LINCOLN, NE - Rutgers dropped its first Big Ten game of the season today against Nebraska by a final score of 27-17. Here is a closer look into the Scarlet Knight's third loss of the season.
Week of turmoil
The game was a backdrop for off-field turmoil in both programs. Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst was fired Thursday, five days after a home loss to Northern Illinois dropped the Cornhuskers to 1-2. Coach Mike Riley, who Eichorst hired three years ago, has been asked much of the season about his seemingly tenuous grasp on his job.
On Friday, Rutgers was placed on two-years’ probation for NCAA violations from the previous coaching staff. Recruiting visits were curtailed, but the Scarlet Knights managed to avoid the harshest penalties.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Rutgers head coach Chris Ash said after the loss. “We made a lot of changes to how business is being done in the athletic department and the football program, and thankfully the NCAA looked at it the same way.”
Cornerback Blessuan Austin left the game with a right knee injury. He was unable to put much weight on the leg, and Ash is uncertain of the extent of the injury.
“Until we get full knowledge of what the injury is, I’m always concerned,” Ash said.
Janarion Grant, currently fourth on Rutgers’ career all-purpose yards list, did not travel to Lincoln after suffering a concussion last week. Grant did not practice all week, but Ash is hopeful he will play next week against Ohio State.
“It should be fine moving forward,” Ash said. “He got better as the week went on but was not medically cleared.”
In Grant’s absence, freshman Hunter Hayek made his first start. He had three receptions for 32 yards.
“I thought Hunter did a good job stepping in today. He caught the ball very well, ran the ball after the catch. He did everything we asked him to do,” Bolin said.
Backup quarterback Johnathan Lewis saw the field for one play – a two-yard run – a week removed from accounting for five touchdowns against Morgan State. He earned Big Ten freshman of the week, the first time a Rutgers player has done so since the Scarlet Knights entered the Big 10 in 2014. Ash, though, felt Saturday’s game was not the right situation for Lewis.
“It turned more into a throw-game for us, and right now, Kyle gives us the best chance to throw the ball,” Ash said.
Hester grabs pick six
Junior safety Kiy Hester gave the Scarlet Knights the lead, 17-14, with a 33-yard interception return for touchdown early in the third quarter. The play was a point of emphasis in pregame practice, with the defense concealing its coverage.
“We wanted to disguise man (coverage) and dropped into zone. He threw it right to me,” Hester said.
Hester dropped a potential interception against Washington, and had a touchdown called back against Morgan State. Ash, though, had said the scheme could yield Hester’s first touchdown since high school.
“First thing he said to me was ‘I told you,’ ” Hester said.
It was Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee’s ninth interception of the season, and the third returned for a score. Lee, who was booed returning to the field after Hester’s score, was 13-of-26 with 109 yards.
Ash opening remarks
Here is a look at some of what Ash had to say post-game.