Happy Thursday! MSU heads to the east coast this weekend looking to stop the bleeding. Rutgers is the opponent. Greg Patuto of On The Banks took some time to answer some questions about the Scarlet Knights. MSU’s coaching staff has already seen this interview.
TOC: As the easternmost Big Ten team, what are Rutgers’ fans thoughts on the 4 west coast teams joining the conference next year?
GP: I personally love it. There are many around the country that don’t like the idea of expansion. Yes, money is a major factor but it could also be good to watch. The competition will be stiff but the aspect of warm/cold weather teams will be fun to watch. Imagine USC or UCLA coming out of California to play in Michigan or Wisconsin in November. There are a lot of possibilities.
Fans might not love the idea but they should take it as an opportunity to plan a trip and get out West. The rivalries that traditionalists are accustomed to watching can still be present. USC can still play Notre Dame. Oregon and Washington can still play. All will be well in college football moving forward.
TOC: Rutgers is currently 4-2. Since 2015, you have not had a season with more than 5 wins, and that was in 2021 when you were 5-7 (yet still got to go bowling). This year, you have 3 road games remaining plus Ohio State and Maryland at home, in addition to this weekend’s game against MSU. Can the Scarlet Knights get to 6 or more wins this year? Is Greg Schiano making the program better in his second stint as coach?
GP: The chance to get to six wins is here over the next two weeks. Rutgers has Michigan State and Indiana over the next two weeks. Both winnable games that would get the team to a bowl game. If Rutgers splits the next two, it will be difficult to get to six with Ohio State, Penn State, and Maryland on the schedule. Some fans are talking themselves into beating Iowa but it is a road game and this offense is not ready to score against a defense like Iowa.
Greg Schiano is improving the program to a point. The team is much improved compared to last year. That is clear. Off the field, Schiano is a good recruiter and motivator in the locker room. He has attempted to improve the coaching staff so all the right steps are being taken. Now, it is time to put it together on the field. The team is far from where it wants to be. It is time to make some significant strides over the next couple years or the answer to this question could turn into a ‘no.’
TOC: On offense, Rutgers’ ground game is outgaining its passing game 173-161 in yards per game. Your quarterback, Gavin Wimsatt, has not thrown it over 200 yards in a single game this year and he has almost as many rushing TDs as passing TDs. What is the biggest problem with your passing game?
GP: Lack of creativity, play-calling, lack of a No. 1 wide receiver, decision-making — take your pick.
Kirk Ciarrocca has not shown an ability to adjust. It could be because he doesn’t want to complicate things for Gavin Wimsatt or he does not trust his weapons. Regardless of the reason, the passing game has not been there. Rutgers comes in and tries to establish the run. When/if that does not work, there are no adjustments being made in play-calling.
Rutgers has some nice pieces at wide receiver but no one has stepped up to be a No. 1 threat, such as Bo Melton in the past. JaQuae Jackson is a transfer who has all of the physical tools and has the best chance to turn into that player. As for decision making, Gavin is a young quarterback who is in his first full year as a starter but it has to be better.
We saw it against Wisconsin where Rutgers was driving at the end of the half down 10-0. It was a bad play call by Ciarrocca running a play that worked previously, the Badgers did their homework, and it was a bad play by Wimsatt to telegraph the pass the entire way. Long story short, it was a pick six the other way.
Right now, there is not a lot of confidence coming from me in the passing game. I’m not sure when it will change but something has to change.
TOC: Defensively, Rutgers is currently 4th in the Big Ten, allowing 14.7 PPG. Tell us about this year’s defense. What is the base formation? What level is the strength of the defense? Who is the player that MSU’s offense should be staying away from the most?
GP: Rutgers is tough up front. The defense has gone above and beyond expectations to this point. Regardless of competition, the defense has kept Rutgers in games and showed that it can compete with superior teams.
The Scarlet Knights are strong up front. The defensive line and linebackers have stopped the run well and put pressure on quarterbacks. Mohamed Toure returning this year after a season-ending injury in 2022 was a major factor. It gives Rutgers another pass rusher and more depth at linebacker. Deion Jennings and Tyreem Powell have the ability to be All-Big Ten players as well.
Aaron Lewis had plenty of hype on the edge and was expected to be a breakout pass rusher. There is plenty to like about the Rutgers defense this year.
TOC: What is the most important thing Rutgers needs to do to get the win on Saturday?
GP: Take control early and take care of the ball. Michigan State is reeling. These are two teams that believe they can win this game. In a case like that, one team has to take control early and it has to be Rutgers if it wants to win the game. The offense has not turned the ball over much this year but when it has, they have been costly and two have gone for touchdowns the other way.
TOC: Bonus question: What is your prediction for the final score?
GP: Rutgers 20, Michigan State 17.
It’s going to be an ugly game. It would be truly surprising to see an offensive explosion from either side. Rutgers has played well this year. It’s Homecoming weekend (take that however you want to), and there could be a few five-stars basketball recruits on campus visiting and at the game. There should be plenty of energy in the stadium.
TOC: Non-related bonus question: I assume that all SB Nation sites are the same and are a collection of immature boys disguised as men (myself included). At TOC, we have our usual “misspellings” for other B1G schools. Do Rutgers’ fans do this too? Any common names used for MSU or any other conference opponents?
GP: Not many have come across OTB. I don’t use any myself just yet. Any misspellings or potential mocking nicknames for teams will be put on hold until Rutgers starts winning some games consistently.
TOC thanks Greg Patuto. The last two guest contributors correctly predicted the winner. Let’s hope we can stop this streak on Saturday.