The key to the Big Ten’s success for Rutgers football
Rutgers begins the Big Ten schedule after finishing the undefeated non-conference game for the first time since joining the league in 2014. One clear reason is that the Scarlet Knights played flawless football. In order to produce three or more Big Ten wins to be bowl eligible, they must continue to follow the same pattern of success.
In the three weeks of the college football season, Rutgers leads the country in the fewest penalties per game (2.33) and net puntage average (51.5 yards). They are just one of four teams that have yet to commit any revenue. In addition, they are third in terms of turnover and fifth in terms of earned turnover.
For context, consider this breathtaking from ESPN researcher Jared Berson: Rutgers are the first team since the 2008 Florida National Champion to force more than 8 turnovers without committing one in their first 3 games of a season.
Respectfully, don’t book those college football qualifying plane and hotel reservations just yet. Even so, it really captures the imprint that this coaching staff left on the program so early in the rebuild.
Finding the key to the Scarlet Knights’ success in Big Ten isn’t rocket science. Playing clean football has been key to starting the season 3-0 and will continue to be paramount for continued progress to occur the rest of the way. As the competition increases dramatically, the margin for error is much narrower.
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano spoke about the importance of limiting turnovers and penalties following last weekend’s win over Delaware.
“I think it’s very important. We cannot overcome these kinds of mistakes, not yet, ”said Schiano. “Sometimes you can when you’re really, really talented and really, really prepared and they’re the same guys and you’ve had them forever. You know what, it’s when you failed, what’s the problem, we’re going to invent ourselves. It’s not us right now. We have to play it that way. And I think the two big things, the most important, is to take care of football. The guys did a really good job with that and the second is if you play efficiently and don’t give back yards you have a chance.
While he was the most surprising going 3-6 in the Big Ten game last season, tying the best schedule since joining conference, Rutgers struggled to limit mistakes. In doing so, it prevented the Scarlet Knights from maximizing the opportunities offered by their opponents, including a loss to Michigan and Illinois. In nine conference games, Big Ten’s opponents committed the third most penalties against Rutgers and the defense forced 19 strikeouts, tied for second in the league. However, RU finished second to last in penalty yards per game and returned it 14 times. While RU was fifth in revenue margin at +5, two teams with fewer takeaways finished ahead of them in this category.
For Rutgers to equal or surpass three Big Ten wins this season, improving the turnover margin and reducing penalties are essential.
Looking at this weekend against Michigan, it will be extremely important if they hope to be competitive in the Big House. By ESPN researcher Jared berson once again, Saturday’s clash between Rutgers and Michigan is the first game of this century in which the two teams haven’t recorded a turnaround so late in the season. The importance of playing clean football is even greater against an opponent like the Wolverines who are used to doing the same. Schiano highlighted how this mindset has become a central part of the program’s culture.
“I think it’s a serious commitment and a buy-in from our players to what we insist on. We believe very deeply that the ball is the program, ”said Schiano. “Kirk Ciarrocca brought that here, and it’s stuck with us everywhere we’ve been. And it is very important to us that you realize that when you wear this ball, you are wearing [the program] because – crazy as it is, okay you need that ball to score in every way except for safety. If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score. To simplify to the simplest degree, our number must be greater than their number otherwise we lose. So kind of common sense, we have to take care of this thing and they are doing a good job. We must continue, eh. The minute you take it for granted, it boils over.
In last season’s wilderness triple overtime game Michigan won 48-42, both teams turned it once and no runs were scored. However, Rutgers committed 12 penalties for 99 yards against 5 penalties for 40 yards for the visitors. While the Scarlet Knights still had an opportunity to win the game, it was a big deal in the loss.
The good news is that while Michigan has dominated non-conference play this season with wins over western Michigan, Washington and northern Illinois, outscoring opponents 141-34, they have forced just three. turnovers in three games. If Rutgers is serious about putting Michigan on high alert on Saturday, the offense must continue to take care of football and the defense must generate its own turnovers.
Rutgers certainly need to produce some big offensive plays against a somewhat vulnerable Michigan pass defense in order to have any chance of causing an upset on Saturday. However, maintaining the practices and not putting your defense in a hole with a short field due to turnovers is also extremely important. We must also avoid limiting the costly penalties that kill engines in attack and give Michigan a better position on the field.
Another important key in this game is not only to limit errors, but to deal with them well when they do occur. This is the first Big Ten home game that Michigan fans can attend since 2019 and its homecoming. The Scarlet Knights need to keep their cool and not let a penalty or turnover snowball into a bigger mistake. This will be the case throughout the Big Ten game and has been a problem over the years. Changes in momentum will occur throughout a game, but Rutgers must ensure that they are not causing opponents to gain an advantage in this area. The mental toughness and the “keep cutting” mentality must be very present.
If Rutgers is going to end their 30-game losing streak against ranked opponents dating back to 2009 in Michigan this Saturday, playing clean Big House football will likely be one of the main reasons. And if it is possible to achieve bowl eligibility this season, it will continue to limit turnovers and penalties.