Two weeks in a row, Rutgers surrendered a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. Beating Michigan State included an epic 18 point fourth quarter comeback. On Saturday, Indiana tied RU 14-14 late in the second quarter to swing momentum back to the home team. Instead, the Scarlet Knights finished the game with 17 unanswered points.
Playing its eighth game in eight weeks, Rutgers proved its toughness on Saturday in its first road win of the season. They regrouped and dominated the second half with a punishing ground game and stifling defense. The grind of the season did not prevent this team from achieving their ultimate goal of becoming bowl eligible.
“The last three teams we played had byes and our kids just kept working,” Schiano said in his postgame presser. “You could see it was taking a collective toll on them. But they just kept going. We tried to cut a little here, cut a little there, but the reality is they had to get to work. We are not at the point where you can miss stuff and still be good enough to win. I am really proud of the way they worked through eight straight weeks and to be able to win here now on the road on our eighth straight week is big, real big.”
Rutgers is now 3-2 in Big Ten play for the first time since joining the league in 2014. It’s just the second time they’ve won back to back Big Ten games. It’s just the fourth time RU has won three Big Ten games. The program is off to its best start at 6-2 since a 7-1 start in 2012. The Scarlet Knights becoming bowl eligible for the first time in nine seasons and over a week before Halloween makes it all the more impressive.
“That’s one step on the journey,” Schiano said. “And it’s been well chronicled, we didn’t finish the journey last time. That’s the goal, it’s going to take time. I told you when we got here, it will take time. There are no quick fixes, not at Rutgers. It’s hard, you just work and work and work. This is definitely a step.”
Rutgers has won all six games they’ve been favored to win this season. Five were won by double digits. Winning every game you are supposed to is a necessary step in rebuilding the program. Greg Schiano preached complementary football and this team has learned how to do just that.
Special teams play made two big plays for a second straight game, this time in the first half.
In addition, while the talent and depth is better in Schiano’s fourth season since he returned, Rutgers plays a physical brand of football. They dominated in the trenches on Saturday. Even in the losses to Michigan and Wisconsin, the Scarlet Knights looked like they belonged on the field from a physical standpoint.
Special teams and the weight room are the two cultural incubators,” Schiano said. “At Rutgers, I think that becomes an honor to play on our special teams. To be on the punt team is an honor. That and the weight room, not a lot of guys want to go in there and train and put themselves through the pain of development.”
Of course, the Big Ten’s leading rusher has played a big role in the success this season. Kyle Monangai became the first Rutgers player to rush for 100 yards in four games in one season since joining the Big Ten. He ran for 109 yards on 4.5 yards per carry in Saturday’s victory.
“Kyle Monangai is a tough, tough guy,” Schiano said. “Sometimes, even from my vantage point, [I’d say] what is second and seven? No, it’s second and four. He just hits it in there and comes downhill.”
This Rutgers team has flaws, but their strengths have outweighed them. RU’s identity above all else is toughness and the ability to overcome adversity. Many seniors and veterans on this team have been through a lot with the program. On Saturday, they had they experienced pure joy. After Schiano has preached the need to play complementary football and to keep chopping since his return, this team absolutely has done both. A bowl game now awaits with the opportunity to do more in the final month of the regular season.
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