Rutgers at Michigan State
Kickoff: 4 Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Rutgers 1-10, 0-8 Big Ten; Michigan State 6-5, 4-4
Line: Michigan State by 27
View from the other side
James Kratch is a reporter for NJ Advance Media and covers Rutgers athletics. He breaks down the Scarlet Knights for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Rutgers game at Spartan Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesKratch.
►Question: Michigan State isn’t the only team with quarterback issues. Who should we expect to see under center for the Scarlet Knights?
►Kratch: Head coach Chris Ash hasn’t named a starter yet, and I don’t expect him to name one before kickoff. If I had to guess, Rutgers will play both Gio Rescigno (Macomb Twp.) and Artur Sitkowski to some extent, but Rescigno will get the start. He’s the senior, he’s a Michigan native and he’s the safer option. Given this matchup, I think Rutgers may figure it should do everything it can to just win a game. Running the ball with Rescigno, who protects the football, may make sense.
►Question: Did last week’s close loss to Penn State provide on confidence for Rutgers?
►Kratch: I think it reinforced the fact the Scarlet Knights have improved over the second half of the season, but I wouldn’t say it provided more confidence for Rutgers. The offense is still punchless, and Penn State played pretty poorly. Unlike the close loss to Northwestern where Rutgers outplayed the Wildcats, this was more a case of Penn State playing down.
►Question: Chris Ash talked this week about improving the culture at Rutgers. Has that happened in his three seasons?
►Kratch: I think so. He inherited a complete dumpster fire from former coach Kyle Flood, one that led to NCAA probation. It hasn’t been perfect — Rutgers has had 10 current or former players under Ash arrested this year — but on the whole, the culture of the program is much improved. It just hasn’t necessarily led to wins. Ash and staff have a very young roster that, they hope, will grow together and continue that process.
►Question: The Scarlet Knights have one Big Ten road victory under Ash. What must they do to get No. 2?
►Kratch: Score points. I know it sounds obvious, but really, that’s where they have to begin. Rutgers has not scored more than 17 points in the last 10 games and it has scored just seven in the last two games. Beyond that, the Scarlet Knights need to protect the football, get off the field as a defense on third down and make something happen on special teams. Rutgers has been solid on specials all year, but it has yet to notch a game-changing play in that phase of the game that translates to something.
►Question: While Michigan State hasn’t scored a touchdown in two games, is Rutgers in danger of doing the same against an MSU defense that is top 20 in the nation in scoring?
►Kratch: Definitely. Every time this team reaches the end zone, it feels like it was a long journey to do so. Rutgers has no big-play potential unless one of its backs breaks a long run, and that likely won’t happen often against the Spartans. Another thing to consider: Rutgers is very confident in kicker Justin Davidovicz. It may be willing to settle for field goals if he’s on and it feels it can win that way.
Players to watch
►Raheem Blackshear, RB: The sophomore leads the Scarlet Knights in rushing with 580 yards on 133 carries as well as receiving with 41 receptions for 338 yards. The one-time Michigan State commit is averaging 100.9 all-purpose yards a game and had a career-high 162 total yards in a loss to Wisconsin. Blackshear had 162 yards receiving in that game, the most for a Rutgers running back since 1989. He has at least one catch in each game this season, including 12 straight games dating back to last season.
►Trevor Morris, LB: The senior leads Rutgers and ranks second in the Big Ten with 101 tackles and is also second in the conference and 41st in the country with 9.18 tackles per game. Morris is tied for 18th in the nation with 56 tackle assists. He also has 3.5 tackles for loss this season with five pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
►Saquan Hampton, S: The senior has started 26 games and has 164 career tackles with 21 passes defended, including four interceptions. He had two interceptions against Wisconsin, the most for one Rutgers player in a game since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten in 2014 and the first two-interception game since 2012. Hampton leads the team with 13 passes defended, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 22nd in the nation.
By the numbers
►Grounded: The Scarlet Knights rank 24th in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 187.9 yards a game through the air. It’s a favorable matchup for Rutgers as Michigan State ranks 72nd in the nation in passing offense with 225.4 yards a game and have thrown for 300 yards or more just three times this season while being held to less than 200 yards four times.
►Last hurrah: It will be the final home game for 18 Michigan State seniors. As a class, the Spartans seniors have compiled a 31-19 record and have one Big Ten championship (2015). They’ve also reached the College Football Playoffs (2015) and have reached three bowl games, winning last season’s Holiday Bowl against Washington State.
►Kicked off: Sophomore kicker Matt Coghlin has been one of Michigan State’s most consistent weapons this season. A semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, Coghlin is 16-for-19 on field-goal attempts and hasn’t missed an extra point. He is third in field-goal percentage in the Big Ten, as well as field goals made. He ranks seventh in the Big Ten in scoring at 7 points per game. His .816 (31-for-38) career average is the best in Michigan State history.