How one drive encapsulated the culture change at Rutgers
The clock read 11:30 in the third quarter and New Jersey native Kareem Walker waltzed into the end zone for a touchdown.
The score? Michigan 28, Rutgers 7.
At that point in the game, it seemed like a wrap. The Scarlet Knights had put up a good fight, but the Wolverines had worn them down and were on their way to an easy victory.
Giovanni Rescigno had other ideas. The junior quarterback, starting just his third game of the season, led the team on its best drive of the season — an 11-play, 75-yard march down the field that was capped by a Gus Edwards touchdown run.
Of those 75 yards, Rescigno threw for 61, easily his highest total on a drive this season. And on third down with 15 yards to go, he made his best play of the season, as he took a big hit but delivered a 30-yard strike over the middle to Jerome Washington, fitting the ball into a tight window and giving the team life.
"I have confidence in all my receivers and tight ends. I know that if I throw the ball to them they're gonna make a play. I trusted Jerome on that play where only he could get it," Rescigno said after the game.
That drive was more than just a score that brought Rutgers within 14 points of Michigan, it was a sign that this team is one that will never give up. The same cannot be said about last year's group, which head coach Chris Ash alluded to in his postgame press conference.
Rescigno noted that he felt the Knights are close to turning a corner and turning so-called "moral victories" into actual victories.
"I do think (we are turning a corner)," he said. "We showed that today where we drove down the field and we executed."
While driving down the field and executing sounds like a simple operation, it is something Rutgers has struggled with on offense under Ash.
But on Saturday, the Rescigno-led offense did not turn the ball over for the second straight game. After having a turnover margin of -5 last year, Rutgers sits at plus-one through eight games.
"Us not turning the ball over is a big deal for us," Rescigno said. "It's something we stressed a lot throughout practice ... Not being able to turn the ball over is gonna give us a chance to stay in games and we just need to make the plays from there."
And on that same touchdown drive against the Wolverines, Rescigno was a part of another big play for the Knights. He looked for true freshman wide receiver Hunter Hayek on a back shoulder play.
Despite having a defender draped over him, Hayek reeled in the pass with just one hand, good for a 21-yard gain, setting up his team in the red zone.
"It wasn't that hard," Hayek said. "Great throw by Gio and I just gotta make a play when my name's called."
When Edwards punched it in, he put the exclamation point on a drive that surprised just about anyone watching the game.
While Ash does not like to talk about last season, it was impossible to watch Saturday's game and not notice the drastic improvement in the team. And that's not just because the team didn't lose 78-0 against the Wolverines, it is because the team showed that for the third straight game, it has no quit.
That is the difference Ash noticed. He couldn't care less about the scoreboard, considering both games went down as losses. He cares that his team fights for 60 minutes week in and week out.
The Knights did that in a road win at Illinois, they did it in a home win against Purdue and they did it in a road loss at Michigan.
There is a clear culture change at Rutgers and Chris Ash is the reason why.
"We made plays. It's as simple as that," Ash said, of the drive. "It was a good drive and a real testament to our players that there was no quit. They continued to fight continued to try to block and catch and protect and do all the things we want to do."