PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The rebuild isn’t done but for one half, Rutgers football not only hung with one of the best teams in college football…they were beating them.
It isn’t the stuff of moral victories but Rutgers football’s performance against No. 5 Michigan showcased where this program is going under Greg Schiano. Up 17-14 at halftime, Rutgers was certainly showcasing their identity against a team that won the Big Ten a season ago and made the College Football Playoff.
Rutgers did a little bit of everything, from a big special teams play to some strong defensive efforts in the second quarter and some big-time throws from young quarterback Gavin Wimsatt.
Everything about that first half simply pointed upward for Rutgers. That the second half saw Michigan begin playing like a national championship contender was a sobering reminder that the rebuild still has work to be done.
Schiano is not one for platitudes or moral victories. But this was nonetheless a measuring stick game for Rutgers, even as the second-half performance dimmed the halftime lead.
“We played clean football field in the first half. The penalties kind of disappeared. Really, there was no turnovers. It was clean football,” Schiano said after the game.
“To beat a team that’s a national championship contender, you have to play clean football for 60 minutes. You have to do some things that are a little aggressive and be able to cash in on those things and that’s where we were in the first half.
“But the second half, the roof caved in there a little bit in that time period and it’s hard to go back and catch up.”
What needs to be remembered in all of this is that Schiano didn’t take any shortcuts during his first time here. He built from scratch, recruiting and developing players.
On Saturday night, Rutgers showed that with their homegrowns coming along and showing a spark. Wimsatt, despite the turnovers, made some big throws. Defensive back Max Melton had a blocked punt and was strong in coverage. There was even super senior Tyreem Powell, recruited by the previous coaching staff, who arguably was the best player on the field for either team.
If this thing is going to take off, like it did last time under Schiano, then this program has to show that it is developing the young talent on their roster. Against Michigan for one half, Rutgers showed just that.
“That’s my job as a coach to recognize and show these guys where they are making growth. Because it would really be — it could really be demoralizing if you look at the final score and you come in tomorrow and they come in tomorrow and sitting in these seats where you’re sitting, and you know, get up there and start telling them why they didn’t win the game,” Schiano said.
“There’s things they did very, very well but as I said earlier, we are much better than we were in September, but we are not better enough to beat that team. They are a really good football team. They are top in just about every statistical category, and you know, they play with an edge.”