Rutgers' quarter mile-marker season outlook
On July 19, at the second day of Big Ten Media Days held at the Hilton Chicago, head coach Chris Ash addressed his expectations for what was the upcoming 2019 season, one which many believed could determine his future on the Banks.
Speaking about the upcoming season, Ash was quick to point out that year four would be different.
"It's a new team, as we go back and look at 2018 like we did at the end of the season, it wasn't a lot of fun," Ash said at the conference's media day. "When you're 1-11, things are difficult. I own it, and the good thing is that we can control our future."
This season has different implications for Ash and the Scarlet Knights (1-2, 0-1). For one, it could very much mean that the former national championship winning Ohio State defensive coordinator could be ousted midway through the season.
As the season reached the quarter milemarker this past weekend, with a 30-16 loss to former Big East rival Boston College, Rutgers sees its season eerily similar to 2018. Through three games this year, the Knights have only won one, against FBS Independent UMass.
Two weeks ago, Rutgers was held scoreless against a then-No. 20 Iowa team in a hostile away environment.
But, Saturday's loss stings more for Ash and his Knights, for a number of reasons. For one, it was a winnable game against an old rival.
This season's Eagles team, while boosting a 2-1 record into week four of action, was reeling after a blowout home loss to Kansas, a team that had an unexpected field day against Rutgers last September.
The pace of the game was in Boston College's favor. The Eagles scored on their first drive when David Bailey ran 42 yards to the opposite end zone.
For the most part, Boston College's run game was the predominant factor in the victory. Using Bailey and AJ Dillon, who ranks second in the ACC averaging 117 rushing yards per game, the Eagles finished the game with 272 yards on the ground.
The Knights' running game, which had 219 rushing yards against the other Massachusetts school they played, faced a challenging Boston College defense. Rutgers' two-headed monster running backs sophomore Isaih Pacheco and junior Raheem Blackshear were held to a combined 56 yards on the ground.
Blackshear's "scatback" role was shifted to one of a slotback in this game. Last year's top receiver once again led the Knights in receptions with nine, triple of what the next wideout, true freshman Isaiah Washington, caught.
Notably, he hauled in a 74-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who started in place of graduate student McLane Carter. Blackshear finished the day with a game-high 130 receiving yards but only picked up 8 yards at his listed position.
The Rutgers' passing offense, instead, had to pick up the slack. Sitkowski shone in his first start as a second-year quarterback, passing for a career-high 304 yards. Other wideouts like Washington and even true freshman wide receiver Aaron Young who caught three of Sitkowski's passes for 35 yards, his top outing as a Knight so far.
Heading into the second half, there was reason for optimism. Rutgers was only down by four points to an ACC team that went 7-5 last season, and it would receive the kickoff. But, as the story has been this season, penalties continued to plague the team on offense.
Boston College was able to slowly slip away after Dillon ran into the end zone for his first touchdown of the game, highlighting the powerful running game that the Eagles possessed. This would ultimately be the difference maker in the game.
The Knights also struggled with securing first downs, earning only 14 compared to Boston College's 27. In the third quarter specifically, Rutgers only had three first downs. Several of those drives could have included more had it not been for penalties.
The fourth quarter saw the same storyline play out: Dillon continued to dominate and the Knights' run defense was looking a step slower than usual.
But, an event that offensive coordinator John Mcnulty has seen play out since Saturday's starting quarterback arrived on the Banks eliminated Rutgers' chances of making a comeback.
The ball was on the Eagles' 46 yard-line after Sitkowski had connected with junior wide receiver Bo Melton on a 28-yard pass. Several plays later Sitkowski, facing pressure from a Boston College defensive line, threw a pass intended for junior wide receiver Mohamed Jabbie that was picked off by Mike Palmer.
Eventually, Dillon would add an insurance score, securing a two-touchdown victory for the visiting Eagles.
The Knights will head on their second Big Ten road trip of the season this weekend, as the team takes on No. 20 Michigan. The Wolverines (2-3, 0-1) will be out for blood in this game, having been upset by then-No. 13 Wisconsin 35-14 on the road.
"At the end of the day, we didn't play well enough to win a game. That's my fault. It is all on me," Ash said in his postgame press conference. "I have to do a better job of getting the team ready. They did a better job than I did."
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