Back in January or so this game against Rutgers looked like the easiest one on the schedule. The non-conference slate of Memphis-Air Force-Boston College looked daunting against three good teams. Everyone else on the slate provided unique challenges like a season opening conference game at Nebraska, a road trip against an Illinois team that beat us last year, and more. Rutgers, however, was bad and was not expected to do much at all this season.
Fast forward to the real season we have now and Rutgers is… good? Yes, they are 1-4, but they forced seven turnovers against Michigan State in their first Big Ten win in nearly three years. They also took Illinois and Michigan right to the brink, losing on a late field goal and in triple overtime, respectively. They have gone from being one of the worst Big Ten teams of all time to one that plays incredibly hard and won’t go away at all.
This will not be an easy game even if Purdue is a double-digit favorite. In fact, it is because Purdue is a double-digit favorite that has alarm bells screaming in my head right now. That never seen to go well. George Karlaftis is out, negating any sort of a pass rush that we had, and there is the general bad feeling left over from the Minnesota game.
Let’s hope that bad juju leaves us by Saturday.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2019 Record: 2-10, 0-9 Big Ten East
2020 Record: 1-4
Bowl Result: None
Blog Representation: On the Banks
Series with Purdue: Rutgers leads 1-0
Last Purdue win: None
Last Rutgers win: 14-12 at Rutgers on 10/21/2017
Head Coach: Greg Schiano (69-71 in 12th year at Rutgers)
2020 So far for Rutgers
In short, things are significantly better even with the 1-4 record. Rutgers actually won a Big Ten football game. The season opening 38-27 win over Michigan State broke a 21-game conference losing streak dating back to November 4, 2017. The fact they even scored 38 points was a shock, as in nine Big Ten games last season they scored only 51 points total. How bad is that? Purdue’s abysmal 2013 team is considered one of the worst Big Ten teams ever and still managed to score 104 points in only eight Big Ten games.
You could even make a legitimate argument that they could be 3-2. They were leading Illinois 20-10 late in the third quarter before falling 23-20 on a late field goal. They also missed a game-winning field goal attempt in the first overtime against Michigan last week. Even in losses to Ohio State and Indiana they played extremely hard to the final gun, making those games look closer than they were.
This is not a team with a great offense or defense. They struggle to move the football at times and they are giving up a league worst 36.8 points per game. They are not going to be a team that quits and goes away though. They benefited from seven turnovers against Michigan State, but have only forced three in the following four games and they have thrown 8 interceptions while losing four fumbles. I still wouldn’t count them totally out.
Who to Watch on Offense
Isaih Pacheco – RB – Pacheco had a really good game against Purdue during our virtual season, and in the real thing he is doing fairly well. He has 329 yards and a pair of touchdowns to be their rushing leader by a wide margin. He also has 12 receptions for 79 yards. Kay’Ron Adams will spell him for a few carries, but he is definitely the workhorse back.
Bo Melton – WR – Melton is someone to watch. He has 27 receptions for 443 yards and five touchdowns, making him a real offensive threat. Rutgers spreads the ball around well as Aron Cruickshank has 28 receptions, but for only 193 yards. Shameen Jones also does well with 19 receptions for 219 yards.
Noah Vedral – QB – Vedral has been around. He played a season at Central Florida and two at Nebraska for before joining Rutgers as a graduate transfer. He has seen the most extensive action of his career this year and he is 111 for 173 with 1,104 yards and 8 TDs against 8 interceptions. He has also rushed for 88 yards and a score. He is not great, but he has at least given the Scarlet Knights a functional quarterback.
Who to Watch on Defense
Purdue should have plenty of room to move the football. The Boilers have the best passing offense in the conference at 320.8 yards per game, Rutgers rates 12th in the league in pass defense and has given up a conference worst 15 touchdowns through the air. Let’s also remember that Greg Schiano was the Ohio State defensive coordinator when Rondale Moore ran circles around his defense that had significantly more talent. The run defense has also not been great, giving up 169 yards per game.
Olakunle Fatukasi – LB – Meet the leading tackler in the Big Ten. Fatukasi has 67 tackles in five games, good enough to have a 17 tackle lead on anyone else. He has also gotten a pair of sacks and recovered two fumbles. Both sacks came last week against Michigan.
Brendon White – DB – White has had a productive season in the defensive backfield with 35 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery. He is probably the best player in a defensive backfield that will absolutely be tested by David Bell and Rondale Moore. Of all those early turnovers the Scarlet Knights forced they have only two interceptions on the season.
Mohamed Toure – LB – It helps to have a pass rush. Purdue has the worst in the conference with only three sacks total and with Karlaftis out it is even worse. Toure has three sacks by his lonesome. He only has 10 tackles total, but he can get into the backfield and be disruptive.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Kicking Game – Like Purdue in 2017 with J.D. Dellinger and Spencer Evans, Rutgers platoons kickers. Valentino Ambrosio and Guy Fava are a combined 12 of 12 on extra points and 6 of 7 on field goals. But it was Ambrosio who missed in the first overtime last week, costing them the win against Michigan.
Bo Melton – PR – Melton has one return on the year and it was a 58 yard return of a blocked kick against Ohio State. Technically, that counts as a punt return for their stats.
Remember all of the wrinkles that Jeff Brohm used to have in his offense? Rutgers does that now. They know it is going to take a while to get up on the same level talent-wise with the rest of the conference. That means they run trick plays and all kinds of things to try and steal yards and points. They had an offensive lineman score on a trick play down 35-3 at Ohio State. They had the multi-lateral play against Indiana that was called back. They will scrap and claw for every yard and to deny every yard they can.
I think that is the biggest thing that concerns me. On paper we should blow them out. On paper Michigan should have blown them out. Paper means nothing when a team is going to fight as hard as they do. This is really a must win for Purdue, especially after last week. We have “lost” two in a row and had a win stolen from us. Either we come out pissed off and blow out an inferior team or we mope around to a loss.