June 17, 2019 | 78° F

First half woes continue to haunt Rutgers

Photo by Dustin Niles |

Although the Rutgers football team was not favored to win Saturday’s game against Illinois, the feeling was that this was its best shot at winning its second game of the season. But that was not the case.

The Scarlet Knights (1-5, 0-3) ended their three-game homestand with a third consecutive home loss, falling to the Fighting Illini (3-2, 1-1), 38-17 at HighPoint.com Stadium. The annual Blackout game, ironically starting at noon, was tough to watch on all fronts, and ended with questioning if Rutgers will win another game this season.

Here are three takeaways from this weekend’s loss to Illinois:

Giving the ball away

True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski entered the game coming off his best game of the season last week, playing his first full game and throwing his second touchdown of the season. He all but secured his position as the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. But then he took the field against the Illini. 

On the Knights first offensive play, Sitkowski took more than enough time in the pocket to make a good throw, but instead threw an interception right to the defense, setting Illinois up just 6 yards out from the red zone. Luckily for him, the defense was able to hold the Illini to just a field goal, but there’s no excuse for an interception on your first play.

He did manage to get some redemption on Rutgers’ final offensive drive of the first half, leading the Knights 80 yards down the field and throwing his 3rd touchdown of the season to sophomore tight end Travis Vokolek — the 1st touchdown catch of his career. Sitkowski seemed to gather himself overall after the first two interceptions, going 29-46 for 267 yards on the day.

Unfortunately, he threw his third interception of the day and 11th of the season at the end of the fourth quarter in the red zone, in what could have been a scoring drive for his team. 

“(He) had three interceptions. That's not good enough. Threw some good balls, obviously. Had a lot of yards, but we got three interceptions. We had some issues in the red zone with that,” said head coach Chris Ash after the game.

Rush defense nowhere to be found

Rutgers improved on keeping the opposing run games down the last two weeks, after giving up 400 rushing yards to Kansas in the third game of the season. But the Knights seemed to have kept their rushing defense in the locker room for the game.

Bush led the way on the ground with 116 yards on 18 attempts, adding 2 touchdowns as well — he also threw 10-18 for 89 yards and a touchdown. At one point, Bush broke out for a 41-yard run into the end zone. Running backs Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein also had a big day on the ground, with Corbin running for 137 yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts, and Epstein getting into the end zone on a 41-yard run, as well. The team finished the game with 330 rushing yards.

First half woes continue

Looking at Rutgers’ defensive effort in both halves of its last three games, the discrepancy between them is clear. Buffalo scored 35 of its 42 points in the first half two weeks ago, while Indiana scored all 24 of its points in the first half as well. The Knights kept both teams at bay in the second halves of those respective games, outscoring them by a combined 17-7 in the second half — and nearly coming back to tie the Hoosiers late last Saturday, just falling short.

This weekend was no different for Rutgers. The Knights gave up 24 points to the Illini before the teams headed into the locker room at the half, while only putting up 14 themselves. Rutgers managed to keep Illinois scoreless through the third quarter, but also weren’t able to put up points either. The Illini put up another 2 touchdowns in what could already be considered garbage time, while the Knights could only muster up a field goal.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @cgreen204 and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Coby Green

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