Rutgers' quarterbacks struggle vs. No. 16 Penn State
Thanksgiving break is finally here and that means the long and grueling season for the Rutgers football team is nearly over. Coming off of last weekend’s heartbreaking loss to No. 16 Penn State, the Scarlet Knights could use a small break before it heads to East Lansing, Mich. this weekend.
Rutgers will face Michigan State (6-5) on the road for the final game of the season on Saturday after losing 20-7 last weekend to the Nittany Lions. The Knights had hoped to officially get this so-called “rivalry” started by upsetting Penn State, but the offense completely failed the defense, which was putting up one of its best performances of the season.
HighPoint.com Stadium saw its student section almost full for the first time this season, but that wasn’t enough to keep Rutgers from putting up sloppy plays on offense and eventually falling on the defensive side as well. Turnovers and dropped passes absolutely plagued the offense on Saturday in what was a surprisingly close game.
Here are three takeaways from the Knights’ loss to the Lions on senior day:
Here we go again
True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski entered Saturday’s matchup as the country’s leader in interceptions with 16 — despite going a then-Big Ten leading 70 straight pass attempts without a pick — before throwing one against No. 4 Michigan two weeks ago. Sitkowski was starting to look much more comfortable in the pocket as the second half of the season rolled on, but last weekend against Penn State brought back all the questions about the security of his starting job for this Saturday against the Spartans.
Sitkowski added to his interception lead by throwing two sloppy picks that looked as if he was aiming for the defense instead of his receivers. Head coach Chris Ash benched Sitkowski in the second half in favor of fifth-year senior Giovanni Rescigno, but that didn’t work out much better for the Knights either.
Drop of the year
Rescigno was 1 of 16 seniors to walk out on to the field prior to the game and salute the crowd with flowers in hand. This was his final game at HighPoint.com Stadium, and yet it was unclear if he would even get to play. But, even though the opportunity arrived, Rescigno essentially didn’t.
He went 2-8 for 28 yards in the air and another 35 yards on the ground, but the real story came from his hands. Rescigno dropped what would have been his first career receiving touchdown on a beautifully ran “Philly Special” on the first offensive drive of the second half. Sophomore running back Trey Sneed got the ball off a toss from fellow sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear, and lobbed the ball up to a wide open Rescigno, who caught the ball in the air, but fumbled with it in his hands while in the air and ultimately dropped it on the ground.
Rutgers was down only 13-0 at the time with a lot of game left to play. With that type of atmosphere going and the game as tight as it was, it’s unfortunate that he couldn’t bring that ball down in his hands, but he may have the chance to redeem himself in East Lansing with the starting job up for grabs.
Running back duo of the future looking strong
Running backs Blackshear and true freshman Isaih Pacheco have become the new duo for the Knights in the backfield, with graduate student Jonathan Hilliman taking a backseat since coming back from his injury. At the same time though, Blackshear and Pacheco seem to be switching off on who has the big day each week, and this week’s turn went to Blackshear. He crossed the triple digit mark for the third time in his career on Saturday, running for 102 yards on a career-high 22 rushing attempts. Blackshear also scored the lone touchdown of the game for the team.
The duo’s performances over the last two weeks has helped Rutgers put up 381 rushing yards against two top-20 teams. Blackshear leads the team in four main offensive categories — 133 carries, 580 rushing yards, 41 receptions and 338 receiving yards. Pacheco had the longest offensive play of the year against the Wolverines last week, running for an 80-yard touchdown. The running game looks promising for the next few seasons and will be a focal point of the offense for a long time if the quarterback situation isn’t cleaned up soon.