It’s Rutgers week and for just the second time since joining the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights will be going bowling with a non-losing record. Greg Patuto of On the Banks joined us to answer a few questions ahead of tomorrow’s game.
1. It seems Schiano Part 2 is working. Now in year four, this team clinched bowl eligibility back in October, they showed plenty of fight until a pick six against Ohio State, and the defense is downright stingy. How would you assess the trajectory of the program and how are Rutgers fans feeling about it?
Expectations can sometimes get a bit out of hand. All in all, this season has been a good one for Rutgers. It took advantage of a favorable schedule prior to the bye week but for Rutgers, any win is a good one. Once the competition got a bit stiff, this included Michigan and Wisconsin as well, we kind of saw how the team actually was. This does not mean that the trajectory is pointing down still — it is quite the opposite.
For Rutgers, six wins and a bowl game is a big accomplishment. It is the first time since 2014 reaching six wins. Fans began putting expectations on this team that were a little too big once they saw a 6-2 record. This meant talking themselves into wins against Iowa and Maryland at the end of the season, not to mention Wisconsin earlier. That was just never going to happen. After the shutout against Iowa, those expectations are back down and fans are content with the season this year.
Basically, the goal for 2023 was to compete in Big Ten games, win six games, and get back to a bowl game. So far, it has been 3-for-3.
2. The Big Ten East ends after this season, something that is probably welcome for Penn State who has lost its last six games against Ohio State/Michigan. What are Rutgers fans feeling about the new conference structure and what it might mean for them?
At this point, Rutgers needs to focus on themselves and improvement within the program. Penn State has its culture set and the program is in a good place minus two games each season (Ohio State, Michigan). For the Nittany Lions, it is definitely a positive to eliminate the Big Ten East but Rutgers isn’t there yet. The short answer is adding more talent within the conference might not favor Rutgers at this point but there are a lot of things that Greg Schiano and his staff have to improve about their own team before worrying about newcomers.
3. Focusing more on this year, running back Kyle Monangai has been a workhorse and very productive - at least until last week in Iowa City. What can Rutgers do to get him going against a stout Penn State defense and can Gavin Wimsatt provide any relief by pushing the ball downfield against the Nittany Lion’s secondary?
The passing attack has been completely nonexistent and this has really been the negative of the season. Gavin Wimsatt came in with such promise but has yet to take that next step. Or really any step throwing the ball. He is a productive runner when he can and has all the physical tools. Size, speed, athleticism, etc. This can only take you so far. He is near the bottom of the nation in completion percentage and is extremely inconsistent.
So Kyle Monangai has not gotten much help in that aspect but he has been one of the better rushers in the Big Ten. The offensive line is much improved under Pat Flaherty and Monangai has benefitted. Rutgers attempt to do what it has done all year to get him going, volume and hope he can get going to sustain drives.
4. Defensively, Rutgers has had a great year and they’re facing a Penn State offense that just fired its coordinator. What makes this group special and what can they do to help the Scarlet Knights threaten an upset?
Rutgers just gave up 400 yards to Iowa, which is not necessarily a resume item, but the defense has been stellar all season. They are an experienced group with plenty of toughness. It has been a fun defense to watch because of its willingness to hit. Linebacker Tyreem Powell is out for the year after suffering an injury against Indiana but Mohamed Toure and Deion Jennings have been leaders in the middle. It is a really stout front seven that can put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They do not finish as many as fans might like but the pressure is there. Overall, Joe Harasymiak comes into each game with a plan and they have executed well.
5. Saturday sees two teams that are coming off disappointing outings - how do you see it playing out? What are keys to the game and any predictions?
Penn State seems to like sticking it to Rutgers. All you have to do is just look at the series history and scores over the last decade. Last year was just the second time in nine games that Rutgers scored double-digit points. I don’t see many more coming this year. That Penn State defense is elite and Rutgers has a struggling offense. It does not seem like a good matchup to get things going. The key is turnovers both ways but especially for Penn State. If it takes care of the ball and doesn’t set Rutgers up in favorable spots, I find it hard to believe that Rutgers hangs around.
Penn State 31, Rutgers 10
We thank Greg for the time and encourage all of you to go check out On the Banks for more coverage of Saturday’s game.