Rutgers Believing In Their Growth Against Struggling Michigan State
Sandwiched between games against two top 10 teams, Rutgers plays their final home game of the season this Saturday against a Michigan State team that has struggled this year. For Rutgers, the opportunity to step up and compete against a Big Ten rival isn’t as much about the Spartans having a down season.
It is about their own growth and development.
Rutgers earned a little respect this weekend, losing 56-21 at home to No. 2 Ohio State. While the game was never really in doubt for the Buckeyes, Rutgers made things more difficult than expected in the loss. The Scarlet Knights became just the second team all year to score three touchdowns against Ohio State.
Last year, Rutgers lost 56-0 at Ohio State.
Clearly, Rutgers has grown in the past month under interim head coach Nunzio Campanile signs of development. Beating Liberty was a welcome reprieve for the team. So too was hanging tight in the first half against bowl-bound Illinois.
Michigan State is 4-6 on the year and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They come into Piscataway losers of five straight games. This is not a team heading in the right direction.
“I would say if there's anything, it's more on we've made some growth that I feel like we're ready to be more competitive than we were. We're a much better team, say, than we were when we played Indiana. So hopefully more on our end,” Campanile said on Monday.
“I think they're a talented, physical team. They obviously played a really tough schedule. It's hard to win games in this league. They beat Indiana, who is a really good team. They went right down to the wire there with Illinois. I think they're a pretty talented football team. Really hopefully we've made enough growth to be competitive and play hard and well on Saturday.”
Part of the reason why Rutgers is trending ever so slightly upward is improved quarterback play.
Following the decision to part ways with head coach Chris Ash, sophomore quarterback Art Sitkowksi decided to redshirt for the remainder of the season.
In his place, Johnny Langan has started the last six games.
He’s added an athletic element that is unique on the Rutgers roster, giving Campanile a quarterback who can move in the pocket and run when needed. Against Ohio State, Langan was 12-of-26 for 121 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran nine times for 36 yards and a touchdown.
“I think he's starting to just be a lot more comfortable in the decision making. If you watched the first couple weeks, there were times where just to get lined up, get everything organized in the huddle, there were certain mistakes, maybe wasting timeouts and things like that, where you really want to eliminate that. We have over the last few weeks,” Campanile said.
“I think he has a much better command where everybody needs to be, how it's supposed to unfold, the decision-making process. Once you understand everything, understand the big picture, then it's easier to start focusing back on fundamentals and things like that.
“I think we're starting to see better fundamental football, so some better decision making because he's not swimming so much mentally. I think he has a better grasp of what's happening, where everyone is supposed to be, understanding how the protections, progressions, reads, all those things come together.”