 87 yards on a 9-18 line, while the rushing game was unable to get going efficiently beyond Edwards' touchdown run.
No matter the offense's struggles, the game ended the way it started. A Purdue touchdown in the final seconds leaving the visitors with no choice but to go for the two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.
It was that resolute Rutgers defense — the one that was there all game — to give the team a historic win.
"I work for the players, and the fact that I get to watch them celebrate the way they have the last two weekends, that's all the gratification I need," Ash said. "That's the only thing I worry about."
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