This football season, as in years past, we’ll be going behind enemy lines each week to ask some of the tough questions, the really hard-hitting ones. Sometimes, we may even go over the line.
We’d also like to know what you’re interested in learning about each opponent. So hit us on social media with some questions you’d like us to ask each upcoming opponent. Slide in the DMs, @ us or use the hashtag #overthelinebhgp and we’ll ask our weekly guests your questions.
This week we were able to get in touch with some real, live humans as On The Banks managing editor Aaron Breitman (@aaron_breitman) was kind enough to join us. He offers some great perspective and a bit of a history lesson. Oh, and he has thoughts on the outcome of the game, including a score prediction for you degenerates.
BHGP: Rutgers and Iowa don’t have much of a history having only met one time previously, what should Hawkeye fans know about Rutgers?
OTB: You probably know this already, but due to this being the 150th anniversary of college football, I wanted to mention that Rutgers is credited with winning the first game in the sports history, beating Princeton 6-4 on November 6, 1869.
What you probably don’t know is that Rutgers then went on to lose the next 22 times the schools played each other spread over 70+ years. There was a lot of losing overall. Aside from the the late fifties to early sixties (9-0 and no.15 in final AP poll in 1961) and another good stretch in the mid to late seventies (11-0 and no. 17 in final AP poll in 1976), things hit rock bottom from the seasons between 1996 through 2002, when the program went a dreadful 15-64 and Sports Illustrated ran a cover story questioning whether Rutgers should stop playing football.
As luck would have it I went to Rutgers during most of this period, graduating in 2000 having seen the program go 8-36 in my four years on the banks. I figured your readers would find this important.
Things turned around with Greg Schiano, who did lead the program during those 2001 & 2002 seasons, but ultimately turned things around, culminating with the 2006 season, when Rutgers went 10-2 and finished with it’s highest AP poll finish ever at 12th in the country. After making one bowl game appearance from 1869 to 2004, Schiano took Rutgers to nine times in a ten year period. The only miss was the 2010 season when Eric LeGrand was tragically paralyzed against Army and the team lost the last six games of the year after his devastating injury.
Right after the 2011 season, in which Rutgers defeated your friends from Iowa State at Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl, Schiano left to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Schiano took most of the assistants and support staff worth taking, leaving offensive line coach Kyle Flood to take over and save the recruiting class the week of signing day. The downward spiral started in motion right before joining the Big Ten, but didn’t really rear it’s ugly head until the 2015 season. Rutgers squandered the best defense in school history and a team with double digit eventual pro’s in blowing a lead at home to Louisville and missing out the Sugar Bowl, lost the Pinstripe Bowl to Notre Dame the following season and then played pretty well in the inaugural season in the Big Ten in 2014, going 8-5 and blowing out North Carolina in a bowl game.
Long story short, recruiting and ethics within the program suffered badly in Flood’s tenure, leading to an implosion on and off the field in 2015 that resulted in both he and former athletic director Julie Hermann’s dismissals. Enter current athletic director Pat Hobbs who has done a great job with fundraising and building new facilities like Rutgers never had before. The truth is Rutgers entered the Big Ten woefully unprepared under the previous regime in multiple areas and things bottomed out quickly. Hobbs has been steady and really improved areas previously neglected, in particular the Olympic Sports. The one glaring issue with Hobbs has been his hiring of Chris Ash, who has gone 7-29 in three seasons. Ash inherited a difficult situation with a talent depleted roster and limitations due to probation from the Flood era, but last season’s 1-11 campaign was the worst for the program in 16 years. Hobbs has called for “significant improvement” this season but hasn’t defined what that means. Most suspect at least 4-5 wins to consider keeping Ash, but his buyout would still be 7.5 million after this season. For an athletic department in major deficit and not receiving close to a Big Ten share yet, I think there is a chance he is back with even just some improvement, but only time will tell.
As for the fan base, we are a passionate bunch that are starving to replicate the success from 2005-2014 and truly appreciate being in the Big Ten. We come in peace on Saturday and look forward to experiencing what we’ve been told is an amazing place to be.
BHGP: 2018 was a rough year for the Scarlet Knights with only 1 win, what’s different about this team in 2019?
OTB: To be honest, it’s a bit early to truly know that answer, but after one game we know the following:
- They now have three legitimate playmakers on offense with running backs Isaih Pacheco and Raheem Blackshear, as well as wide receiver Bo Melton. They all offer something different. Pacheco is a tough, dare you to tackle him back with plenty of speed to break off a long run. Blackshear is more of a shifty, speedy back that’s best suited to running off a pitch or catching the ball out of the slot, as he is excellent in taking advantage of open space. Melton has gotten a lot stronger and seems to be playing with a chip on the shoulder, as the former 4-star recruit finally looks the part as a big play and go to receiver.
- Rutgers might actually have a competent quarterback in Texas Tech grad transfer McLane Carter who threw for 340 yards in the opener, the most the offense has produced in 4 seasons, as well as 2 touchdowns, which they didn’t do once last season. There was some bad, including 3 interceptions, but the hope is between rust, fatigue and trying to do too much in his first impression, Carter can settle in and limit mistakes moving forward. Even if Carter is inconsistent, it would be far better than last season, when Rutgers had little chance to win any game due to struggles under center.
- The defense might have more talent overall, but they are inexperienced and defending the run appears to still be a major issue, as UMass had two TD runs over 30 yards last week.
BHGP: Things got off to a good start in week one with a win over UMass, but the opener wasn’t without some ups and downs as Rutgers trailed for a time. How do you expect them to do this season on the whole?
OTB: Perhaps this team can surprise me, but based on last year’s disaster and many questions regarding several position groups entering this season, I predicted a 3-9 record. The offense was encouraging last week, but the defense has me worried. They got lit up by a much less talented team in the first quarter, surrendering 3 touchdowns. Granted UMASS has Walt Bell, the former ace OC in charge now, and it was the first game, but it was alarming to watch the Minutemen run all over the defense early on. To their credit they tightened up and pitched a shutout the rest of the game, but defending the run and the big play has been an issue during the Ash Era. If anything, things could be a lot more interesting with a decent offense, but I’m not confident Rutgers will resemble anything close to a good team in 2019.
BHGP: Who’s the one guy Iowa fans should know on Rutgers’ offense and defense?
OTB: Isaih Pacheco and Tyshon Fogg.
Pacheco I mentioned above and he seems primed for a big season. He averaged 5.0 yards a carry as a freshman with over 100 carries and is ready to be the workhorse this season. He broke an 80 yard touchdown against the vaunted Michigan defense last season, the longest play they allowed all season. He also has the ability to wear defenses down as the game progresses.
Fogg is a former 4-star recruit who is a captain and leader of the defense at middle linebacker. He has shown flashes the previous two seasons, but Rutgers really needs him to fulfill his potential now. He had a game high 11 tackles last week and his ability to mentor the younger guys on the defense is crucial as well.
BHGP: What’s the one matchup you’re most worried about as a Rutgers fan?
OTB: The offensive line of Iowa vs. the defensive line of Rutgers. Being able to generate consistent pressure on Stanley and having enough depth to hold up the entire game against such a strong unit is a major concern. I’m worried Iowa will wear them down and generate some big runs in the second half. Rutgers will need to make big plays to have a chance to win, but the offense also needs to control the clock with time of possession as well. The defense as a whole has been decent under Ash, but has consistently run out of gas in the second half of Big Ten games due to the offense not being able to sustain drives. I suspect this will happen again on Saturday.
BHGP: Chris Ash is an Iowa guy, he coached for a time at Iowa State, do you think he treats this game any differently than any other on the schedule?
OTB: Ash is more plain than vanilla ice cream and already stated this week this was just another game. In my opinion, it’s part of the problem with this program right now. Ash by all accounts is a hard worker and great guy, but he is too conservative in a lot of ways. Rutgers looked uninspired and lacked emotion last September when they were embarrassed by Kansas and Buffalo. They did play somewhat better as the season progressed, but there has seemed to be a disconnect from the players and its head coach that’s hindered producing passionate football last year. It’s a new season and Saturday is a good as time as any for Rutgers to come out loose and with energy, as no one is giving them a chance in this game. I would think if I were Ash I’d want to show enthusiasm in this matchup and it meaning more to him, but perhaps he is just playing it close to the vest publicly. Hopefully, he has the best pregame speech of his career ready for Saturday.
BHGP: Alright, prediction time. The line on this one opened at Iowa -20, who you taking against the spread? What about straight up?
OTB: Ah, this is tough. I respect the hell out of Iowa and would sacrifice a limb if Rutgers could replicate their success and stability as a program. However, I do think the Hawkeyes are certainly beatable and Carter has the potential to connect on the deep ball against Iowa’s safeties. I continue to worry about the mental side of the game for Rutgers if they fall behind early. Last year, that usually meant things snowballed into disaster quickly. They showed great character in coming back last week, but the talent and depth of Iowa is leagues apart from UMASS. I’m not in the camp of the Rutgers fanbase that is hoping for a moral victory by keeping it close. At some point, Ash needs to prove he is a good coach and this game is a great opportunity to show both his and the program’s growth by sneaking up on Iowa, who could potentially be looking even slightly ahead to the following week against rival Iowa State. One area that concerns me is that Iowa will know the personnel of Rutgers extremely well with former DC Jay Niemann now on the Iowa sideline. I think it’s a close first half but Iowa pulls away after the break, winning 35-16.
So there you have it - Iowa wins but doesn’t cover. Vegas knows how to set a line.
You should also head on over to OnTheBanks.com to read up on all things Rutgers. And if you’re looking for something to listen to (other than the BHGP podcast feed, of course) check out the OTB podcast feed. They’ve got a preview of this weekend’s game live right now.