Photo Credit - Scott Wyden

Indiana at Rutgers: Game Primer and Prediction

That photo may or may not be what Rutgers’ HighPoint Solutions Stadium looks like at kickoff tomorrow.

Make no mistake about it — the Rutgers football program is in complete disarray.  After losing their last three games by an average score of 50-10, the Scarlet Knights are all questions, and no answers.

But make no mistake about it — this is a must win football game for Indiana.  A victory means the Hoosiers move to 4-1 for the first time since 2015.  A loss puts them right there in the conversation with Rutgers as a team spiraling out of control.

As we previously described, Indiana has struggled at times against lesser Rutgers’ teams.  This game should not be taken lightly.  If the Scarlet Knights have any fight left in them, they know that IU is a team they need to beat.

INDIANA (3-1) at RUTGERS (1-3)

  • Kickoff:  Noon Eastern Time
  • Location:  HighPoint Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, New Jersey
  • Television:  BTN
  • Series:  The all-time series is tied 2-2.  The Hoosiers have won the last two meetings 41-0 last season in Bloomington, and 33-27 in 2016 at Rutgers.
  • Odds:  Indiana is a 16.5 point favorite.
  • Weather at kickoff:  70 degrees, winds at 5 mph, 0% chance of rain

Rutgers head coach Chris Ash is in his third season at the helm of the Scarlet Knights.  He has a 7-21 record during that tenure.

TALE OF THE TAPE

WHEN RUTGERS HAS THE BALL

There were legitimate concerns about the Rutgers offense coming into the season.  Clearly those concerns were justifiable.  Like any team, the quality (or lack thereof) of the offense is in large part quarterback dependent.  The QB play thus far for the Scarlet Knights has been downright awful:

  • Art Sitkowski is 39 for 80 for 329 yards, with one touchdown and seven interceptions
  • Giovanni Rescigno is 24 for 48 for 233 yards with no touchdowns and an interception

True freshman Sitkowski has been the starter thus far this year, but he has been benched for poor play during games.  Chris Ash had indicated earlier in the week that it was not clear who would start against Indiana, but Sitkowski was renamed as the starter yesterday.  Rescigno, a senior, has started the last two years against the Hoosiers.

Rutgers has been respectable running the football.  The problem has been that they have fallen behind early in games and have had to abandon the running game.  The Scarlet Knights already have three running backs over 100 yards, and the top four running backs have an average per carry of better than four yards.  Raheem Blackshear starts and leads the way with 264 yards and two touchdowns.

Image result for raheem blackshear rutgers
Raheem Blackshear. Photo – Noah K. Murray, USA Today

By just about any measure, this Rutgers offense is one of the worst in the FBS.  Indiana would do well to not let the Scarlet Knights get out to an early lead and then emphasize the run.  The Hoosiers have been suspect at times against the run, although they were solid for the most part against MSU save for a late 75 yard jet sweep.

The Hoosiers are likely to employ a tactic that has been used against them — stack the box and make Rutgers beat them over the top with vertical passes.  While Sitkowski has struggled mightily thus far, he was a 4-star recruit and he has a big arm.  Indiana needs to make him prove that he is ready to play and make all of the throws.

WHEN INDIANA HAS THE BALL

Things haven’t gone much better for Rutgers when they are on defense.  Although some of their lopsided scores have been driven in part by turnovers by the offense, the statistics above still show a struggling defensive unit.

A major problem has been an inability to generate a pass rush.  Rutgers is one of the worst teams in the country in getting sacks and they haven’t had one at all in the last two weeks.  Their rushing defense is even worse, giving up 220 yards a game.  This stat is inflated somewhat by opposing teams running out to big leads and emphasizing the run to burn clock, but the bottom line is that Rutgers hasn’t been able to stop teams from doing just that — even when running plays are more predictable.

The combination of an inability to stop the run or generate a pass rush seems like a perfect combination for the IU offense.  Well, it’s perfect for anyone really, but IU’s strong offensive line will be looking for a rebound game, and the Scarlet Knights appear to provide just the antidote.

The Hoosiers will look to emphasize their downhill running game with former Rutgers’ commit Stevie Scott.  An already wildly efficient Peyton Ramsey should thrive going through his progressions if he has all day in the pocket — a luxury he did not have against MSU while still hitting 70 percent of his throws.

THE OUTLOOK 

The only thing Rutgers seems to have in its favor are the intangibles.  They are like a cat backed into a corner here.  Playing in their Big Ten home opener, playing for their coach, and playing really with nothing to lose, it is hard to imagine that the Scarlet Knights won’t come out swinging.  The question is whether they can land any punches.

Whatever energy Rutgers brings on Saturday could quickly evaporate if they commit more turnovers, and of course that is exactly what Tom Allen’s aggressive defense will be looking to do.  Alternatively, a quick Rutgers lead could set the tone for the whole game.  Indiana needs to gain control of this game early, or it could be an uncomfortable Saturday afternoon.

PREDICTION

We wanted to predict a really close game.  We really did.  It feels like it should be a close game — until you start to peel back the onion on Rutgers.  There is really nothing to like about them.  But this is Big Ten football, and this is Indiana football after all — so you just never know.  Barring a barrage of IU turnovers or an out of body experience from Sitkowski, we just can’t see the Hoosiers losing this one, although we do not expect a blowout.

INDIANA 27

RUTGERS 17


You can follow us on Twitter:  @daily_hoosier

Find us on Facebook:  thedailyhoosier

Want to receive all of our content via one e-mail in your inbox every day?  It’s free.  Join our daily mailing list here.

Please consider supporting The Daily Hoosier by shopping on Amazon via this link to the Amazon home page or through the ad below.