Rutgers vs Texas State/Ohio State: Stock Up, Stock Down
The Rutgers football team is coming off a season-opening win over Texas State last Saturday, and are now midway through preparations for a big test early on in its schedule this weekend, when the Scarlet Knights (1-0) will travel to Columbus, Ohio to face No. 4 Ohio State.
Head coach Chris Ash
Ash had himself the best opener to a season during his time running the football program, capturing his first opening game win in three years on the Banks. Ash led Rutgers to a 35-7 win over the Bobcats in front of a home crowd at HighPoint.com Stadium. Saturday’s game will also be the first time Ash — who served as the Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach in 2014 and 2015 — will face Ohio State coming off a win. The previous two games that the Knights faced the Buckeyes under Ash, they were coming off losses to Iowa in 2016 and Nebraska in 2017.
Possibly the unit with the least amount of flare to it, the offensive line is one of the most important parts of a football team. They protect the quarterback and create a pathway for running backs to break through into the backfield. Rutgers’ offensive line did both jobs very well on Saturday. True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski was only sacked one time in more than 35 minutes of possession time. Aside from the sack, the line gave Sitkowski enough time to throw the ball 29 times, complete 20 passes and end the game throwing for 205 yards and a touchdown. As for the lines help in the running game, the Knights netted themselves 218 yards on the day.
In the past two years facing Ohio State, Rutgers has combined for 200 yards rushing — 83 in 2016 and 117 in 2017. The Knights had more than that last weekend alone, so things definitely look encouraging. The return of sophomore Raheem Blackshear and the entrance of transfer graduate student Jonathan Hilliman gives Rutgers an added edge heading into Saturday’s matchup. Blackshear ended the game with 2 touchdowns — 1 in the air and 1 on the ground — and 62 rushing yards, while Hilliman ran both of his touchdowns in and ran for 60 yards.
The senior defensive back finally made his return to the field for the Knights last Saturday, and he certainly raised some eyebrows with his early play. Austin had three tackles, a sack and the lone interception for Rutgers … within just the first 20 minutes of play in the game. But, Austin went down after his interception, had to be helped off the field and did not return. Ash refused to give any updates on his status for Saturday’s game during Monday’s press conference, so this is something to keep an eye on.
Rutgers’ recent history against Ohio State
The rushing yards in the last two games against the Buckeyes aren’t the only problems the Knights have had in their last few go arounds with their Big Ten rivals. Rutgers has lost to Ohio State 56-0, 58-0, 49-7 and 56-17 since joining the Big Ten in 2014. History is certainly not on the Knights’ side, especially with their conference play in the past two seasons under Ash being a bad losing record of 3-14. If Rutgers hopes to take out the No. 4 team in the country, they will need an exceptional showing from every part of their roster and coaching staff.
Yes, Sitkowski did have pretty decent numbers for his first-ever college football game, but those three interceptions put a huge asterisk on his stats. With fifth-year senior Giovanni Rescigno sitting in the backup spot after losing the starting job in training camp, Sitkowski doesn’t have that much leeway to mess around with this season. He may be the future of the team, but he still has a long college career ahead of him, while this will be Rescigno’s final season on the field — so his time is now.