True, Morgan State (2-2) was a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) opponent, but the Scarlet Knights (1-3) were still pleased with the fact that they posted their first shutout since a 59-0 win against Morgan State last Sept. 15.
"Any time you shut somebody out, it's a great effort," said Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. "I'm proud that they were able to keep playing and maintain the shutout."
RU held the Bears to just 32 yards rushing on 31 attempts and 109 yards total offense while limiting MSU to 0-for-12 on third-down conversions. The Scarlet Knights' defense set up the offense with five of its eight first-half drives inside MSU's territory, including four drives off turnovers.
"Hopefully that can be the beginning of something," said Schiano. "It was four turnovers, but it could have seven or eight. We made some plays, but we left some on the table."
One key play came from junior linebacker Ryan D'Imperio, who recovered a fumble on MSU's 30-yard line to set up Rutgers for a score to go up 21-0 in the first quarter.
"I thought we played real hard. We made corrections from previous games, and we had to get a little bit better, which I think we did," said D'Imperio, who had two tackles in addition to the fumble recovery. "We had to work on turnovers, and it was great that we actually got some."
Rutgers, which entered the game as the only Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) team without a turnover this season, forced Morgan State into four turnovers. MSU actually dropped the ball on the carpet five times and lost it twice, and Morgan State starting quarterback Carlton Jackson threw a pair of interceptions.
The secondary put together its best effort of the season, limiting MSU to 77 yards passing. Senior Courtney Greene, who climbed the ladder to grab an interception in the second quarter, said the defensive backs had a better handle on communication than in previous games.
"We played real well. That was a point of emphasis for us to come out and play and not worry about the play before or the play after," said Greene, who had four tackles. "We did a good job today. We always knew we were capable of it; we just didn't perform before (the Morgan State game)."
Key defensive players also had a hand in special teams. Senior defensive end Jamaal Westerman blocked a Morgan State punt in the second quarter and seemed to call off his teammates as he went for the loose ball as he picked it up on the MSU 25-yard line and brought it 20 yards to set up RU on the visitors' 15.
"I was going straight ahead. I don't know any other way to go," said Westerman, joking that he wasn't calling off teammates on the play. "I didn't even know George (Johnson) was there. . . . As long as Rutgers gets the ball"
Westerman was more serious when discussing RU's ability to hold Morgan State's rushing offense to 32 yards including sacks while limiting MSU running back Devan James to just 37 yards on 15 carries.
"We went out there and played hard. There are some things we did well, and I know there are some things we need to improve on," said Westerman. "But we went out there and had fun and tried to go back to playing Rutgers football, keep choppin' it up."
"It's great to stop the run. If you stop the run, you have the opportunity as a defensive line to do more things, get the different blitzes and pressure," he continued.
Players were quick to put the Morgan State game behind them as they began looking forward to the Big East tilt versus West Virginia in Morgantown on Oct. 4.
"I'm already thinking about West Virginia, to be honest," said D'Imperio immediately following the victory against Morgan State. "I'm so keyed on this West Virginia game I can't think of anything else."
Munoz pointed to preparation and execution as keys to being ready to face the preseason favorite to win the conference.
"We had a good week of practice and execution this week," said Munoz. "Next week we just have to have good week of practice, use our strengths and execute our game plan."
While RU is looking forward the West Virginia game, Schiano noted that the team should not get too high on Saturday's victory.
"You're never as good as you think you are, and you're never as bad as you think you are," said Schiano. "We're not where we need to be. We've got a long way to go, but we're getting better."