In a battle of 4-5 Big Ten East teams, Rutgers visits East Lansing to take on Michigan State on Saturday at noon Eastern Time (Big Ten Network).
Michigan State comes into the game with a slightly better record in Big Ten Conference play (2-4) compared to Rutgers (1-5), but both teams will be searching for a victory to get closer to bowl eligibility.
To learn more about the Scarlet Knights, we spoke with Greg Patuto, managing editor of On the Banks (not of the Red Cedar) — SB Nation’s home for Rutgers athletics.
Are Rutgers fans buying into head coach Greg Schiano’s long-term plan for a program that has struggled for several years? Who are the players on offense and defense to watch out for? Greg answers these questions and more.
1. Through nine games, Rutgers is 4-5, just like Michigan State. Is this about what you expected to see from the Scarlet Knights or not? What does the team do well and what does it need to improve upon?
Greg: This is about where I expected the team to be. When looking at the schedule, fans would like 5-4, but four wins to this point is acceptable when looking at the team in place.
The season-opening victory over Boston College was considered an upset at the time, but that team has gone downhill quick. With a win there, 5-4 would be the guess, but Rutgers was unable to hold a lead against Nebraska. The question remains, how many wins are left on the schedule? When looking at the road, that answer might be none.
Rutgers plays great defense, especially against the run. The Scarlet Knights have been strong up front all season and the linebackers have played above their means a bit. The team needs to improve at the quarterback position. The team has struggled because it is not set at the most important position on the field. All three options (Gavin Wimsatt, Noah Vedral, Evan Simon) have been inconsistent when in there. There is no way to turn it around this season. The position needs to make drastic improvements during the offseason.
2. What is the fans’ collective feeling about head coach Greg Schiano and his staff? Do they believe in the long-term vision for the program?
Greg: Right now, the fans are hoping that quarterback Gavin Wimsatt pans out to be the star they were hoping for. He was a highly-touted recruit, but has not worked out just yet. Granted, he is still just 19 years old. Wimsatt enrolled early and is just the age of a true freshman this season. He has the ability to make some throws, but turns the ball over too much and has trouble reading the field at times.
As for Greg Schiano, he will always have the support of the fans. He is a reputable name on the sideline that has done it before in Piscataway. The issue is, that was the Big East and this is now the Big Ten.
3. Who are the players on Rutgers’ offense that Michigan State fans should look out for on Saturday?
Greg: The loss of running back Samuel Brown V was huge for Rutgers. He took over as the starting running back and was putting up some impressive numbers. Since he went down, the offense has struggled to run the ball. With Brown out of the equation, wide receiver Sean Ryan will likely be the playmaker to watch. He started out a bit slow after transferring (from West Virginia), but has turned it on over the last two weeks. He has eight catches for 100 yards and a score in the last two games. The offense is beginning to get him more involved.
4. On the other side of the ball, who are the difference-makers for the Scarlet Knights on defense?
Greg: Linebackers Tyreem Powell and Deion Jennings have really stepped up in the middle of the defense. The linebacker position was a big question mark, but has really helped stop the run. Of course, this goes hand in hand with the defensive line, which has shown some depth at times. The secondary is experienced and still a strength. Christian Izien and Max Melton are members of the secondary that have a chance to play on Sundays when they are done at Rutgers.
5. If you could take one player on Michigan State’s roster and put that player on Rutgers’ roster, who would it be and why?
Greg: This might be the easy way out of this question but Payton Thorne has to be the correct answer. The quarterback position for Rutgers has not been in a good spot all year long. Moving forward, it remains a question mark because of the inconsistencies it has shown. Thorne is an experienced quarterback that can throw the ball all over the field. He would be the perfect leader for an offense that could certainly use one.
6. What is your score prediction?
Greg: I don’t see there being a ton of points in this game. Rutgers will make some stops, but will also struggle to move the ball. In the end, it will be the same story where some talent takes over. The Scarlet Knights won this matchup in East Lansing in 2020, but it will be more difficult this time around. It will not be as one-sided as last season, but I can still see a double-digit advantage for Michigan State.
Michigan State 23, Rutgers 13
Thank you to Greg for providing thorough insights and analysis on the Scarlet Knights. For more on Rutgers, make sure to follow Greg on Twitter, and follow On The Banks as well.