2020 Season Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

By Dylan Burd on October 6, 2020 at 10:28 am
Nov 16, 2019; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights quarterback Johnny Langan (17) hands off the ball to running back Isaih Pacheco (1) during the first half against the Ohio State Buckeyes at SHI Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
© Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
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Intro

Rutgers is always seen as a guaranteed win by every single team in the Big Ten. Since going 8-5 in their first season in the Big Ten in 2014, the Scarlet Knights have a comined13-47 record.

However, the Knights took a major step in the right direction this offseason by hiring Greg Schiano as their head coach. Schiano coached Rutgers from 2001 through 2011, when the team played in the Big East. During that time period, Rutgers had a 68-67 record, including a 49-28 stretch from 2006-2011.  

Schiano has already made his impact felt by landing several transfers, including some from the Big Ten, as well as already bettering Rutgers' recruiting. The Scarlet Knights' 2021 recruiting class currently ranks ninth in the Big Ten, just behind Penn State's.

Despite Rutgers always being a win, Penn State has played down to Rutgers' level the last couple of seasons. Penn State only won 20-7 at Rutgers in 2018, and 27-6 at home last year. That being said, the Nittany Lions have won their last 13 matchups with the Scarlet Knights, dating back to 1989. 

Let's take a look at the 2020 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers at a Glance

Head Coach
Greg Schiano (1st season of 2nd stint) (11 seasons, 68-67 in 1st stint, 2001-2011)
2019 Record 2-10 (0-9 Big Ten)
2019 Postseason N/A
Biggest Losses RB Raheem Blackshear, C Michael Maietti, LB Rashawn Battle, G Zach Venesky, OT Kamaal Seymour, DL Elorm Lumor
Biggest Returnees RB Isaih Pacheco, WR Bo Melton, LB Tyshon Fogg, LB Olakunle Fatukasi, LB Tyreek Maddox-Williams, LB Drew Singleton, DT Julius Turner, CB, Tre Avery, S Christian Izien
Summary Rutgers returns a decent amount of players, but also gains a ton of talent through the transfer portal. QB Noah Vedral from Nebraska, S Brendon White from Ohio State, WR Aron Cruickshank from Wisconsin and DT Michael Dwumfour may see significant time this season. How competitive the team is will likely depend on these transfers. 
Matchup with PSU It'll likely take few years for Greg Schiano recruit and develop enough to be competitive in the Big Ten. A coaching change matters tremendously, but the effects of the change aren't usually visible for some time, as seen by other examples around the NCAA over the years. 

Offense

Rutgers was a disaster offensively last season, averaging only 13.3 points per game and 273.1 yards per game, both ranking last in the Big Ten. The main reason why the offense was so bad was due to the bad quarterback play. Freshman Johnny Langan played in 10 games, and completed 50.3% of his passes for 840 yards, four touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Langan also had 391 yards and three touchdowns rushing on 134 carries. 

The original starting QB, sophomore Arthur Sitkowski played in three games and completed 64.7% of his passes for 429 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. He then decided to redshirt the rest of the season and enter the transfer portal before ultimately deciding to stay with the Scarlet Knights. Also joining the QB room this season Nebraksa transfer, Noah Vedral. Vedral backed up Adrian Martinez with the Cornhuskers, completing 34 of his 52 passes for 418 yards, 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in five games last season. He also ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.  Additionally, Baylor transfer and former 2019 four-star recruit Peyton Powell has transferred in. Whether or not he'll be eligible to play this season is unknown, but if he gets a waiver he'll be a player in a position battle that's wide open.

Junior running back Isaih Pacheco ran for 729 yards and seven touchdowns on 169 carries last season. He's pretty easily the best player on the offense. Rutgers' best wide receiver is senior Bo Melton, who had 30 receptions for 427 yards and two touchdowns last season. A big name to watch at wide receiver is Wisconsin transfer Aron Cruickshank. Cruickshank, a junior, only has four career receptions, but ran for 189 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries last season, and had two kickoff return touchdowns. If he is deemed eligible, then Rutgers has a big play threat on offense. 

The offensive line will take a hit from last season, as the Scarlet Knights lose three 2019 starters. Center Michael Maiette transferred to Missouri for his senior season, while guard Zach Venesky and tackle Kamaal Seymour graduated. 

Overall, this offense will still be in the bottom three or four of the Big Ten, but they may not be as much of a below-ten-points guarantee as they were in prior years. 

Defense

The Rutgers' defense was last in the Big Ten in points allowed per game with 36.7, and 12th in the Big Ten in yards allowed per game with 433.6. Furthermore the run defense ranked last in the Big Ten, and the pass defense ranked 11th in the Big Ten. 

The Scarlet Knights defense is still going to be bad, but they do return and add a lot of talent this season. The team brings back its four leading tacklers, senior LB Tyshon Fogg, senior LB Olakunle Fatukasi, sophomore safety Christian Izien, and senior defensive tackle Julius Turner. They also return senior CB Tre Avery, who tied for the team lead with two interceptions last season. However, Rutgers does lose its two sack leaders, linebacker Rashawn Battle and defensive tackle Elorm Lumor, who both had three in 2019. 

Additionally, they bring in transfer safety Brendon White from Ohio State, and transfer defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour from Michigan. One major wild card for the defense is defensive end Aaron Lewis, the 2020 three-star recruit and top-500 player who is transferring after one semester in Ann Arbor. If he can get a waiver, he'll be playing this year. 

The Rutgers defense will be improved, especially being head coached by Greg Schiano, but will still finish towards the bottom of the Big Ten in most categories. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

The big difference for Rutgers on special teams will be Cruickshank, who's a threat to take it to the house every time. If he can get a waiver, he'll certainly be on the field returning kicks for Rutgers. 

The kicker will be senior Justin Davidovicz, who hit 17 of his 17 extra points, and nine of his 11 field goals attempts in 2019. with redshirt freshman David Broncati expected to take over punting duties. 

2020 OUTLOOK

This 2020 Rutgers team will definitely look more competitive than it did in 2018 and 2019. In fact, it's very much possible that the Scarlet. Knights can pull out their first Big Ten win since 2017 this season. 

However, Rutgers has been in such shambles over the past few years, that it is going to take a few years for Schiano to rebuild it back to a respectable level. An experienced coach, Schiano has done a good job thus far to bring in transfers from big name schools to provide immediately help to the team. 

Rutgers should be an easy win for Penn State this year, but don't be surprised if the Scarlet Knights show growth and become somewhat of a threat to start stealing some Nittany Lion recruiting targets in the near future. 

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