After successfully defending Spartan Stadium, also known as “The Woodshed,” the last two weekends, Michigan State hits the road to the East Coast to take on Rutgers. As we saw last year, this game isn’t a layup in the win column anymore, especially now that it is the battle to continue using the phrase “Keep Chopping.” The Spartans are already road tested this year though, so that should help. Let’s take a closer look at Rutgers.
School: Rutgers University
Nickname: Scarlet Knights
Conference: Big Ten (East Division)
Location: New Brunswick/Piscataway, New Jersey
Head Coach: Greg Schiano (second year of new tenure, 6-8 since returning, 74-75 overall)
Record: 3-2 (0-2 in Big Ten)
Mascot: The Scarlet Knight
All-Time Series: Michigan State leads 8-4 (MSU leads 6-1 since Rutgers joined the Big Ten)
Greg Schiano had the Scarlet Knights hot out of the gate to start the season, smashing Temple and Delaware at home and going into the Carrier Dome and knocking off Syracuse. Then conference play rolled around and things got real with a tough fought loss at Michigan and then a drubbing by Ohio State last weekend. MSU will be the third straight top-15 opponent for Rutgers when the two programs meet on Saturday.
Rutgers sits middle of the pack in terms of scoring offense, averaging 29.8 points per game. However, these numbers are significantly skewed by the big wins against Temple and FCS Delaware. Against Michigan, Ohio State and Syracuse, the Scarlet Knights are averaging just 14.3 points per game.
The rushing attack for the Knights is averaging 148 yards per game, which ranks 82nd nationally. They are averaging just 3.63 yards per carry, which is 99th in the country, despite the fact they are 36th in attempts per game. It is more of a volume attack than an explosive one, which is how Rutgers has found the end zone 10 times on the ground.
Through the air, the numbers are not great either. The Knights are 91st nationally at 202.2 yards per game and 104th in yards per pass at 6.4 yards per attempt. Rutgers has seven touchdowns against three interceptions through the air.
The offense ranks at No. 82 in the SP+ rankings through Week Five.
The defense has been decent, at least up until last week. For the season, the Scarlet Knights are No. 42 in scoring defense, allowing 21.1 points per game. However, Ohio State is the only team to eclipse 20 points against them so far.
Rutgers is No. 57 in rushing defense, allowing 131.8 yards per game on the ground at a rate of 3.77 yards per rush, which is No. 60 overall.
Through the air, the Rutgers defense has been strong, holding teams to 186.6 yards per game (31st overall) and 7.3 yards per attempt (77th overall). The Knights have allowed six passing touchdowns and have three interceptions.
Defensively, Rutgers checks in at a respectable 31st in the SP+ rankings.
Players to Watch
Senior quarterback Noah Vedral has carried the bulk of the work under center for Schiano, although three other quarterbacks have thrown and completed passes so far this year.
Vedral has 914 yards passing on a 66.7 percent completion rate with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He has been good, but not great so far, but has improved on his yards per attempt and rating from last year. He is also the team’s second leading rusher with 151 yards on 41 attempts (3.68 YPA) but has not found the end zone on the ground. So while he isn’t a big time running threat, he isn’t a statue back there either.
At running back, Isaih Pacheco leads the team with 267 yards and three touchdowns. Pacheco has been the leading rusher for the last two seasons at Rutgers and eclipsed the 100-yard mark against Michigan two weeks ago. He also has six catches for 31 yards out of the backfield.
Rutgers has an experienced receiving corps, with three seniors and a junior leading the way.
Bo Melton leads the team with 24 receptions, 253 yards and two touchdowns, and like Pacheco, has led the team the last two seasons in those categories as well. Melton is dealing with a shoulder injury and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game against Michigan State.
Aron Cruichshank has snagged 17 catches for 206 yards and a touchdown. The former Wisconsin Badger is in his second season with the Scarlet Knights after transferring. He has also handled king return duties and is averaging over 19 yards per punt return including a touchdown.
Fellow senior wideouts Brandon Sanders and Shameen Jones have 11 catches each to round out the receiving group.
On defense, you need to account for senior linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi, who leads the team with 3.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and 49 tackles overall. He’s also got a forced fumble and a pass breakup for good measure. Fatukasi was first-team All-Big Ten last year and was the Bednarik Award Player of the Week after the Temple game.
Senior defensive lineman Julius Turner is second on the team with 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss.
In the secondary, Tre Avery has four career interceptions including one this year, and a couple pass break-ups as well.
Looking at special teams, Valentino Ambrosio leads the nation with the most New Jersey Italian name, and is also five-for-seven on field goals this year, and 18-for-19 on extra points. Ambrosio was nine-of-11 last year, so he’s been pretty solid.
Adam Korsak is the punter for the fourth-straight season. Korsak is averaging over 49 yards per punt this season, which would easily be a career high.
This should be an interesting matchup. Michigan State certainly has the better offense, but the real question will be whether or not the Rutgers defense has the ability to slow the Spartans down enough to keep the game close. The Scarlet Knights were able to do it against Michigan, though ultimately their offense couldn’t get the job done. But Ohio State had its way with Rutgers. I don’t expect MSU to put up Buckeye-type numbers, but I expect the Spartans to be better than they were against Nebraska.
Let’s keep chopping and get to 6-0 this week.