Rutgers made a mistake on the first play from scrimmage – a broken play and 1-yard loss for Gary Nova – and it got out of control fast.
Well guess what. Ohio State (5-1, 2-0) is not the last talented team on the Rutgers schedule, so fix make the adjustments immediately or face yet another meltdown in the second half of the season.
“When you play a really talented football team, the margin of error is very small,” said coach Kyle Flood in an opening statement that echoed for 10 minutes in the Rutgers locker room. “… As a coaching staff, we need a better plan. The players, we’ve got to execute better. This is a program loss today.”
Ohio State is just the first leg in a welcome-to-the-Big-Ten stretch for Rutgers. This is not the American, or the remnants of the Big East where Flood was coach of the year in his inaugural season.
“I don’t think anybody’s thinking about that right now,” said second-year team captain Gary Nova. “It’s a tough loss. … Any game, win or loss, you want to learn as much as you can and move on as quick as possible. Especially with the games we’ve got coming up, we can’t let this game beat us next week.”
The Rutgers players said all of the right things in the locker room about accountability. But accountability only goes so far against a roster chocked full of five stars and a coaching staff that hauled in $8 million last year. This is where the winning teams, like Rutgers after its loss to Cincinnati in 2006, regroup with strong leadership and even better coaching.
The job falls to five captains and Flood to do that starting on the Saturday night flight home to Newark.
Simply moving on from Ohio State would be a mistake. Take what you can from the game film, and draw from the experience of playing at a severe talent disadvantage. Because it is going to happen again.
Big Ten champion programs are not build overnight.
“I think people who have watched us play over the course of this year know that when we play well, we can compete with anybody,” Flood said. “If we don’t play well, unfortunately this is the kind of game you end up in when you play really talented teams.”
At its core, Rutgers is built upon establishing the run and shutting down its opponents on the ground. That is what it comes down to over the next two weeks.
Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are two of the best in the world at what they do, and the Scarlet Knights defense has a lot to clean up after a season-worst 324 rushing yards and 8.1 per carry allowed in Columbus. The front seven missed too many tackles, and was too slow when closing in space.
Offensively, however, Rutgers showed its first sign of life on the ground since Paul James’ season-ending injury. Even before Ohio State when into protect with a comfortable lead, Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin made plays .
Peoples put up the best game of his career with 5.5 yards per carry and two touchdowns. Rutgers finished at 3.9 yards per carry – the best mark in Big Ten play.
“We always knew that we could pick up for it because we’re both great athletes and we make plays,” Peoples said. “We have a great o-line and a great fullback.”
Do that against Nebraska and Wisconsin, and the pendulum swings back the other way.