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Minnesota Football: RoWINg to Rutgers - Opponent Preview

We descend into the cellar of the Big Ten for a visit to Piscataway

Rutgers v Indiana Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Oh, Rutgers. The Minnesota Golden Gophers head to New Jersey to put their undefeated season on the line against the Scarlet Knights, who have certainly seen better days.

Just not recently.

Are they any good this year?

2019 Record: 1-5 (0-4, 7th B1G East)

Unequivocally and without hesitation: No.

Head coach Chris Ash is gone. He got the axe after a 52-0 loss to Michigan at the Big House, cutting short a four-year tenure at Rutgers that saw him compile an abysmal 8-32 record. The Scarlet Knights promoted tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile — which is a real name, I swear — to interim head coach and offensive coordinator. Campanile is only in his second year coaching at the collegiate level. Prior to being hired at Rutgers in 2018, he was the head coach for eight years at Bergen Catholic High School in New Jersey.

Can they score on offense?

I’ll be honest: Rutgers may very well not be able to score against Minnesota. This is one of the worst offenses in all of college football, for a variety of reasons. For starters, sophomore quarterback Arthur Sitkowski and junior running back Raheem Blackshear have both opted to take redshirt seasons — and not due to injury. But the Scarlet Knights’ offense was struggling even before Sitkowski and Blackshear decided to hang up their cleats for the year.

Rutgers has been shut out in three of their six games this season. Two of those shutouts came before the midseason firing of offensive coordinator John McNulty, who was let go for obvious reasons. Poor UMass has to bear the shame of allowing them to score 48 points in their season opener. Since that game, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 4.6 points per game.

I don’t know what else to say. It’s bad. Like really bad. Against Indiana last Saturday, the Rutgers offense was 0-for-11 on third down, averaged 2.2 yards per carry on the ground, and finished the game with one passing yard. They lost 35-0 to the Hoosiers.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Langan will be under center for the Scarlet Knights. In two starts, he has been sacked nine times and thrown two interceptions. If you can believe it, Langan is actually their third-string quarterback. Texas Tech grad transfer McLane Carter medically retired midseason due to concussions. Sophomore running back Isaih Pacheco is their most productive player, with 384 rushing yards and four touchdowns to his name. Bo Melton is their best receiver. The junior leads the team with 16 receptions for 255 yards and a touchdown.

Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score

It’s difficult to gauge the quality of Rutgers’ defense because it is painfully obvious they have been hung out to dry by an inept offense. The offense has struggled to sustain drives, ranking 85th in the country in time of possession, which would be less of a problem if it meant the Scarlet Knights had a quick-scoring. Unfortunately for them, scoring at all has been an issue.

But I think it’s safe to say the defense is bad, as well. They have been torched through the air — 241 passing yards allowed per game — and on the ground — 209.2 rushing yards allowed per game. No team has really had to rely on one or the other to put away the Scarlet Knights. So perhaps we’ll see more of a balanced attack from Minnesota than we’ve seen in previous weeks.

They have not been able to muster much of a pass rush, collecting six sacks through six games. The Rutgers defense hasn’t been particularly opportunistic, either, tied for 112th in the country in turnovers with only four interceptions and one fumble recovery. Their Achilles’ heel has been on third downs, as opponents have converted for a first down 40.5 percent of the time.

This is an intermittently competent defense that is prone to the kind of missed assignments that allow for explosive plays, and fatigue from being on the field too long may be a contributing factor.

But who will score more points on Saturday?

I expect the Gophers to improve to 7-0 for the first time since 1960. Minnesota 40, Rutgers 3.