Rutgers embarrassed by Kansas, Sitkowski benched
LAWRENCE, K.S. — It has been a bad two weeks for the Rutgers football team, which just suffered possibly its worst loss under head coach Chris Ash.
The Scarlet Knights (1-2, 0-1) lost a rough matchup to a Kansas team that was riding high and mighty after ending its 46 consecutive road game losing streak last weekend.
The Jayhawks (2-1, 0-0) took the momentum from last week and put it out on the field on Saturday, seemingly cruising by Rutgers 55-14 and sending the Knights home from their consecutive road games with back-to-back losses.
"(I) feel really, really bad for our players. We've got a bunch of really good kids in that locker room that are hurting, and likely so, they worked really hard to help improve our football team and worked really hard to try and come out and play the best that they could play," Ash said after the game.
This Kansas game was supposed to be the easiest on the schedule for Rutgers, but after this, its chances against Buffalo next weekend look as bleak as ever.
True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski had the worst game of his short career on Saturday, being the catalyst for more than half of the Jayhawks’ points. Sitkowski went 7-19 on the day for 47 yards and three interceptions — two of which were immediately returned for a touchdown, and another that led to an 8-yard run in by Kansas’ backup quarterback Miles Kendrick.
Things started out poorly for the Knights from the start, when an early three-and-out led to the Jayhawks driving down the field and booting in a field goal.
After a defensive delay of game by Kansas gave Rutgers some better field position to work with after the kickoff, Sitkowski threw his first interception of the day to Bryce Torneden on third and four from the 39. Torneden ran in the ball and gave the Jayhawks a quick 10-0 lead.
Another offensive drive down and out for the Knights, Kansas drove the ball down and set itself up for another field goal, but senior linebacker Deonte Roberts blocked the attempt, picked the ball back up and drove it all the way back for Rutgers, going 64 yards and initially putting the Knights into the game.
"Come back tomorrow, play the same way each week ... get back to the drawing board, correct the mistakes, you know and get ready for next week," Roberts said.
Roberts’ returned block was the 51st blocked kick for Rutgers since 2009 — the most in the nation in that span— and is the first blocked field goal returned for a touchdown by the Knights since 2003.
But, Rutgers couldn’t hold on to that gap for long, as the Jayhawks scored on their next drive again on a 6-yard pass from Kendrick to Jeremiah Booker.
The Knights ended off the first quarter on a high note. Freshman cornerback Avery Young blocked another one of Kansas’ field goal attempts to keep the Jayhawks at bay … for the meantime.
On the second play of the second quarter, Sitkowski threw his second pick 6 to Mike Lee, giving Kansas a 24-7 lead with almost 45 minutes of gameplay left.
After each team punted the ball twice, Rutgers narrowed things again slightly on by far its best drive of the game. The Knights drove the ball down 86 yards and put graduate student running back Jonathan Hilliman into the end zone.
But again, Rutgers couldn’t keep the gap where it was, as the Jayhawks bolted their way in for another touchdown‚ a 59-yard run in at that. The Knights barely made it out of the first half alive, heading to the locker room down 31-14.
Once the teams came back out for the second half, Kansas decided to just run away with the game — and Rutgers let them, showing minimal effort and allowing the Jayhawks to take the game from bad to embarrassing.
Both sides started off the half a bit slow, but Kansas erupted midway through the third quarter after Corione Harris secured the third interception of the day off of Sitkowski for the Jayhawks. Kansas scored just five plays later to take a 38-14 lead with no intent on letting up on the Knights.
Ash put Sitkowski on the bench for good after the interception, bringing in fifth-year senior and captain Giovanni Rescigno ... who proceeded to drop the snap on his second play out and give the ball back to the Jayhawks, marking the sixth turnover of the day for Rutgers.
Hilliman and sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear each had a fumble on the day as well, both during the first half.
After a field goal, Kansas led the Knights 41-14 with one quarter left to play, but the Jayhawks had the ball and were driving again. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Pooka Williams Jr. broke free from the defense and ran the ball 52 yards for a touchdown — Williams ran for 158 yards on the day, overall.
Senior running back Deron Thompson added on another long run for a touchdown (55 yards) to give Kansas its final score of 55 points, while Rutgers remained scoreless in the second half.
Overall, the Jayhawks produced 544 yards of offense (400 rushing and 144 passing) to the Knights’ 274 (150 rushing and 124 passing).
Rutgers will bring the brutal loss home and must find a way to regroup, as Buffalo visits HighPoint.com Stadium next weekend.
"Just gotta get back to work tomorrow, gotta watch the film, see what went wrong, clean it up and prepare for Buffalo," said fifth-year senior cornerback Isaiah Wharton after the game.