Rutgers was presented with perhaps its best chance at winning a Big Ten game on Saturday. It decided to give it away.
The Scarlet Knights committed five turnovers during a 24-7 home loss to Illinois. They fumbled the ball away on two of their first three drives.
Coming off back-to-back blowout losses to Michigan and Ohio State, Rutgers figured to bounce back against an Illini squad that lost at home to lowly Purdue a week earlier. Instead, problems persisted.
“There were a lot of good things that happened in that game really on both sides of the ball,” first-year coach Chris Ash told reporters Monday in New Brunswick.
“We ran the ball better. We threw and caught the ball better. We were better on third down on both sides of the ball than what we had been in the previous few weeks. Still, it gets back to ball security. When you turn the ball over five times in a game, you don’t have an opportunity to win a game, and that’s what we did.”
The Scarlet Knights held a 385-320 advantage in total yards. They committed fewer penalties and won the time-of-possession battle.
Rutgers (2-5 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) gets back at it this Saturday with a road game in Minnesota (noon ET, ESPNU). The Golden Gophers (4-2, 1-2) are coming off of a 31-10 win at Maryland last week.
“They are a big, physical football team. You look at their offensive line. They are big. They remind me a lot of a Wisconsin offensive line,” Ash said. “They have got good running backs. Going to play Minnesota there, it’s going to be a long road trip. You’re going to go play a physical football team, a veteran team, a well-coached team. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The coach decided to switch quarterbacks. Chris Laviano, a senior who started the first seven games, heads to the bench. Gio Rescigno replaces him.
“This is not to blame the quarterback position or to blame Chris,” Ash said. “We have not produced on offense here in the last four weeks, when you’ve got four games, you’ve got 14 points, it’s not good enough. It’s not one individual.
“We need to get a spark. We need to get something going offensively, and the quarterback position is where we’ll make that change to try to provide that spark.”
Rescigno, a sophomore from Michigan, relieved Laviano on Saturday. He completed 10 of 18 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
“Gio did a lot of good things in that game with limited reps throughout the course of the week. Just feel like if he has the whole week to prepare and get ready to play, he’ll build on what he brought to the team in the second half of that game,” Ash said.
Running backs Robert Martin and Justin Goodwin should aid Rescigno’s transition. They’re coming off a game in which they combined for 156 yards on 19 carries.
Senior Receiver Andre Patton delivered his best performance of the season against Illinois. The Delaware product caught five passes for 90 yards.
Rutgers is one of just two Big Ten teams (Iowa) without a bye to this point in the season. That happens next week.
“There’s been no conversation about the bye week inside this building,” Ash said. “We’re focused on going out and practicing and preparing every single day for the game that we’ve got coming up on Saturday. When that game is over, I’m sure some people will be relieved that we’re at a bye week and they can rest and recover a little bit.”