Rutgers 3rd down efforts key to Indiana loss
The Rutgers football team fell again on Saturday, losing its second Big Ten game of the season against Indiana.
The Scarlet Knights (1-4, 0-2) put up a late fight against the Hoosiers (4-1, 1-1) in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late, as Indiana left HighPoint.com Stadium with the 24-17 win.
True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski played his first full game of the season against the Hoosiers, going 18-35 for 154 yards, while also throwing his 2nd touchdown of the season. Sitkowski did also throw another interception in the game, and took a number of hard hits, including getting sacked twice.
“We played tough. I'm proud of my teammates,” Sitkowski said after the game. “I'm proud of the O-line. I'm proud of everyone. We rallied together and worked our tails off. We showed significant effort. I truly believe we did that.”
Here are three takeaways from Rutgers’ near comeback against Indiana:
Third down troubles
The Knights had a tough day on both sides of the ball once third down came up. For the game, the offense went a poor 4-12 on the day, leading to six punts and two fourth down attempts — which were both successful.
The Hoosiers had a better day on third downs, going 11-18 overall. Rutgers did do a much better job on defense in the second half in general, holding Indiana scoreless. The defensive effort showed on third downs as well, holding them to 4-9 in the second half, compared to 7-9 in the first.
That defensive spurt needs to come earlier if the team wants to not play catch up in the second halves of games — this was a similar issue against Buffalo last weekend, though that game was much more out of reach.
“We dug ourselves a hole again and a lot of it had to do with third down. We weren't good on third down on either side of the ball in the first half. Pass protection against pressure offensively,” said head coach Chris Ash after the game. “And then defensively we just had mental errors or poor pass drops that cost us on third down in the first half that did dig us a hole that we couldn't get out of.”
Two in a row
Junior safety Damon Hayes has been playing his best football for the Knights over the last two weekends. Hayes pulled in his second interception in as many weeks against the Hoosiers, picking off Peyton Ramsey in the fourth quarter, giving Rutgers an opportunity for a final drive to try and tie the game down 24-17.
Though the Knights were unable to convert points on that final drive, Hayes’s effort shouldn’t go unnoticed. Hayes also had 10 tackles on the day, good for third highest on the team on the day. His two interceptions lead the team this season, while his 30 tackles rank third overall as well.
Davidovicz stays perfect
Sophomore kicker Justin Davidovicz came into Saturday’s game 3-3 on field goals, the first Rutgers kicker to start the season with that mark since 2001.
He was only placed in the game for a field goal try once this game, and he really made it count. Davidovicz hit a key 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to bring things to just a one possession game.
“I was just trying to zone everything out and focus on the snap, the hold and the kick. I knew (sophomore long snapper) Billy (Taylor) would snap it perfect, (junior wide receiver) Cole (Murphy) would hold it perfect and the O-line would block for me, so I just did my job to put it through to give my team a chance to win.”
The kick was the fourth longest in school history and the longest to ever go between the uprights at HighPoint.com Stadium.
Field goals in college football are notoriously known for being shaky chances once you go out passed 30 yards, so a 52-yard field goal — which is impressive in the NFL — in college is flat out legendary.
“Really proud of the kid. I think that, I've been asked before, just about the confidence in the kicker, and putting him in that situation and had 100 percent confidence that he would go out and hit that thing,” Ash said.