Rutgers blown out for 3rd straight game, this time at home
Before any of the players had made their way to the media to answer questions, the lights in the room went out for a second.
“It’s over,” said a member of the media talking about the interviews.
That joke could easily be the early assessment of the Rutgers football team’s season.
After another blowout loss, this one at home, the Scarlet Knights (1-3, 0-1) finished the non-conference part of their schedule with a total dud losing to Buffalo and giving fans no reason to believe the team can turn it around.
“I understand the frustration. I've been in this long enough to understand the frustration. Again, I feel really good about our future with our team,” said head coach Chris Ash.
But at what point do you stop looking toward the future and start trying to win now?
If anything, though, Rutgers’ latest loss proved the team has problems everywhere, starting at quarterback. Although freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski is most likely the quarterback of the future for this team, Saturday’s showing proved he’s not quite ready yet and that the coaching staff doesn’t fully trust him.
After going 6-13 for 39 yards with no major blunders in 25 minutes of play, Sitkowski was yanked for fifth-year senior and captain Giovanni Rescigno. This coming less than a week after offensive coordinator John McNulty told members of the media Sitkowski doesn’t have to go win the game for us, he just can’t lose them.
“Just needed something different,” Ash said on the decision to go with Rescigno. “Art didn't necessarily do anything wrong in the game. There wasn't much happening on offense and (we) felt like we needed something different and gave a senior captain an opportunity to see if he could go spark the offense.”
There’s no question that Rescigno should’ve been afforded a chance to try and re-energize his team — he even played pretty well going 12-24 with 129 yards — but in 3 out of 4 games this season, Sitkowski has been pulled mid-game, which can’t be good for his confidence.
When asked if he’s done enough to deserve the starting job, Sitkowski offered his input.
“No. No. But, you gotta work hard,” he said. “I gotta do a lot more. I gotta play a lot better I’ll tell you that. I gotta play a lot better, I owe these guys a lot more, I owe this coaching staff a lot more.”
The Knights have yet to announce their starter for next week. Regardless, the team’s problems do not live and die at the quarterback position.
Despite having two interceptions on the day, the defense continued to give up big play after big play, including a 53-yard touchdown from Tyree Jackson to Charlie Jones. Although it did seem to bare down in the second half, only giving up 7 points, what was once a strength of the team has now given up more than 40 points in three straight games.
“We can't give up the big explosive plays that we have, especially in the last couple weeks …” Ash said. “... Mental errors, mistakes and penalties kill you … you can't give up explosive plays on defense and expect to win football games.”
Rutgers had nine penalties for 97 yards on the day, which on multiple occasions either sustained Bulls’ drives or thwarted the Knights’.
Rutgers also couldn’t convert on third downs seemingly all day long, going 2 of 18 — a paltry 11 percent — that resulted in a lot of three and outs.
“There's no magic formula guys,” Ash said. “You've just gotta keep working, gotta keep practicing and somehow do it better and again, it's a process and it's a painful one right now. Nobody wanted to be here at this spot, and we are, so we've got to deal with it.”
He’s right. There is nothing the Knights can do right now except go back to the drawing board and try and get better for next week. But going into the season, these first four games — outside of Ohio State — were supposed to be the easy part of the schedule.
From here on out, Rutgers plays a loaded Big Ten Conference schedule, and even though the Knights finished last season 3-6 in conference play, the way things have gone this season they would be lucky to finish with three wins on the year — a far cry from a team looking to make it to a bowl game this season.
“The process can be a painful one. It can be one that's not a lot of fun. It's not where any of us wanted to be at this moment. It is where we're at, and we've just got to keep going back to work,” Ash said.
Perhaps the lone bright spot of the day was sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear who rushed for 69 yards on 15 carries, adding a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
If Rutgers doesn’t fix these problems and soon, then "it" might just actually be over.
“I understand it’s frustrating, but like I said before we’re working really hard. We worked really hard all offseason and we’re still working hard. None of these guys are giving up,” Rescigno said.
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