This past Saturday, Rutgers lost its first game of the season, to the nationally ranked Wolverines of the University of Michigan. Let’s be real, Greg Schiano and his crew knew what the outcome of this game was going to be. That didn’t mean they weren’t going to go down without a good fight, though.
The game ended 31-7, in favor of the Wolverines. However, it was actually the Scarlet Knights who earned the first points on the board. Right off the bat, Gavin Wimsatt threw a 69-yard pass to Christian Dremel, resulting in a touchdown and causing fans to leap out of their seats, at least for the moment. Unfortunately for the Knights, this ended their scoring for the rest of the day. They missed some field goal opportunities. This wasn’t necessarily a bad move on Schiano’s part – you take all the opportunity you have against a team like Michigan.
With 5:56 left in the first quarter, Michigan got on the scoreboard with a two-yard run from Blake Corum. Rutgers’ defense was able to hold off Michigan’s offense until 1:41 left in the second quarter when the Wolverines scored their second touchdown. Michigan managed one more field goal and two more touchdowns to cap the scoring on the day.
The Scarlet Knights Are Showing Improvement
Now, it’s more likely than not that Schiano was disappointed by the team’s first loss of the season but he can look back on the past with a smile on his face.
Schiano returned to Rutgers as head coach in 2020 with the goal of rebuilding a demolished program, which has not been an easy or quick task. Schiano never had the chance to coach Rutgers against Michigan during his first reign. The then-Big East school never faced the Wolverines until entering the Big Ten, post-Schiano.
That first matchup, almost a decade ago in 2014, was the only win Rutgers has pulled off against Michigan. From there, things got ugly. Seasoned Rutgers fans shudder when recalling the 78-0 loss to the Wolverines in 2016, or the 52-0 loss in 2019. The two teams’ matchups since Schiano’s return have resulted in the following:
- November 2020: 42 – 48 (M), 30T
- September 2021: 13 – 20 (M)
- November 2022: 17-52 (M)
- September 2023: 7-31 (M)
How does this show improvement for Rutgers when 2020 and 2021 were both losses by only one score away? Well, Michigan’s program has gotten stronger since then. In 2020, the team was not nationally ranked at all. In 2021 and 2022 they were ranked second in the country. They currently hold their ranking at two but have yet to play against teams who would challenge that standing. For a team that was flopping in shutout games with previous coaches, being able to hold a tie game until the wee end of the second quarter is impressive growth for the Rutgers squad.
As Stewart Mandell of The Athletic pointed out after the game: “This was the kind of game in the past in which the Scarlet Knights would get blown off the field (they lost 52-17 last year), but this one was 17-7 with five minutes left in the third quarter when Wolverines DB Mike Sainristil made a ridiculous play, picking off a Gavin Wimsatt pass while bouncing off another player, and returned it 71 yards for a pick-six. Michigan bled Rutgers to death from there. But Greg Schiano’s defense came in with the No. 10 defense in yards per play and for the most part played respectably against the No. 2 team in the polls.”
Rutgers’ poll rankings have been slowly climbing the ladder. They stand 54th of 133 college football teams in CBS’ standings, a four-spot leap from last week. To do one better, College Football News has Rutgers ranked 53rd out of 133 teams, a five-spot jump from the week prior.
Rutgers currently stands in 5th place of seven teams in the Big Ten East, trailing the powerhouse programs of Penn State, Maryland, University of Michigan, and Ohio State.
This weekend, the Scarlet Knights are back home for their fourth home game of the season against Wagner.