A much-needed week off for the Wildcats meets its end as Northwestern will face Rutgers (3-3, 0-3 B1G) at Ryan Field this coming Saturday for the first time since 2018. To top it all off, Fitz will face head coach Greg Schiano in a revenge matchup of the 2018 Big Ten Championship, where Schiano acted as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator and associate head coach. Though they have not been so successful against Big Ten opponents as of late, the Scarlet Knights kicked off this season with their best start since 2012, and they still look like a tough team to crack.
Defense is their strength
If you were to judge Rutgers solely based off the results of their last three games, you probably wouldn’t think they were very good — that is, until you realize that each of their last three opponents are ranked in the top ten of the most recent AP Poll. Suddenly, their one score loss to No. 8 Michigan doesn’t look too shabby, and they did hold No. 6 Ohio State to seven points in the second half. Nonetheless, the only real way we can look at Rutgers through the lens of a not-top-ten-team (i.e. Northwestern) is to revert to their pre-Ohio State and Kenneth Walker play, where their defense showed out.
Before facing the Buckeyes, no team had scored more than 20 points on the Rutgers defense, including Michigan, who is currently second in the Big Ten in scoring. They also were holding teams to 263 yards of total offense a game before OSU dropped 52 points on them and Walker netted 233 yards all on his own for MSU. They held Syracuse to 67 total rush yards and limited Michigan’s Cade McNamara to only nine completions without starting cornerback Max Melton. The bottom line is that against teams like Northwestern, this Rutgers defense can pose a real threat to putting points on the board.
They can’t score when it matters
Compared to their opponents yardage-wise, Rutgers doesn’t look like a terrible team offensively. They only average ten rushing yards less than the teams they’ve played so far, and their passing stats come out to about 212 yards per game, right on par with their opponents as well. However, when it comes to putting points on the board against Power Five teams, the Scarlet Knights might as well draw a blank.
Though Rutgers did beat Syracuse 17-7, they failed to score until after half and only netted 67 yards of offense before the midpoint of the game. Against Michigan State, oddly a more formidable opponent than Syracuse and, notably, a more recent matchup, the Scarlet Knights managed an improved 377 yards of offense but only scored 13 points. Oddly enough, they’ve scored only 13 points in each of their last three games.
Their upped performances against Big Ten opponents (albeit in losses) in comparison to that against Syracuse, however, shows they’re the kind of team to play up to their competition even if they can’t put points on the board. That being said, this matchup provides an opportunity for the ‘Cats to regain some footing defensively and begin to shape a new identity as they face an offense that somewhat lacks identity itself.
Olakunle Fatukasi is a monster
RU has a true defensive weapon in linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi. The 2020 AP All-Big Ten First Team member already boasts 58 total tackles on the season which puts him at second in the conference. Ten of those tackles came against Ohio State, with eight and nine at Michigan and Michigan State, respectively. He notched a season high against Syracuse with 13 — not to mention he also has 3.5 sacks on the season and two forced fumbles. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Fatukasi is someone Northwestern will have to seriously look out for as he remains one of the best defensive players in the conference.