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Can Greg Schiano’s season opening magic in second stint at Rutgers continue?



Photo credit Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers is just 12-22 overall since Greg Schiano returned to the program prior to the 2020 season. Against power five teams, the Scarlet Knights are only 8-22. However, RU has won each of its first power five matchups in all three seasons of Schiano ‘s second tenure in Piscataway. It’s reflective of the coaching staff led by Schiano having its team prepared to play out of the gate.

With Northwestern on tap for Sunday’s season opener, the question becomes whether this team can do it again.

In 2020, Rutgers stunned Michigan State and first year head coach Mel Tucker with a turnover frenzy resulting in a 38-27 victory. RU outgained by MSU by almost 100 yards (369-276) and had seven less first downs. Despite committing three turnovers, the defense had seven takeaways including five fumble recoveries.

After blowing out Temple 61-14 in 2021, Rutgers went to Syracuse and won 17-7. Once again, RU was outgained by a power five foe by a 258-195 margin. Syracuse averaged over a yard more per play (4.2-2.8) but a +3 turnover margin was the difference. The offense wasn’t overpowering but committed zero turnovers as the Scarlet Knights celebrated with its fans in the Carrier Dome.

Last season, Rutgers came from behind in Chestnut Hill to stun Boston College 22-21. They scored the last 10 points of the game with a 22 yard Al Shadee-Salaam touchdown run with just under three minutes to play. This time, RU outgained its opponent but by just 10 yards (322-312). However, they won the turnover battle once again with three takeaways and just one giveaway.

In the three power five wins to start each season, Rutgers combined with a +9 turnover margin. That’s a +3 per game average. As I harped on this week, while the need to play complementary football is a must with the offense limiting mistakes, its the defense that needs to make the big plays against Northwestern.

Last season, the Wildcats had a -18 turnover margin on the season. Schiano emphasized this in his weekly presser on Tuesday.

“They had — if you look at their results, I know you look, say, it’s 1-11, but when you really dig deep, turnovers are what killed them,” explained Schiano. “When they didn’t turn the ball over they are a very good football team, not much unlike us. If we can keep from turning the ball over, we’ve got a chance.”

One interesting note is that all three power five wins early in the season the past three years came on the road. Rutgers finally broke its painful home losing streak to Big Ten and power five opponents in beating Indiana at SHI stadium last October. However, with three important games to start the 2023 season all at home, RU must capitalize on its home field advantage.

Rutgers has lost both previous meetings against Northwestern as Big Ten foes. Sunday is a tremendous opportunity to breakthrough in that regard and start the 2023 season with real momentum. While the Wildcats bring elements into the game that make them potentially dangerous, there is a main reason for optimism. Schiano has had his team prepared to play in its first games against power five opponents, two of which were season openers. It resulted in a quality win each time.

Favored by almost a touchdown for Sunday’s game, the hope is Rutgers will keep its early season magic strong against Northwestern by winning at home.

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