Rutgers looks to bounce back at Kansas
Very unfamiliar territory in recent memory is potentially in sight this season. Now that the Rutgers football team has gotten passed playing No. 4 Ohio State last week — a game that was essentially finished before it even began — it has the opportunity to fight its way into a bowl game this season.
The Scarlet Knights (1-1, 0-1) will begin that stretch with two consecutive non-conference games. This weekend, they are back on the road to face Kansas (1-1, 0-0) for the second time ever, officially making this matchup a series.
Rutgers is coming off what seems like an annual beatdown from the Buckeyes last weekend. After winning its season opener over Texas State, the Knights went to Columbus, Ohio, had no answers for Ohio State and barely made it out of the state at full strength, falling 52-3.
But, what might be worse than the loss they suffered on the scoreboard is the injury that was suffered on the field during the game. True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski was sacked on the final play of the first half and hurt his throwing arm — a trainer had to help him hold the arm up periodically on the walk back to the locker room.
At a press conference on Monday, head coach Chris Ash shined a little bit of light on the situation, listing Sitkowski as “day-to-day.” But luckily for the team, he is now listed as active and ready to go.
“Art’s great … he’s gonna play, he’s all good,” Ash said to the media after practice Thursday evening.
Although the Jayhawks are an easier beast to face then the Buckeyes, Rutgers must still prepare accordingly for the competition to come on the road.
The Knights are coming off a tough performance both in the air and on the ground, as they put up just 134 total yards of offense — 69 on the ground and 65 in the air. Sitkowski only playing in the first half may be an excuse for a slight shakeup early on, but overall the team has backups, like veteran fifth-year senior Giovanni Rescigno, for a reason.
Sophomore Raheem Blackshear and graduate student Jonathan Hilliman were absolute work horses for Rutgers in the season opener out of the backfield, but saw their rushing numbers split exactly in half just a week later.
Both running backs also had 2 touchdowns a piece against the Bobcats two weekends ago, but neither could find the goal line last weekend.
The last time these two squads met was back in 2015, when the Knights hosted Kansas for the first time ever. Rutgers managed to bang out a hard fought 27-14 win in what would be its second of four victories that season.
The Knights still have a key player from that game on its roster, as fifth-year senior defensive back Kiy Hester had nine tackles and two pass-breakups on the day. But, Hester may be unavailable for this weekend’s game after being injured during the season opener against Texas State and sitting out last weekend’s matchup.
While Rutgers is in recovery mode from last weekend’s crushing defeat, the Jayhawks are coming into Saturday’s game on a high note. Kansas not only enters the contest off its first win of the season, but last weekend’s 31-7 win over Central Michigan marked the first road win for the team since September 2009 — it had previously lost 46 consecutive road games.
“They’re a scrappy team and they’re getting better,” Ash said. “… It’s a typical, you know, really Big 12 team, where they have some good skill players on the outside. They are by far and away better right now, today, than what they were a year ago or two years ago.”
Breaking any negative streak is a huge moment for a team, as it is a sign of evolving and moving forward, so the Knights will surely see an energized Jayhawk group come Saturday.
After playing polar opposite teams in its first two games of the season, Rutgers will truly learn where it is at as a team this weekend, as Kansas brings the most level-headed and evenly-matched competition as an opponent for the first time this season.
“We’ve gotta go play our best football game that we’ve played so far, this year,” Ash said.
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