For Rutgers fans, the Big Ten opener against Iowa was a good test of your level of optimism. You could have summed up this loss quite accurately by pointing out that the Scarlet Knights would have had a chance to win had they not scored 14 points for the Hawkeyes.
Or, if you’re so inclined, you can focus on, you know, the whole score-14-points-for-the-Hawkeyes thing.
Final score: Iowa 27, Rutgers 10.
Actual score: Rutgers 14, Iowa 13, Rutgers 10.
This one isn’t that complicated, folks. Rutgers is not a program that can make mistakes against a strong Big Ten program like Iowa and expect to win the game. Two mistakes that end up in their own end zone? Forget that.
It was a major missed opportunity for the Scarlet Knights. The evening began with an announced crowd of 53,117, with most fans in their seats as FS1 turned on its cameras for a nationwide audience. It ended with an empty stadium and a few hard-core Iowa fans – are there any more? – chanting “Let’s go Hawks!” as the visiting team celebrated another nasty victory.
Rutgers still can’t hold their own offensively. Fans might attribute that to Sean Gleeson, the offensive coordinator-turned-pinata of the message board, but execution was the game’s biggest problem. Rutgers are 8-0 since 2020 when not making a turnover, which is likely why head coach Greg Schiano took such a conservative approach in wins over Boston College and Temple. .
But with a chance of going 4-0 against a much better opponent, playing close to the vest wasn’t going to work. Rutgers led 3-0 when Evan Simon’s pass was intercepted by Iowa linebacker Cooper DeJean and returned 44 yards for a touchdown. Then, in the second quarter, Iowa safety Kaevon Merriweather returned a Joshua Youngblood fumble for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
That was all Iowa needed. The result for Rutgers was a Big Ten conference-record 20th consecutive home loss, and for this season, that casts doubt on how this team will compete as the Big Ten meat grinder begins. He certainly won’t beat anyone if he keeps scoring against himself.
Here are five observations from Rutgers-Iowa:
1. ROCKY DAY FOR SIMON
The numbers were pretty good. Evan Simon completed 28 of 49 passes for a career-high 300 yards, and a week after the Scarlet Knights had just 59 passing yards in a 16-14 win over Temple, that’s certainly a great improvement.
But the numbers, mostly amassed late in the game against Iowa’s second teams, don’t tell the story. Simon, the only stock quarterback available for this game, threw two killer interceptions — including one that was returned for a touchdown — and missed several shots early in the game that could have changed the outcome.
Schiano will not receive any injury schedules for any of his players. Eye testing, however, on injured quarterbacks Noah Vedral and Gavin Wimsatt during warmups indicates the two will be back sooner rather than later. Maybe even next week at Ohio State. They need both, ASAP.
2. THE AGGRESSIVE ‘D’ PAYS
The @CFBFilmRoom Twitter account had a fascinating stat this week. Rutgers, under freshman defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak, led the Big Ten in blitz rate against FBS opponents — and it wasn’t particularly close. Rutgers blitzed on 41.8% of its games, according to the site, well ahead of Purdue at 34.9%.
The aggression certainly worked against Iowa in the second quarter. The Hawkeyes were effectively handling the ball when, somewhat inexplicably, they called for a pass. Before quarterback Spencer Petras could throw, Rutgers defensive back Christian Izien knocked him down for an eight-yard sack that killed a player on a well-timed blitz.
The D also attacked when Iowa ran the ball. Wesley Bailey, a second-year defensive lineman, crossed the Iowa line on first down to tackle Gavin Williams for a six-yard loss. The defense wasn’t perfect, but it held its own on a night when the Rutgers offense continued to score points for the opposition.
3. FOURTH AND GO
Rutgers was down 24-3, a deficit the Scarlet Knights weren’t going to overcome in a month, let alone a quarter. Yet, as he has done since returning to Piscataway, Schiano set the tone by refusing to accept an outcome that seemed certain. Remember the crazy side game in a 2020 loss to Indiana? It was like that, only less dramatic.
He kept his attack on the ground three times in Iowa territory in the second half on fourth down. The first two plays the Scarlet Knights moved the shackles – including a fine 10-yard pass from Simon to receiver Shameen Jones. It was the key moment in an 82-yard drive that ended, predictably, on a fourth down that didn’t go their way.
This time, at fourth and fourth at Iowa 7, the Hawkeyes pressured Simon, and the quarterback threw a pass into the end zone that was nowhere near anyone in red. Iowa took over the downs. On the next drive, however, Rutgers finally broke through and scored a touchdown.
4. PUNT-A-THON AT PISCATAWAY
It is rare, if not almost unprecedented, for a college football game to garner national attention solely for the quality of its bettors. Adam Korsak vs. Tory Taylor was Rutgers’ main billing against Iowa, and somehow he managed to live up to the hype.
For Rutgers, Korsak was brilliant as usual. He pinned Iowa inside the 20 twice in the first half, including one that was downed in the six. If Rutgers hadn’t given Iowa 14 points on turnovers, Korsak would have been a major reason for the Scarlet Knights to keep this one close.
For Iowa, however, Taylor was just as good. He pinned Rutgers at the 4 and 7, and somehow averted disaster when Rutgers cornerback Max Melton came out intact and deflected a punt in the first quarter. Taylor looked for the ball behind him, but it rolled towards the Rutgers 37.
So who won the punt war? Call it a draw.
5. A GREAT WHEEL, A GREAT RECRUITMENT DAY AND A GREAT TRIBUTE
Here are some other thoughts on the Rutgers-Iowa scene, the Big Ten and more:
a. A big wheel ! If the Boardwalk has a log flume at the next home game, I’m jumping on airbnb and booking a spot for next summer.
b. Schiano got off the bus for the Scarlet Walk and immediately hugged Abram Wright, a three-star linebacker rookie from Florida. It was a huge recruiting weekend for Rutgers – and not just for the football team. Eleven different teams took advantage of the night game to schedule official visits.
vs. Rutgers held a minute’s silence for Xavier McClain, a Linden High sophomore who died of a traumatic brain injury suffered during a game on Sept. 9, and Ali Muhammad, a Rahway High player who died in his sleep the day before. It was an elegant gesture that shows the connection between New Jersey’s top college program and the high school level.
D. Travel enough around the Big Ten and you’ll find that most conference schools have a strong presence at the nearest major airport – whether it’s a store, exhibit, or something like that. That’s why Rutgers put on a giant Scarlet R at Newark Airport last week.
e. The good-bad news score of the week for the Scarlet Knights? Minnesota dumped it against Michigan State in an easy 34-7 victory. The Oct. 29 trip to Minneapolis looks like an uphill battle with the Gophers in position to win the Big Ten West, but the trip two weeks later to East Lansing slips down the “winnable games” list for the Scarlet Knights.
f. The kick-off atmosphere was great, with a packed student section and a new light show waving to the prime-time TV audience. It’s a shame, though, that Rutgers didn’t give that crowd a reason to stick around in the second half. Rutgers cut the lead to 24-10 in the fourth quarter. Would the crowd have counted at that time? Probably not, but that was long gone.
g. In the press box this week: Giants general manager Joe Schoen and director of player personnel Tim McDonnell. Something tells me they jotted down Cooper DeJean’s name in their notebook after watching the Iowa linebacker’s standout interception return for a first-quarter touchdown.
h. The pre-game light show: Very cool. The match day pass continues to improve.
I. Rutgers’ offense isn’t good enough to survive many missed chances. Three drops in the first two drives – including two by the usually confident Langan – were killers.
d. If Aaron Judge doesn’t hit his 61st homer soon, can Rutgers offer him playing time as a tight end?
MORE FROM STEVE POLITI:
Punting Picasso: How Adam Korsak became a Rutgers star
How a former Rutgers athlete was charged with murder in Tijuana
The search for Luther Wright, once NJ’s greatest hoops talent
Masters: Augusta National’s Bathroom Secrets
Why little St. Peter is the best Cinderella in March Madness history
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Steve Politi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.