Rutgers vs Northwestern: Stock Up/Stock Down
Every weekend seems to be a new high or low for the Rutgers football team, with true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski throwing for close to 300 yards and 30 completions against Illinois in the blackout game three weeks ago, to him then throwing four interceptions two games ago against Maryland.
This weekend continued that string of up-and-down weeks for the Scarlet Knights (1-7, 0-5) in the worst way possible. Rutgers held onto a 15-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s homecoming game against Northwestern, but the Wildcats (4-3, 4-1) put together their best game on the ground this season to score again in the fourth and steal an 18-15 win in Piscataway.
With the Knights heading into their bye week, here are the players and coaches whose stocks have fluctuated after the tough loss.
True freshman running back Isaih Pacheco
After running for 100 yards for the first time and scoring his 1st career touchdown against the Terrapins two weeks ago, Pacheco’s stock had already risen prior to Saturday’s matchup with Northwestern. With graduate student Jonathan Hilliman out due to injury and sophomore Raheem Blackshear missing the first half due to personal matters, Pacheco grabbed at another opportunity to show his stuff.
Pacheco had 10 carries for 72 yards in the first half, capped off by a 44-yard escape through the trenches that gave Rutgers its first lead of the game. Pacheco was surprisingly only given one more carry in the second half, with Blackshear back to take the majority of the workload.
Pacheco’s production during the past two weeks will surely give the offensive staff some questions to deal with in determining how to move forward for the remaining four games this season.
Head coach Chris Ash
Yes, the Knights suffered their seventh straight loss and are now heading into matchups with at least three top-25 teams in the next four games (Michigan State was just No. 24 before falling to now-No. 5 Michigan). But, Rutgers played by far its best defensive game of the season, holding an opponent to its lowest score since the season opener against Texas State (7). The Wildcats punted it seven times and were held to a combined 278 yards of offense (150 passing and 128 rushing). With Ash taking over some of the play calling duties in recent weeks, it finally showed against Northwestern.
But, his biggest contribution to the game could be his reaction to the safety by junior defensive lineman Willington Previlon, who sacked Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson to give the Knights a 12-7 lead before halftime. Ash was seen running down the sideline with a big smile on his face as he amped up his team and the crowd after the play. Between that sequence and the questionable roughing the passer call in the third quarter, Saturday was the loudest HighPoint.com Stadium has been all season.
Offensive coordinator John McNulty
Looking past his pro-style offense, in which Rutgers has only scored 3 passing touchdowns this season, Pacheco not being inserted into the backfield more than one time in the second half is astonishing. For an offense that was not getting much going in the passing game — Sitkowski finished the game 15-31 for 81 yards— you would think it would be a good option to go with the guy who broke away for a long run and who has scored your lone 2 touchdowns in the last two games.
But alas, McNulty went with his usual starter in Blackshear — initially rightly so — for the majority of the remaining rushes. Once it was clear that Blackshear’s production wasn’t showing up that day, McNulty should have inserted Pacheco right back in there to finish off what was a very winnable game — something that has been hard to come by for the Knights this season.
True freshman wide receiver Eddie Lewis
Lewis tied his reception high on Saturday with four catches, but they only amounted to 18 yards down the field, not producing much after the catches were made. The main issue, though, last weekend was the drops — specifically the drop in the fourth quarter in what would be Rutgers’ final offensive drive of the game. Sitkowski got the ball to Lewis on a third and seven from the Knights’ own 28-yard line, down 3, with approximately 7 minutes left to play. But the first-year man out of Mater Dei High School could not hold on to the ball, leaving Rutgers to punt the ball and seal its own fate.
Lewis will continue to adjust to the growing pains of a Division I athlete, but for now, he and all of the Knights will just need to focus on getting past the hard week and getting ready for what may very well be the toughest November schedule in the country.