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Key takeaways from Rutgers' tough season finale in East Lansing

It’s finally over. One of the hardest seasons in Rutgers football history has come to an end and the team can now focus on the future of the program. 

The Scarlet Knights ended their tumultuous year with a heartbreaking 14-10 loss to Michigan State to finish the season 0-9 in the Big Ten and 1-11 overall. 

Despite leading 10-7 with less than 8 minutes to play, Rutgers was unable to keep a hold on the lead, giving up a touchdown to the Spartans with 3:57 remaining. Fifth-year senior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno — who started his first game of the season Saturday — had one last chance to get the Knights the win in the final offensive drive of the game, but he forced the issue on a 4th and 6th from the Michigan State 21-yard line, and threw an interception that ended the Rutgers season on a low note.

Even though the Knights just finished their worst season since joining the Big Ten, Athletic Director Patrick Hobbs gave head coach Chris Ash a vote of confidence after the loss in Michigan, stating that Ash will return for next season.

With so much going on for a Rutgers team that will be losing many key members to graduation, here are some takeaways from Saturday’s game and the overall season.

Bittersweet farewell

Typically, any farewell would be considered bittersweet. A player finishes his career with one final game. No matter the outcome of the game, his performance is reflected and highlighted upon. But Saturday’s finish for Rescigno was tough when putting things into perspective. 

After losing the starting job to true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski, Rescigno spent the majority of the season riding the bench despite being a team captain. He replaced Sitkowski in the second half against Penn State two weekends ago and got things going for the Knights early against Michigan State. He led the team with 61 rushing yards and threw a touchdown to sophomore tight end Travis Vokolek in the first quarter to take an early lead. Rescigno couldn’t really get things going later on though, and the Spartans pulled away in the final minutes. 

The final pass of Rescigno’s career and of the Rutgers season was an interception — which sums up the type of season the quarterback duo had as a whole (Sitkowski finished the regular season tied as the nation leader in interceptions with 18). Rescigno finished his career having gone 168-337 — approximately 50 percent — for 1,776 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Rushing power

The performance on the ground from various Knights in the second half of the season gives a lot of hope for the program looking head. Rutgers put up 108 rushing yards on Saturday against Michigan State, who came into the matchup ranked No. 1 in the country in rushing yards allowed at just 79.8 per game. But the Knights rushed nearly 30 yards more than that number — in large part due to Rescigno. 

Even though the running back duo of true freshman Isaih Pacheco and sophomore Raheem Blackshear weren’t as productive Saturday, they've showed a ton of promise over the year. Blackshear became the first Rutgers player to lead the team in all four major offensive categories since Albert Smith in 1985. He put up 143 carries for 586 rushing yards and 44 receptions for 367 receiving yards. 

Pacheco’s 80-yard touchdown run against then-No. 4 Michigan was the longest run of the year for the team, and helped him reach 100 rushing yards in a game for the second time this season. The duo will be key members of Rutgers' offense for the next few years.

Looking ahead

Though many starters were seniors, this year’s team was very young, so many will return for the 2019 campaign. In the ever-so-tough Big Ten, the Knights will face another difficult road ahead with hopes of improving their team. Rutgers will see Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State again next year, while also taking a trip to Iowa City, Iowa to face the Hawkeyes. 

The Knights have another three non-conference games as well, as they will host UMass, Boston College and Liberty at HighPoint.com Stadium. The biggest conference competition will come at the midway point of the season, when Rutgers will face off against Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois in a span of five weeks. Tough losses to the Terrapins, Hoosiers and Fighting Illini this season will make for good revenge games in 2019 as the Knights look to prove their worth in the Big Ten.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @cgreen204 and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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