Before Rutgers joined the Big Ten, they had beaten Northwestern all three times the programs had previously met. However, RU is 0-2 in two meetings as league foes. Both defeats were games that the Scarlet Knights let slip away. Those matchups happened before head oach Greg Schiano returned to the program. He hopes to turn recent history in this series around on Sunday.
“Yeah, never been more focused than I am today,” Schiano said at Tuesday’s game week presser. “Never been more excited than I am today about this team. We have had some great teams here, some good teams, and some not so good teams. Some good teams. I love coaching this team and our staff and being back here at Rutgers, in New Jersey, my home state. I always tell players, don’t wish away time. Use every second that you have to prepare, prepare, and then prepare through the event. So I’m trying to abide by my own advice. But I’m really excited to get it started and to do it at home, as the only Big Ten game in the country, that’s fun.”
Rutgers fans hope that Sunday’s performance and results are fun as well.
The last time Northwestern visited Piscataway was in 2018 during Chris Ash’s third season at the helm. Rutgers led 15-7 midway through the third quarter. However, the Wildcats scored twice to win the game 18-15 on their way to winning the Big Ten West title. It was an opportunity that painfully slipped away in front of the home faithful.
The only meeting between the two programs with Schiano was in Evanston during the 2021 season. The Scarlet Knights managed just 222 yards of offense while allowing over 400 yards in a 21-7 loss to Northwestern. It was a game that was extremely winnable, but Rutgers stumbled into its bye week instead.
Before the schools were Big Ten opponents, Rutgers won all three previous meetings. They won 22-18 in 1991 with Gary Melton, father of Bo and Max, had a 96 yard kickoff return touchdown. In 1989, RU won on the road 38-27 in the 1,000 game in program history. Scott Erney connected on two 80+ yard touchdowns through the air with receiver Randy Jackson.
The series began all the way back in 1919 when Rutgers Hall of Fame head coach George Foster Sanford led his team to a 28-0 victory over Northwestern.
As for Sunday’s meeting, the Wildcats visit Piscataway after going 1-11 last fall and are in the midst of a hazing scandal that got head coach Pat Fitzgerald fired. If there was ever a time to beat Northwestern, it’s now.
“I think the thing you’ve got to remember is they have a lot of experienced players,” Schiano reminded this week. They’ll also be on a mission to honor their former coach with a road win as underdogs.
Rutgers returns many contributors from last season as well. The offense is hoping for a fresh start with new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. He’ll battle a new look defense that David Braun was hired to turn around before being named interim head coach. As important as the progress is for the offense, RU will likely need its defense to lead the way on Sunday.
With hope alive and well, Rutgers needs to seize this opportunity and open the 2023 season with a Big Ten win. Not only would it give this team confidence, but it would give the program an important victory within the conference. After two missed chances against Northwestern as league foes, let’s hope Sunday is an example of third time’s the charm for Schiano’s team.
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