Rutgers holds on to defeat Maryland, 31-24, in back-and-forth affair
The Rutgers football team didn't need 277.9 passing yards to get past Maryland.
It was a mark many figured they would at least have to come close to in order to defeat a side whose passing defense ranks 120th in the country.
The Scarlet Knights (4-5, 3-3) only posted 107 yards in the air, but it was enough to upend the Maryland Terrapins (4-5, 3-3), 31-24, in a game that flipped back and forth throughout.
"I don't care if I threw for 20 yards and we won the game, because at the end of the day we won the game," said junior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno. "You don't have to throw for 300 yards to win a game. ... Sometimes you don't have to pass the ball when you run the ball like that and you only have to pass in certain situations."
The final flip in Rutgers's favor came on a 22-yard touchdown swing pass to graduate transfer running back Gus Edwards to cap off a strong fourth quarter in all three phases of the game. The play came after a series of runs from Edwards, as he moved the sticks on first down three times in the final drive of the game. The last thing Maryland was expecting out of Edwards was a receiving touchdown.
"It was a play that we worked on a lot at practice," Edwards said. "Me and Gio (Rescigno) were on the same page and he made a great pass."
Amid a season where the Knights have routinely broken down in the second half, they responded to a Maryland touchdown and field goal in the third quarter with two touchdowns in the fourth. Senior running back Robert Martin preceded Edwards's with a 10-yard rush into the end zone, the 18th of his career.
Rutgers's offense, as with most games this year, was a running offense, despite Maryland's reputation as a poor passing defense. The Knights hit the ground for 239 yards on the day, with Edwards pacing the group with 109 of his own.
Rescigno also found his footing in Saturday's game, rushing for a touchdown at the start of the second quarter en route to collecting 54 yards of his own.
And even though the Knights did not get close to that 277.9-yard mark, they strung together passes when they needed to in the fourth, with Edwards, tight ends Myles Nash and Jerome Washington, and wide receiver Hunter Hayek all getting on the board in the final few possessions for Rutgers.
But all of that would have been for naught without a resilient defense in the fourth quarter, which has been a theme of late in Rutgers wins. Though the secondary had its struggles early on — including a pass interference in the third quarter in the end zone that gifted Maryland a touchdown — it earned its keep in the final minute of the game, holding off the Maryland offense through multiple pass breakups.
The decisive one came with 46 seconds to go, with junior cornerback Isaiah Wharton slapping away a pass intended for Terps wide receiver D.J. Moore.
Maryland collected 218 receiving yards, but the Rutgers defensive backs held its ground when it counted, not a small feat considering the injuries that have plagued that unit in recent weeks.
And when taking the beginning of the season into account, it's hard to see how the secondary that couldn't keep a lead against Eastern Michigan or couldn't stop Ohio State from stomping all over them could prove the difference in two Big Ten wins. Months removed from each of those games, the defensive backs are cutting their losses and coming out with wins.
"We were just shooting ourselves in the foot," said junior safety Kiy Hester. "We had missed coverage, missed tackles and things like that. But with the Purdue game and this one, in the Purdue game we had a goal-line stand and in this game we had a red zone stand, so it was huge."
Wherever the turning point in this season was, sitting at .500 with three matchups remaining will certainly be a badge of honor for head coach Chris Ash, even if he won't accept it.
At one point this season, Rutgers had lost 16 consecutive conference games, dating back to 2015. Now, the team has three Big Ten wins just this season. For Rutgers fans at the start of the season asking what rebuilding would entail, this was the best-case scenario.
"You know, to be where we're at from an injury standpoint and to be able to play the way that we've been able to play — it's not always pretty and it's not always perfect, but we're doing what we need to to give yourselves a chance to win," Ash said.
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