In recent years, Rutgers football became known as a joke, going 13-47 over the previous six seasons. This past offseason, Greg Schiano returned to the school he led to six bowl games nearly a decade earlier. It only took one game for the difference to be apparent, as Rutgers opened the season with a 38-27 upset of Michigan State. In week two, Rutgers kept it competitive with Indiana most of the way, losing 37-21. Ohio State trounced the Scarlet Knights, though Rutgers did score three times in the fourth quarter of a 49-27 loss. Rutgers looked a little more like the Rutgers we knew in a 23-20 loss to Illinois, but bounced back with an entertaining triple overtime game against Michigan. The Wolverines emerged victorious 48-42 for their final victory of this season.
Rutgers won two of their final three games of this season after Thanksgiving. Rutgers wiped out a ten point Purdue lead to win 37-30. Penn State dominated Rutgers 23-7, but last week, a 39 yard field goal as time expired sent the Knights game against Maryland into overtime. Rutgers then won on a 42 yard field goal for a 27-24 victory.
But that victory over Maryland came at a huge price, as former Nebraska quarterback Noah Vedral suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter. Maryland defensive lineman Ami Finau was suspended for the first half of this week’s game as a result of that play. Vedral is Rutgers’ second leading rusher, averaging 2.8 yards per carry and gaining 193 yards on the ground in seven games. Vedral is completing 62% of his passes with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, averaging 179 yards passing per game. Vedral was on crutches at the end of last week’s game, but hasn’t been ruled out of this game. If Vedral can’t go, sophomore Artur Sitkowski would take the snaps. Sitkowski has completed 69% of his passes for 322 yards and three touchdown; he hasn’t thrown an interception.
On the ground, junior Isaih Pacheco is Rutgers’ main rushing threat; he’s rushed for 473 yards in eight games with two touchdowns; he’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Sophomore Kay’Ron Adams has gained 147 yards as a backup, averaging 5.1 yards per carry with a touchdown. Vedral’s big target in the passing game is senior Bo Melton, who’s caught 42 passes for 557 ayrds and six touchdown. Senior Shameen Jones has 32 catches for 354 yards and three touchdowns while junior Aron Cruickshank has 36 catches for 233 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Rutgers ranks near the bottom in the Big Ten in most categories: tenth in total defense, 12th in scoring defense and 11th in rushing and passing defense. The Scarlet Knights are lead by senior linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi; his 99 tackles in eight games leads the Big Ten, and his 11 tackles for loss ranks second in the conference. Senior middle linebacker Tyshon Fogg is tied with sophomore safety Christian Izien with 58 tackles. The Rutgers defensive line seems a little undersized compared to most Big Ten lines, with defensive ends Mike Tverdov (6’4” 255 lbs.) and CJ Onyechi (6’0” 241 lbs.) bookending defensive tackles Julius Turner (6’0” 282 lbs.) and Michael Dwumfour (6’2” 285 lbs.) Senior cornerback Tre Avery is fifth in the Big Ten with eight passes defended.
I know last week’s off performance has many fans fearing the worst for this game, but if you look at analytics, this looks like a good matchup for Nebraska. Our old friend Bill Connelly’s S+P model suggests Nebraska should be a 13 point favorite over Rutgers, even though Vegas puts the line at seven.
WEEK 16 SP+ PICKS— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) December 16, 2020
* 13 of 22 games projected within 1 score!
* Oregon: 40% chance of becoming a 4-2 conference champ #2020
* Let's get stupid, Ole Miss-LSU
* SP+ is underestimating the CRAP out of Buffalo and Bama (which is scary since Bama's still an easy #1 overall) pic.twitter.com/D1D5DME9l2
Me personally, I’ll be pleased with any size victory to close out this season on a positive note.