The Rutgers football team will travel to take on Northwestern on Saturday. The game is the Scarlet Knights’ (3-3, 0-3) seventh game of the season and the fourth conference game up to this point.
Rutgers is entering this weekend having lost three games in a row to teams ranked inside the Associated Press Top 25 in three consecutive weeks. As a result, the Knights have faced the second-toughest schedule among Big Ten teams and the seventh toughest schedule in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
In the program’s most recent loss to Michigan State, Rutgers surrendered 588 yards of total offense aided by four big plays from the No. 10 Spartans (6-0, 3-0). Payton Thorne found Jalen Nailor for three 60-plus yard touchdown passes, and Kenneth Walker III scored on a 94-yard touchdown run.
Those four plays made up 28 of Michigan State’s 31 points while junior wide receiver Aron Cruickshank scored the Knights’ only touchdown of the day.
“I’m not going to look back. We study the tape. We have opportunities on film that we have to cash in on, and if we do that, we’re going to score points. And if we don’t, we won’t. It’s really not more complicated than that.” said head football coach Greg Schiano on Monday.
Injuries have accumulated at key positions during the losing streak. On offense, senior wide receiver Bo Melton missed Saturday’s game against the Spartans with a shoulder injury while Cruickshank suffered his own shoulder injury in Saturday's loss, leaving the status of Rutgers’ two leading receivers up in the air.
Junior offensive lineman Raiqwon O’Neal also missed the last game with a leg injury along with senior linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams. Melton, O’Neal and Maddox-Williams’ availability for Saturday will be determined on how they have progressed through the week, according to Schiano.
Saturday’s game will be the Knights’ first visit to Ryan Field for a Big Ten game, the last stadium yet to be visited by the program since joining the Big Ten in 2014. In the team's last matchup versus the Wildcats (2-3, 0-2) back in 2018, Rutgers was defeated 18-15 thanks to a fourth-quarter touchdown and 2-point conversion from Northwestern.
This season, the Wildcats are led on offense by Evan Hull and Stephon Robinson Jr. Hull ranks inside the top five in the conference in rushing yards per game and is second in yards-per-rush. Meanwhile, Robinson leads the team in receiving yards. Defensively, Chris Bergin leads the Big Ten in tackles per game, with 10.6 per game.
Northwestern has seen three different signal callers take snaps this season. In the Wildcats’ last game two weeks ago, a 56-7 loss to Nebraska, Ryan Hilinski started as quarterback and passed for 256 yards and one touchdown.
“They’re a really well-coached football team. They’re kind of finding their way at quarterback right now. Several guys have played. We’re not sure who’s going to play,” Schiano said. “(Northwestern head football coach) Pat Fitzgerald is a real good friend of mine, and he’s one of the best coaches in America … I know the way he works.”
The game will kick off at noon and will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network. The Knights hold a 4-2 record on the road since Schiano returned to the program last season.
“(Fitzgerald) has built Northwestern into a year in and year out legitimate contender in the Big Ten,” Schiano said. “When it comes to football and growing a program, yeah, I think they’ve kind of laid a blueprint.”
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