Well as disappointed as many of the fans probably are the Spartans will once again take the field this Saturday at noon for a home game versus the Rutgers.
Fans are sick of hearing this but Michigan State is in desperate need of a win. The rest of the schedule does not get any easier after this week, Ohio State and Penn State are both still on list of games coming up.
This week Michigan State will clash with the Rutgers. Both teams will enter Saturday afternoon as the only teams winless in conference play, only one shall leave with their first Big Ten win. Aaron Breitman from On The Banks, where fans can find any and all information pertaining to Rutgers sports joins us for our weekly Q&A.
Michigan State and Rutgers are a combined 0-12 in Big Ten Conference play, how does a coaching staff keep their team motivated to play every Saturday when their last win came in the month of September?
In Rutgers case, head coach Chris Ash is in his first season and the program is searching for respect. Competition has been emphasized in everything the players do now within the program. There are also a lot of younger players competing for spots this season and for the future. Veterans on this team have been benched during games when playing poorly, so I am not worried about the coaching staff having the players attention. Ash has praised the team's effort and Rutgers has three conference losses by 7 points or less. This team continues to work hard and I expect them to come out ready to play on Saturday. Considering how close they came to winning this game last season, many of the returning players will have extra confidence for this one. I think last season, Rutgers quit at times during the long losing streak. This season has been very different, as it's just the start of something with Ash and not a failed regime of the previous staff. Aside from just this game, I expect the team to be plenty motivated finishing the season against Penn State on senior night and against Maryland.
The Rutgers have an entire new coaching staff, what were the expectations for Chris Ash and company in their first year? And what are the expectations for future seasons?
The fan base is split between those who feel the team should be far better than it is right now and those who understand the talent level on the roster simply isn’t very strong at the moment. People are tired of the blowout losses from the past few seasons, but the reality is Rutgers has played three top 5 teams in the country this season. No other team in college football can claim that fact. I've been encouraged by close losses to Iowa, Minnesota, and Indiana considering the circumstances. Rutgers lost their only real legitimate playmaker on offense in Janarion Grant. He returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns this season, as well as rushed for multiple scores and even threw a touchdown too. Grant was tailor made for the spread offense and as soon as he was lost late in the first half against Iowa, Rutgers scored 1 touchdown in the next 13 quarters of football they played. Not a coincidence. Rutgers has some solid starters on both sides of the ball, but the depth of the roster is far from where it needs to be for the program to be truly competitive in the Big Ten. I think the coaching staff is still working to gel together, but is still much better than the previous regime. A lot of fans are hopeful for the future and believe Ash is the right coach. Of course, every fan base has their “the sky is falling” contingent and Rutgers is no different. It’s all about recruiting, which Ash is off to a good start with, as Rutgers is pretty much in the high 20's with all major services at the moment. Realistically, I think it’s going to take Ash 4 years to really have his players and system running the way he wants it to. Rutgers played a pro-style offense for years, so most of the current personnel doesn’t really fit into the new power spread offense. Rebuilding and coaching transitions take time. Having such a difficult first half of the schedule hasn’t helped perception of the program nationally, but I think things are certainly headed in the right direction.
What are the biggest surprises surrounding the team this year?
The fact that redshirt sophomore Gio Rescigno has emerged as a competent quarterback. He started fall training camp as the 3rd string, but kept working and ultimately beat out TCU grad transfer Zach Allen and incumbent starter Chris Laviano. His performance so far has been solid, which makes him seem like a rock star compared to the futility Rutgers experienced all season at quarterback before Gio took over. We aren't sure if he is the long term starter at the position, but he is likeable and has played hard so far. A bad surprise has been the disappointing play of the special teams, pretty much the entire unit. The coverage units have been terrible and has allowed multiple returns for touchdowns, punting has been suspect all season, and our kicker David Bonagura has struggled with kickoffs. While he is 10 for 12 on the season with field goal attempts, Ash refuses to let him kick more than 40 yard attempts and he missed a crucial extra point in a 2 point loss to Minnesota and missed a 33 yard field goal in a 6 point loss to Indiana. Depth has been part of the problem, as injuries and a lack of talent on the back end of the roster has reared its ugly head on special teams.
What will be the key matchup you will be watching closely this weekend?
I'll be focused on the line play for Rutgers. The defense was strong against the run against Indiana, but the line didn't generate enough consistent pressure on Hoosier quarterback Richard Lagow. Whether it's Tyler O'Connor or someone else starting at quarterback for Michigan State, the Rutgers defensive line needs to wreck havoc up front to have any chance of winning this game. They have the potential to do that with a solid senior nucleus of Julian Pinnix-Odrick (5 sacks), Darius Hamilton (10 tackles last week, and Sebastian Joseph. This group has had their moments this season, but have yet to truly impose their will on a game in conference play. On the flip side, the offensive line of Rutgers was bad against Indiana. They couldn't generate a consistent push in the run game and too many times quarterback Gio Rescigno was under duress from the Hoosier pass rush. The offense will need good protection to generate scoring drives on the road and to build confidence after going through a scoring drought most of the second half last week against Indiana.
What are three things the Rutgers need to do Saturday to help ensure a victory?
Rutgers has been abysmal in the battle for field position and it has buried the offense multiple times this season. Punting has been an issue, as well as far too many three and out drives that not only prevent any rhythm from being established, but drain the defense and wear them down late in games. The offense was 1 for 16 on third down against Indiana. They need to do a better job of gaining yardage on first down to avoid getting into 3rd and long situations. Establishing the running game will help accomplish the first two things. Starter Robert Martin has missed the past two games on offense due to an injury and no word on how much he can play this weekend, if any. Justin Goodwin has amasses 279 all-purpose yards the past two games in Martin's absence. However, Rutgers needs better balance and will need to establish power running back Josh Hicks to complement the other back. A big part of it is him needing to get more carries and establish a rhythm, as he is the type of back who gets stronger as the game goes on.
Who is one player on Rutgers that will be the biggest difference maker in Saturday's game? Why?
It's an obvious answer but it has to be Michigan native and starting quarterback Gio Rescigno. The Rutgers offense has finally shown signs of life the past two games once Gio was inserted into the lineup. He has a solid arm, has showcased good decision making so far, and has the ability to make something out of nothing in the run game. Gio is a major work in progress, but he is tough and has brought renewed energy to the team. If he can have a fast start and build his confidence, it could carry the team to victory.
What is your final score and prediction?
I think this will be a low scoring affair and not because of any type of defensive clinic from either side. Both teams have struggled on offense in finishing drives on offense. However, I think Michigan State's offense has been more consistent in sustaining drives and that gives them an edge in this game. I know O'Connor's availability could signal a change at quarterback, but I also worry about the Rutgers defense stopping Spartan running back L.J. Scott on the ground. I think it's a relatively close game that sees Michigan State pull away in the 4th quarter. Michigan State 28 Rutgers 17.
Thanks to Aaron and everyone over at On The Banks!