Rutgers to host Indiana for game 2 of homestand
The Rutgers football team enters week five of its season depleted, embarrassed and hungry for a win, or at the very least not a total blowout against Indiana.
But the Scarlet Knights (1-3, 0-1) were never supposed to be here. How and why they are, though, are pretty obvious, that much is clear.
“For us to improve and change the results on Saturday, we have to stop beating ourselves,” said head coach Chris Ash. “We’ve had too many mental errors, we’ve had too many penalties, we’ve been careless with the football. You can’t do those things and win games and we have to clean those things up. I, as the head coach, have to get that stuff fixed.”
On the bright side, it’s a new week, a new opponent and new opportunity to fix some mistakes and get better. Rutgers can only hope that all of that begins to fall into place this Saturday against the Hoosiers (3-1, 0-1).
That may be a tall task, though. Unlike the Knights, Indiana swept its non-conference schedule and is coming off a 35-21 loss to then-No. 24 Michigan State in which the Hoosiers got as close as 28-21 before the Spartans finished them off.
“They execute well. They’re fairly simple with what they do. They run the ball well, they do a good job with their RPOs and they don’t beat themselves,” Ash said.
At the helm of their offense is quarterback Peyton Ramsey, now in his first full year running the show for an Indiana team that averages slightly more than 29 points per game.
What makes Ramsey so dangerous is he is a dual-threat quarterback who possesses the skills to air it out and also run the ball if necessary. Not only does Rutgers have to take care of the passing game, but if the play breaks down and Ramsey decides to run it, the Knights have to be aware of that as well.
“Anytime you have a quarterback (that can run) it changes the math,” Ash said. “So we always have to make sure we’re plus one with the quarterback where we can stop the quarterback, and be sound with that because he can beat you with his feet as well as his arm. He is a good runner.”
But Ramsey isn’t the only player the Hoosiers have that can run the ball. Running back Stevie Scott, the team’s leading rusher, can also burn you with his feet.
Scott has already registered 406 rushing yards — 204 of them coming in one game — with 3 touchdowns adding another one in the air.
“We gotta ... have gap integrity, we gotta be able to get off blocks, we have to be able to pursue and we’ve gotta be able to tackle and if we can do those things and we can do it consistently then you have a good chance to stop the run, period,” Ash said.
The problem for the Rutgers’ defense is it hasn’t been able to do any of that on a consistent basis in this early part of the season.
The Knights have given up 156 points so far this season — an average of 39 points per game. With an offense that has only scored 65 points all year, if Rutgers has any chance of winning this game, the defense has to step up for every play, which can be daunting.
“I truly believe games are won up front and games are lost in the secondary,” Ash said. “Right now, we’re not playing the way we need to up front on the defensive line, and in the secondary last Saturday we made too many mistakes that cost us explosive plays that hurt us in that football game.”
But again, it doesn’t all fall on the defense. The offense needs to score in order for the defense to get the ball in the hands of the offense once again. If there is no offense, the burden falls straight on the defense for the full 60 minutes.
True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski, still searching for his signature moment — or at this point, any positive moment at all — will be out there once again for the Knights after going 6-13 for 39 yards a week ago.
“Art’s gonna be our quarterback. Art’s been our starting quarterback, (we’ve) never wavered from that but we always will evaluate every position when we’re not having success,” Ash said.
Despite his early season struggles, Ash believes the more reps Sitkowski gets both in practice and in games for Rutgers is the only way he can get himself out of it.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Knights just hope this game turns out better than last year’s 41-0 debacle.
“They’re off to a good start, they’re a good football team and we’re gonna have to play a lot better when they come into our stadium on Saturday,” Ash said.
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