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Know Thy Opponent 2020: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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The Scarlet Knights will make their first ever visit to West Lafayette in 2020.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Rutgers at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The last time Purdue and Rutgers played Purdue broke math. Purdue had 474 yards to 217 for the Scarlet Knights. Purdue had 25 first downs to Rutgers’ 8. More than half (109) of Rutgers’ yards gained came on their two scoring plays. How on earth did we lose this game?

It was simple. Purdue had four turnovers to none for the Scarlet Knights. Purdue also turned the ball over on downs three times attempting to go for it. Rutgers went three and out an astounding EIGHT TIMES, yet still won the game. Basically, Purdue would gain 50-60 yards, but turn it over in some fashion, Rutgers would go three and out, then boom a great punt, and repeat.

Since that game Rutgers has gone 1-22 in Big Ten play. In 16 of those games they have scored 10 points or less. Simply put, this is a game Purdue absolutely cannot afford to lose under any circumstances.

2019 Record: 2-10, 0-9 Big Ten East

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 (68-67 in 12th year at Rutgers, first since 2011)

Last Season for the Scarlet Knights

Here is a fun stat for you: Throughout the entire nine game Big Ten schedule last season Rutgers held a lead on an opponent for three minutes and 26 seconds. It was a 3-0 lead over Penn State in the final game of the season late in the first quarter. Should Rutgers lose to Ohio State (very likely) and Illinois before this game they will come to Ross-Ade Stadium on a 23 game conference losing streak, which I believe is the longest since Northwestern infamously lost 39 straight Big Ten games from 1978 to 1982.

Rutgers has not been great since joining the Big Ten, but the last couple of seasons have been truly abysmal. As a result, they have cast their lot with Greg Schiano again, who has had the only real sustained success in decades in Piscataway. This includes an 11-2 record in 2006 where they finished 12th in the final polls. Purdue last saw Schiano when he was defensive coordinator at Ohio State, where David Bough threw for 378 yards and 3 TDs, DJ Knox ran for 128 yards and 3 TDs, and Rondale Moore worked extensively on his highlight reel with 12 catches for 170 yards and 2 TDs.

As I heard earlier this offseason: Purdue now gets to sic Rondale Moore on Schiano, only Schiano has Rutgers players instead of four- and five-star Ohio State talent.

Rutgers Offense

In short, the Rutgers offense was horrendous last season. They ranked 129th out of 130 FBS teams at 13.3 points per game. Only Akron was worse. The passing offense was only at 139 yards per game, but the running game was slightly better at 133 yards per game (and significantly better than Purdue’s 83.3 yards on the ground). In Big Ten play they only scored 51 points, 21 of which came against Ohio State. By comparison, 1981 Northwestern, long considered to be the worst Big Ten of all time, scored 72 points in its nine Big Ten games. They averaged less than 6 points per game against Big Ten foes.

The quarterback position is wide open. Artur Sitkowski has the most experience, but he barely has 1,500 yards passing total the last two seasons. Johnny Langan led the team in passing with 840 yards and 4 TDs as a dual-threat QB. He also had 391 yards rushing. Finally, Noah Vedral is now in Piscataway as a graduate transfer who has experience from his time at Nebraska.

One of the few things that worked in the offense Isaih Pacheco. The junior running back ran for 729 yards and 7 TDs. He will be the featured back and the focal point of the offense, but in reality this is a multi-year rebuild. The offensive line gave up 26 sacks last season and lost much of its experience as well.

If they can find a quarterback there is some experience at receiver. Bo Melton led the team with 30 receptions for 427 yards and two touchdowns. Isaiah Washington added 18 receptions for 272 yards and a score. The bottom line though is that this offense was historically anemic the last three seasons and has a long way to go.

Rutgers Defense

The Rutgers defense was not much better in 2019, but part of the reason for that has to be because the offense was so putrid. Rutgers gave up a whopping 36.7 points per game and over 433 yards per game. The scoring was 123rd nationally and definitely the worst in the Big Ten. They really didn’t do anything well. Teams rushed with impunity against them, while the pass defense was relatively okay, but only because they couldn’t stop the run.

The pass defense only intercepted six passes all season and recovered just four fumbles, making them -13 in turnover margin overall. Many of the top performers are back, however. Tyshon Fogg lead the team with 104 tackles and will once again be the leader of the defense. Olakunle Fatukasi is also another solid linebacker that had 84 tackles a year ago.

In the secondary Christian Izien is the top returning player with 78 tackles. Brendon White is a transfer from Ohio State that is expected to contribute immediately, so maybe Schiano does have some Ohio State guys to use against Rondale. Avery Young is a corner that will be challenged, but has a lot of promise. He had 37 tackles and an interception last year.

The defensive line struggled to generate much of a pass rush last year. Julius Turner is the top returning player to build around with 45 tackles and two sacks. Malik Barrow from UCF, Michael Dwumfour from Michigan, and Ireland Burke from Boston College are all transfers coming in that can probably help right away.

Rutgers Special Teams

Rutgers got a lot of practice punting and Adam Korsak was pretty good at it. He averaged 43.8 yards per kick. Justin Davidovicz was decent as a kicker when given the chance, hitting on 11 of 15 attempts with a long of 50. Brothers Avery Young and Aaron Young handled most of the return duties, but there were not a lot of highlights there. All four of these players should be back.

Game Outlook

There is no question that Greg Schiano had a successful first run at Rutgers. He won five bowl games in six seasons, had an 11-win season, helped ruin Louisville’ national title run in 2006 with a memorable night game at home, and in general had them as a dangerous team. Since he left, however, the Scarlet Knights have gone 37-65 and haven’t had a winning season since 2014.

Unfortunately, he is taking over a team that is basically moribund. Rutgers has won seven Big Ten games since joining the conference: Michigan 2014, Indiana 2014, Maryland 2014, Indiana 2015, Illinois 2017, Purdue 2017, and Maryland 2017. They have only won consecutive conference games just once, beating Illinois and Purdue in back-to-back weeks in 2017.

It is going to take a while for Schiano to build something again, just like it did the first time. In his first stint Schiano won just three games in his first two years. Even Darrell Hazell won four. His first breakout came in year five. This is not a turnaround that is going to happen instantaneously. Purdue has reason for confidence facing a team that is only 3-21 the last two years and hasn’t won a conference game in three years, but as we saw in 2017, if you don’t finish drives, yards and first downs mean nothing. It took 59 minutes and 35 seconds for Purdue to score a touchdown in that game, and that was costly.

Way-too-Early Prediction

Purdue needs this to be a win. Rutgers is, by a wide margin, the weakest team we will face in 2020. Memphis, Air Force, and Boston College are better from the non-conference, and the rest of the Big Ten was far ahead of them last season. We simply cannot lose this game. Purdue 31, Rutgers 10