Rutgers was one of the last Big Ten teams to experience a bye week. And, boy, did the Scarlet Knights need it.
The coaches analyzed what’s gone wrong for their 2-6 squad that’s without a win since beating New Mexico on Sept. 17. The break also allowed injuries to heal.
Rutgers plays host to Indiana (noon ET, BTN) Saturday. It’ll be looking for its first conference win in six tries.
The Scarlet Knights looked better their last time out, falling 34-32 at Minnesota on Oct. 22. They’d been outscored, 174-14, in their first four league contests.
“We did some thorough self-evaluations through self-scouts, just going back through and looking at all areas of what we’ve done through the season up to this point and just trying to identify, continue to identify things that we needed to do a better job of,” first-year head coach Chris Ash told reporters in New Brunswick on Monday.
Rutgers is inflicting its own wounds too often. It ranks second to last in the conference when it comes to turnover margin (-0.75) and leads it in fumbles lost (10).
“We had eight turnovers in the last two weeks. One of them was a special teams. We’re last in the league in fumbles, and we’re not going to win football games doing that. If there’s one thing that I need to see or we need to see improvement on, it’s that part of our football team,” Ash said.
Giovanni Rescigno, J.J. Denman, Rob Martin and Kiy Hester were among a group of injured players heading into the bye week. Ash said their situations have improved. They practiced on Monday, increasing their chances to play Saturday.
Rescigno replaced Chris Laviano as the team’s starting quarterback when it played at Minnesota. The sophomore from Michigan completed 22 of 38 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions. He rushed 11 times for 63 yards but lost 26 of them in weathering four sacks.
Running back Justin Goodwin showed off his full range of skills at Minnesota. He paced the team in rushing (97 yards) and receiving (52) as the team’s leading ground gainer, Martin, was sidelined with an injury.
Even with Martin expected back this week, Goodwin should still factor prominently into the offensive game plan.
“Justin Goodwin would be our starting running back moving forward right now until we get Rob Martin back and healthy and see where he’s at physically,” Ash said.
Indiana brings with it an improved defense. After yielding a Big Ten worst 37.6 points per game in 2015, the unit is allowing 26.5 this fall under new coordinator Tom Allen.
“The biggest difference with their football team is their defense. They’re playing better defense, and I know Kevin (Wilson) probably would admit this, than they have in the last few years and it’s making a huge difference in that football team. They’re sound. Playing good fundamentals, playing a lot faster. It’s been a fun football team to watch as we’re getting ready to prepare for them,” Ash said.
The Hoosiers ended a three-game slide Saturday with a 42-36 win against Maryland. It improved them to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten.
Indiana is positioned to reach its second consecutive bowl game for the first time since 1990-91. It needs to win two of its last four games to do so. With matchups against Penn State and Michigan remaining, a victory at Rutgers could prove very important.
Wilson has rebuilt the Hoosiers from the ground up during his six years in Bloomington. It has served as a good model for Ash with what he’s trying to accomplish with the Scarlet Knights.
“Kevin Wilson has done a fantastic job there. Look at what he’s done, the way he’s built that program, he’s got momentum going. I’m sure they are hoping to go to postseason play again this year,” Ash said.
“Do we want to be in that position? Absolutely we do. It’s not about just beating Indiana. It’s about going out and playing our best ability and doing things we need to execute the plan to win. The wins will come regardless of who we’re playing.”