Johnny’s Surprise of the Week: the Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Photo via Quinn Harris/Getty Images

As they prepare for their Halloween bout against the Indiana Hoosiers in their second week of the season, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have already impressed. 

“Impressed,” to some, might seem like a stretch. After all, the Scarlet Knights have only played one game this season due to the Big Ten Conference starting their campaign just this past weekend. Also, it is Rutgers.

Their one game, however, was a victory, as the Scarlet Knights defeated the Michigan State Spartans, 38-27. They not only did it on the road (and snapped the Spartans’ six-game winning streak against the team), but also did it in the return of Greg Schiano as head coach, who captained the New Jersey squad from 2001-11. To cap it off, in 12 games against Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights’ 38 points scored were the most against the Spartans in a single game. 

The Scarlet Knights, from their notorious struggles to fielding a competitive football team to building a Big Ten contender, have “impressed” much more than simply winning their season-opener. 

To start, the Scarlet Knights’ win against Michigan State was their first Big Ten victory since their 31-24 success against the Maryland Terrapins on Nov. 4, 2017. This win, however, was not a true road game. Before their road win against Michigan State this past weekend, the Scarlet Knights’ last Big Ten victory on the road came on Oct. 14, 2017 against the Illinois Fighting Illini (35-24). Lastly, when looking at the game history between Rutgers and Michigan State, the 2020 win was the Scarlet Knights’ first against the program since Sept. 4, 2004 (19-14). This win came in New Jersey. The last Scarlet Knights’ victory on the road against Michigan State came on Sept. 28, 1991 (14-7). 

Enough about game history specifics. What about the numbers within their 2020 Michigan State win itself? Glad you asked. 

Although the Scarlet Knights’ offense was outgained in terms of total yards (369 vs. 276), the turnover margin went in favor of Rutgers, as the team had three turnovers compared to Michigan State’s seven. The turnover margin in favor of the Scarlet Knights was the first positive turnover margin against Michigan State since their Oct. 10, 2015 matchup (+1). 

Now, the offense cannot be left out. Sure, they were outgained in the total yard department, but that was mainly in part due to Scarlet Knights’ quarterback Noah Vedral only throwing for 169 yards. Spartans’ quarterback Rocky Lombardi, meanwhile, threw for 319. While the passing attack for the Scarlet Knights fell short, the rushing department did not, as the team collectively darted into the end zone four times. Of the four touchdowns, running back Isaih Pacheco led the way, as he had two of the four rushing touchdowns. Vedral and second-string quarterback Johnny Langan additionally rushed for one touchdown. 

These four rushing touchdowns, however, were more significant than simply giving Rutgers a win to their resume. In 12 career matchups against Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights’ four rushing touchdowns were the most ever in a single game against them. When looking at the rushing touchdown total in comparison to other teams, the four rushing touchdowns by the Scarlet Knights were the most since they matched the total against the Massachusetts Minutemen on Aug. 30, 2019. 

There is no denying the fact that the Scarlet Knights still have a way to go should they make themselves a consistent Big Ten force. It could take several years or could never happen. This is Rutgers, after all.

Regardless, the season-opening win against Michigan State was a good start. An impressive one, even. 

Published by John Crane

I am originally from Alexandria, Louisiana, but have lived in South Carolina, Texas, and now Arizona. I am a huge sports fan, with baseball being my primary sport. The dream is to one day become a sports reporter or broadcaster.

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