Spartan Football is back! For a while it didn’t look like that was going to be the case this year, but here we are preparing for a game week for the first time since the Pinstripe Bowl. The Spartans open this season at home with a game against Rutgers. All in all, probably the best way to ease into this odd year, the first under head coach Mel Tucker.
School: Rutgers University
Nickname: Scarlet Knights
Conference: Big Ten (East Division)
Location: New Brunswick/Piscataway, New Jersey
Head Coach: Greg Schiano (First year back with Rutgers, 68-67 previously)
Record: 0-0 (2-10 overall last year, 0-9 in Big Ten)
Mascot: The Scarlet Knight
All-Time Series: Michigan State leads 8-3 (6-0 MSU since Rutgers joined the Big Ten)
Greg Schiano returns to New Jersey to coach the team he was in charge of from 2001 through 2011. It has been tough going for the Scarlet Knights since then, having made just three bowl games post Schiano, and those coming in the first three years after he left.
Schiano was also the coach the last time that Rutgers beat Michigan State back in 2004. That game, like this one, was also the first game of the year. Let’s hope that history does not repeat itself.
Since we don’t have any stats to go on for this year, we will look back at last year’s stats.
We will start on the offensive side of the ball, where Rutgers was the second lowest team in the nation in scoring, at 13.3 points per game. They were one of only two teams to average less than 14 points per game, with only Akron being worse.
On the ground they averaged 133.75 yards per game, 101st nationally, and 3.51 yards per carry, which was 117th overall.
Through the air, it’s even worse. The Knights were 121st in total passing offense averaging 139.3 yards per game, fourth worst among teams with at least 20 attempts per game. Which is why it shouldn’t surprise you that they were 116th nationally in yards per attempt. The Scarlet Knights threw more than twice as many interceptions (15) as touchdowns (seven).
How about on defense? Also bad. Rutgers allowed 36.7 points per game, which ranked 123rd nationally and last in the Big Ten. Only Arkansas was worse among Power Five schools.
On the ground teams averaged 201.08 yards per game against the Scarlet Knights (107th nationally), and 4.88 yards per carry (104th).
But then we get to passing defense, the bright light in Rutgers’ team stats from last year. They ranked 76th in total passing defense, allowing 232.5 yards per game. That’s almost average! But don’t hold a parade for them just yet, as Rutgers was 102nd in yards per attempt at 8.1 yards per pass. They allowed 25 touchdowns through the air against 11 interceptions.
Players to Watch
Much like Michigan State, the quarterback question for Rutgers has not yet been answered. According to the team’s depth chart they have two players listed as a possible starter, using the classic “OR” at the QB spot.
Those two players are Artur Sitkowski and Noah Vedral. Sitkowski appeared in three games for Rutgers last year, throwing for 429 yards on 6.3 yards per attempt with one touchdown and two interceptions. In 2018 as a freshman Sitkowski appeared in 11 games and threw for 1,158 yards with four touchdowns and 18 picks.
Noah Vedral is a graduate transfer from Nebraska, and is currently with his third school after starting his career at UCF. He appeared in six games for the Huskers last year throwing for 418 yards on an even eight yards per attempt, with no touchdowns or interceptions. He also ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns.
I expect to see both of them against MSU, unless the starter really comes out hot.
Leading rusher Isaih Pacheco returns as the top threat out of the backfield for the Scarlet Knights. Pacheco ran for 729 yards on 4.31 yards per carry last year and scored seven touchdowns. He also hauled in 13 receptions for 83 yards.
Senior Bo Melton led the team in both receptions (30) and yards (427) last year and was tied for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns.
Also starting at wideout is another transfer, Aron Cruickshank, who comes over from Wisconsin where he caught three passes for 29 yards and had 13 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown. Cruickshank was a weapon in the return game where he had two kickoff returns for scores and averaged over 29 yards per return.
Senior Tyshon Fogg returns to lead the Knights defense. The linebacker led the team in tackles last year with 104 total, and was fourth on the squad with four tackles for loss.
Defensive end Elorm Lumor had three sacks last year to tie for the team lead and senior cornerback Tre Avery had a team high two interceptions.
They have an “OR” at the place kicking spot, too, with senior Justin Davidovicz and sophomore Guy Fava both listed. Davidovicz was the kicker last year and was 11-for-15 on field goals, after going nine-for-11 the year before that. Guy Fava was on kickoffs last year, but clearly has the edge when it comes to names.
So that’s what you need to know about Rutgers. And I guess we will all get to know the Spartans together. Michigan State football is back. Let’s all enjoy it as much as we can.