Chris Ash won’t call it a moral victory. That’s OK. He didn’t have to.
Rutgers, by every measure, should’ve been walloped by Minnesota on the road. The last month suggested that the Scarlet Knights weren’t going to hang around with any B1G team, much less one that played well on the road last week.
But Rutgers at least showed that it isn’t completely dead in 2016. The Scarlet Knights were not an automatic win on Saturday.
You can ask a bunch of nail-biting Minnesota fans how automatic Saturday felt. If not for this kick, Rutgers would’ve pulled off the stunner of the day in college football:
The stunner of the day? Is that a little much? Well, the Scarlet Knights averaged 3.5 points per game in the last month. If you know math, you know that’s 14 total points in four games.
Rutgers more than doubled that total on Saturday.
The Knights had a total of 220 passing yards in their last three games COMBINED. On Saturday, the Knights racked up 222 yards through the air.
They reached that total because of Gio Rescigno, who got his first career start. The obvious move looked like the smart one.
Minnesota wasn’t exactly a lackluster defensive team, either. The Gophers allowed an average of 12 points in their last two games, and an average of 152 yards through the air.
Credit Rutgers for shaking things up and actually getting stuff to work. Without Janarion Grant, it wasn’t clear if this team was ever going to get anything rolling. But Justin Goodwin filled Grant’s role and Andre Patton stepped up.
Rutgers finally went back and forth in a ballgame. That hadn’t happened since the Iowa game. But that was a defensive struggle and it was even more deflating with the news that Grant and Quanzell Lambert were out with the year.
At the very least, Saturday showed that it isn’t over when Rutgers falls behind by a touchdown. The Knights actually fell behind 21-3 in the first quarter and appeared to be in line for another blowout loss.
But the Knights delivered on both sides of the ball.
Minnesota, on the other hand, couldn’t get anything going in the passing game after the first quarter, Leidner threw for only 52 passing yards after throwing for 104 in the first quarter. The Knights even mustered their first defensive touchdown of the year.
No, Saturday didn’t end with a Rutgers win. Minnesota survived a scare and in the process, matched its 2015 regular-season win total. Despite the far-too-close game on Saturday, the Gophers could easily head into Nebraska at 7-2.
And perhaps Rutgers will head into the second half of the season with a little bit of confidence. Maybe Ash’s team will have some positive film to incorporate into next week’s game plan.
Was it a moral victory? Certainly.
But moral victories had been hard to come by for the Knights. Shoot, touchdowns were tough to come by.
If nothing else, Saturday was a pleasant reminder of what competitive football was like.