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Rutgers forfeits his chance to make a Big Ten statement with killer turnover | Politi’s 5 Observations

In front of Rutgers fans, the Big Ten opener against Iowa was a good test of your level of optimism. You could have summed up this loss very accurately by pointing out that the Scarlet Knights would have had a shot at winning had they not scored 14 points for the Hawkeyes.

Or, if you’re so inclined, you can focus on, you know, the whole 14-points-for-the-Hawkeyes thing.

Final score: Iowa 27, Rutgers 10.

Actual Score: Rutgers 14, Iowa 13, Rutgers 10.

This one isn’t that complicated, folks. Rutgers is not a program that can make mistakes against a solid Big Ten program like Iowa and expect to win the game. Two fouls ending up in their own end zone? Forget it.

This was a big missed opportunity for the Scarlet Knights. The evening kicked off with an announced crowd of 53,117 people, with most of the fans in their seats as FS1 turned on its cameras in front of a national crowd. It ended with a predictably empty stadium and a few hardened Iowa fans – is there any other kind? – singing “Let’s go Hawks!” while the away team celebrated another ugly win.

Rutgers still can’t get out of the way offensively. Fans can pin that Sean Gleeson, the offensive coordinator turned pinata on the bulletin board, but execution was the bigger problem in this game. Rutgers has been sitting 8-0 since 2020 when it doesn’t make a turnover, which is probably why head coach Greg Schiano has taken such a conservative approach to victories over Boston College and Temple.

But with a shot at 4-0 against a much better opponent, playing close to the vest wasn’t going to work. Rutgers was leading 3-0 when Evan Simon’s pass was intercepted by Iowa linebacker Cooper DeJean and returned 44 yards for a touchdown. Then, in the second quarter, Iowa safety Kaevon Merriweather returned a Joshua Youngblood fumble for a TD and a 14-3 lead.

That was all Iowa needed. The result for Rutgers was a Big Ten record 20th straight home defeat in conference play, and for this season it casts doubt on how this team will compete as the Big Ten Meat Grinder kicks in. It certainly won’t beat anyone if it keeps scoring against itself.

Here are five observations from Rutgers-Iowa:

1. ROCKY DAY FOR SIMON

The numbers were pretty good. Evan Simon completed 28 of 49 passes for a career-high 300 yards, and a week after the Scarlet Knights had just 59 passes in a 16-14 win over Temple, that’s certainly a big improvement.

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But the numbers, which were mostly collected late in the game against Iowa’s second teamers, don’t tell the story. Simon, the only quarterback with a scholarship available for this game, threw two great interceptions — including one returned for a touchdown — and failed on several pitches early in the game, potentially changing the outcome.

Schiano will not provide an injury timetable for any of his players. The eye test, however, injured quarterbacks Noah Vedral and Gavin Wimsatt during warm-ups indicates that both will be back sooner rather than later. Maybe even next week in the state of Ohio. They both need back as soon as possible.

2. AGGRESSIVE ‘D’ PAYS OFF

The Twitter account @CFBFilmRoom had a fascinating statistic this week. Rutgers, under freshman defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak, led the Big Ten in blitz speed against FBS opponents — and it wasn’t particularly close. Rutgers blitzed on 41.8 percent of his play, according to the site, well ahead of Purdue at 34.9 percent.

The aggressiveness certainly worked against Iowa in the second quarter. The Hawkeyes effectively ran the ball away when, somewhat inexplicably, they called a pass. Before quarterback Spencer could throw Petras, Rutger’s defensive back Christian Izien brought him down for a drive-killing eight-yard sack on a well-timed blitz.

The D also attacked when Iowa let the ball run. Wesley Bailey, a sophomore defensive lineman, slashed through the Iowa line on a first-down run to tackle Gavin Williams for a six-yard loss. The defense wasn’t perfect, but held out on a night when the Rutgers offense continued to score points for the opposition.

3. FOURTH AND GO

Rutgers trailed 24-3, a deficit the Scarlet Knights wouldn’t overcome in a month, let alone a quarter. Yet, as he has since his return to Piscataway, Schiano set the tone by refusing to accept an outcome that seemed certain. To remind the crazy side game in a loss in 2020 against Indiana? This was true, only less dramatically.

He kept his attack on the field three times in Iowa territory in the second half in fourth place. The first two plays, the Scarlet Knights moved the chains – including a nice 10-yard pass from Simon to receiver Shameen Jones. That was the key moment in an 82-yard drive that predictably ended in a fourth-down play that was not to their liking.

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This time, on the fourth and fourth of the Iowa 7, the Hawkeyes sent pressure on Simon and the quarterback fired a pass into the end zone that was nowhere near anyone in the red. Iowa took over on downs. On the next drive, however, Rutgers finally broke through and scored a touchdown.

4. POINT-A-THON IN PISCATAWAY

It’s rare, if not close to unprecedented, to get a college football game national attention solely for the quality of its gamblers. Adam Korsak vs. Tory Taylor was the main billing for Rutgers vs. Iowa, and somehow it managed to live up to the hype.

For Rutgers, Korsak was brilliant as usual. He pinned Iowa twice within 20 in the first half, including one that was knocked down at six. If Rutgers hadn’t given Iowa 14 points on sales, Korsak would have been a major reason for the Scarlet Knights to keep it close.

For Iowa, though, Taylor was just as good. He pinned Rutgers on the 4 and the 7, and somehow avoided disaster when Rutgers cornerback Max Melton came through untouched and deflected a run in the first quarter. Taylor looked for the ball behind him, but it rolled to the Rutgers 37.

So who won the punting war? Call it a tie.

5. A GIANT WHEEL, A HUGE RECRUITING DAY AND A BEAUTIFUL TRIBUTE

Here are some other thoughts on the Rutgers-Iowa scene, the Big Ten, and more:

a. A Ferris wheel! If the Boardwalk has a log at the next home game, I’ll hop on airbnb and book a seat for next summer.

b. Schiano got off the bus for the Scarlet Walk and immediately hugged Abram Wright three star linebacker recruit from Florida. This was a huge recruiting weekend for Rutgers – and not just for the soccer team. Eleven different teams took advantage of the night game to plan official visits.

c. Rutgers held a moment of silence for Xavier McClain, a Linden High sophomore who… died of head trauma sustained in a match on September 9 and Ali Muhammad, a Rahway High player who died in his sleep The day before. It was a stylish gesture that shows the connection between New Jersey’s best college program and high school.

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d. Travel around the Big Ten enough, and you’ll find that most conference schools have a large presence at the nearest major airport – be it a shop, or a display, or something. That’s why Rutgers put a giant Scarlet R in Newark Airport last week.

e. The good-news-bad-news score of the week for the Scarlet Knights? Minnesota takes on Michigan State in an easy 34-7 win. The October 29 trip to Minneapolis looks set to be a tall order with the Gophers in position to win the Big Ten West, but the trip to East Lansing two weeks later slips on the list of “winable games” for the Scarlet Knights.

f. The atmosphere at kick-off was great, with a crowded student section and a new light show greeting the primetime TV audience. It is a pity that Rutgers gave that audience no reason to stay in the second half. Rutgers reduced the lead in the fourth quarter to 24-10. Would the crowd have mattered at the time? Probably not, but it was long gone.

g. In the press box this week: Giants general manager Joe Schoen and director of player personnel Tim McDonnell. Something tells me they wrote the name Cooper DeJean in their notebook after seeing the off-the-charts interception of the Iowa linebacker returning for a first quarter touchdown.

h. The pregame light show: Very cool. The game day pack just keeps getting better.

i. Rutgers’ attack is not good enough to survive many missed opportunities. Three drops in the first two rides – including two by the usually confident Langan – were killer.

j. If Aaron Judge doesn’t hit his 61st home run soon, can Rutgers offer him some playing time as a tight end?

MORE FROM STEVE POLITI:

Punting Picasso: How Adam Korsak Became a Rutgers Star

How an ex-Rutgers athlete was eventually charged with murder in Tijuana

The Search for Luther Wright, Once NJ’s Greatest Hoop Talent

Masters: The Bathroom Secrets of Augusta National

Why Little St. Peter’s Basilica Is The Best Cinderella In March Madness History

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Steve Politi can be reached at: spoliti@njadvancemedia.com.

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