Rutgers Football Post-September Review

Photo Cred: Rutgers Athletics

Rutgers football has had an exhilarating September, boasting a 4-1 record after an exciting month of play. With seven more games on the horizon, the Scarlet Knights have set their sights on their first bowl game appearance since the 2021 Gator Bowl. They are also aiming for their first season with six or more wins since 2014. This 4-1 start marks Rutgers’ best record through September since the 2014 season when they finished 8-5 and secured a victory over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl.

September Game-by-Game Recap

Rutgers vs. Northwestern

Rutgers kicked off the season with a 24-7 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats. This nationally televised Sunday afternoon game on CBS showcased new talent on the Rutgers roster. Freshman wide receiver Ian Strong made an impressive toe-tap catch in the back of the end zone, courtesy of a beautiful throw from quarterback Gavin Wimsatt, to open the scoring. Freshman running back Ja’Shon Benjamin also made a notable contribution with 46 rushing yards on 20 carries, including a crucial fourth-down conversion on the opening drive. Rutgers extended their lead with a Wimsatt touchdown run and a successful 32-yard field goal by Jai Patel, marking his first collegiate field goal in a regular season game.

Although Patel missed his second attempt, Rutgers took a 17-0 lead into halftime. Star running back Kyle Monangai added to the lead with a remarkable rushing touchdown, juking past a defender to make it 24-0 for Rutgers. The defense nearly achieved a shutout, with the Wildcats scoring their only touchdown with just 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Scarlet Knights managed two interceptions, deflected numerous passes, and controlled the clock with their dominant running game. 

Rutgers dominates Northwestern in 24-7 season opening victory - The Scarlet Faithful

Photo Cred: The Scarlet Faithful

Rutgers vs. Temple

Rutgers continued their home stand with a night game against local rival Temple, who came off a season-opening comeback win over Akron. Last year, the Owls nearly upset the Scarlet Knights, but Rutgers held on for a 16-14 victory. This year’s game started similarly, with both teams struggling to score. However, Benjamin turned a screen pass into a 33-yard touchdown, giving Rutgers a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. Patel, the sophomore kicker, extended RU’s lead to 13-0 with successful field goals from 51 and 43 yards respectively.

Temple mounted a comeback and scored their lone touchdown early in the fourth quarter, closing the gap to 13-7. However, with a 13-7 lead, Rutgers defensive back Shaquan Loyal intercepted E.J. Warner, and Monangai’s dominant performance on the ground led to another Rutgers touchdown to increase the lead to 19-7. From that point on, the Scarlet Knights never looked back, securing a 36-7 victory with another interception by the defense and an additional field goal. After adding two more rushing touchdowns, they handily defeated Temple and improved to 2-0.

TKR TV: Every throw from Gavin Wimsatt versus Temple - TheKnightReport

Photo Cred: TheKnightReport (#2 Gavin Wimsatt)

Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech

Rutgers continued playing at home with a late-afternoon matchup against the Virginia Tech Hokies. They quickly took a 7-0 lead after recovering a fumble, followed by a touchdown run by Monangai within the first minute of the game. Virginia Tech responded with a field goal, but Rutgers dominated the rest of the first half. Wimsatt had a rushing touchdown and also threw a touchdown pass to Christian Dremel just before halftime, resulting in a 21-3 lead. 

The Hokies staged a comeback, narrowing the gap to 21-16 early in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Kyron Drones led Tech down the field in consecutive drives while preventing the Scarlet Knights’ offense from scoring during that time. However, Kyle Monangai’s explosive 55-yard run for a crucial touchdown on third down provided Rutgers with breathing room. The RU defense regained momentum, while their offense milked the clock. Monangai scored his third touchdown of the game with about three minutes remaining, sealing the victory. The Scarlet Knights remained undefeated after three games, all played at home.

Rutgers runs away from Virginia Tech 35-16 - The Scarlet Faithful

Photo Cred: The Scarlet Faithful (#5 Kyle Monangai)

Rutgers @ #2 Michigan

However, a formidable opponent awaited Rutgers in the form of the #2-ranked Michigan Wolverines. Once again, Rutgers struck first with Gavin Wimsatt finding Dremel on a slant, resulting in a 69-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. However, the rest of the game favored Michigan. UM’s ground game started strong, with Blake Corum scoring from two yards out to tie the game with about six minutes left in the first quarter. 

Wolverines receiver Semaj Morgan scored his first collegiate touchdown on an 18-yard pass from UM star quarterback J.J. McCarthy, and the Wolverines led 14-7 at halftime. A sack by Wesley Bailey stalled a Michigan drive in the third quarter, allowing kicker James Turner to add a field goal to extend the lead to 17-7. Rutgers had an opportunity to respond on a fourth-and-2 in Michigan territory. They chose to go for it with a screen pass that was intercepted by cornerback Mike Sainristil and returned for a UM touchdown, thus widening the Wolverines’ lead to 24-7.

With the game seemingly out of reach for Rutgers, Michigan continued to dominate on both sides of the ball, scoring another touchdown before allowing backups to play in their 31-7 victory. Despite the tough loss, RU returned to Piscataway with a 3-1 record and several positives to take from the game. They stayed competitive well into the third quarter against arguably the nation’s best college football team.

Rutgers vs. Wagner

Back in New Jersey, Rutgers hosted the local FCS program Wagner for their third and final non-conference game of the season. Rutgers had defeated the Wagner Seahawks 66-7 the previous year, but Wagner had won two of their conference games this season, entering the game with a 2-2 record. However, the Seahawks proved no match for the Scarlet Knights as RU dominated from the start. 

They led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter and 24-3 at halftime. Wimsatt threw a touchdown pass to Dremel and scored two more touchdowns on the ground. Rutgers involved several of their running backs, with Samuel Brown V, Monangai, Ja’Shon Benjamin, and Aaron Young all finding the end zone. RU’s defense was suffocating, preventing Wagner from making many positive plays or gaining first downs, even thwarting the Seahawks’ attempts to reach the end zone. 

The Scarlet Knights had such a significant advantage in the trenches that they pressured Wagner’s kicker Ryan Liszner into missing a field goal wide right. Liszner’s only successful field goal attempt accounted for the team’s only points of the night. RU secured a 52-3 victory over the Seahawks, marking a successful bounce-back from a challenging loss at Michigan. The Scarlet Knights now prepare to return to conference play, aiming for their fifth win of the season against Big Ten West opponent Wisconsin.

Scarlet Knight Standouts

Several Scarlet Knights have stood out during the season’s first month. Quarterback Gavin Wimsatt showcased his athleticism and improved passing skills, delivering beautiful deep balls to receivers like JaQuae Jackson and demonstrating accuracy on short passes. He uses his speed to rush for TDs, has improved his touch as a passer, and his medium-length passes are accurately set to where only his receivers can make plays. 

Running back Kyle Monangai has been unstoppable in many games, rushing for over 140 yards against Temple and Virginia Tech. Additionally, he’s scored touchdowns in four out of five games, including three against the Hokies. Monangai was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his outstanding performance against Virginia Tech, even being an honorable mention for the Doak Walker National Running Back of the Week as well. 

Wide receiver JaQuae Jackson, a transfer from the D2 level, made remarkable catches on deep and intermediate routes. He’s emerged as one of the Scarlet Knights’ top receivers. Slot receiver Christian Dremel also made an impact by scoring a touchdown in all three of RU’s last three games and gaining crucial yards after the catch.

On defense, Aaron Lewis excelled in opponents’ backfields with three sacks on the season, including two against Wagner. Minnesota transfer Flip Dixon has also made significant contributions in the Rutgers secondary, including a pivotal pass deflection in the end zone and making a tackle short of the goal line against Temple. Dixon also had an interception against VT, which helped seal another win for RU. The collective effort of the Scarlet Knights’ defense, known as the “Dark Side,” has been stellar during the first month of the season.

How Rutgers football defense is building its identity

Photo Cred: (Rutgers defense)

On special teams, placekicker Jai Patel has broken out for the Scarlet Knights. After winning the starting job over current kickoff specialist Jude McAtamney, he has made five of seven field goals and is a perfect 19-19 on extra points this season. In all, he’s scored 34 points through five games. Patel won Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance against Temple, where he went 3-3 on both field goals and extra points. This included a 51-yard kick, which is something more commonly seen in the NFL than in college football. 

Flynn Appleby replaced Ray Guy Award-winning punter Adam Korsak and performed well in his place, while Rachad Rochelle improved in the return game after early mistakes. Many other players on the team made significant contributions, but these standout Scarlet Knights have shone the brightest during the first month of the season.

Jai Patel, Rutgers, Kicker

Photo Cred: 247 Sports (Jai Patel)

October Schedule and Predictions

Rutgers faces a challenging road ahead but has positioned itself well with four wins in September, needing just two more to secure a bowl game berth. Tomorrow features a road game against Wisconsin. While Wisconsin may not be Michigan, they remain a formidable opponent, well-rested following a bye week. 

Despite losing one of their top running backs, Chez Mellusi, to a season-ending injury (fractured left fibula), they still boast star running back Braelon Allen. They have also struggled a bit defensively. Even with an improved passing attack, Rutgers may need more work to exploit a team like Wisconsin, making an RU loss my prediction. Nevertheless, the Scarlet Knights have the potential to make it a competitive game and potentially pull off an upset in Madison. 

In the following week, Rutgers returns to SHI Stadium for homecoming and hosts the Michigan State Spartans. MSU has faced struggles on and off the field, including the firing of their head coach Mel Tucker amid a sexual harassment scandal. Going into this season, Michigan State was without the services of former quarterback Payton Thorne and receiver Keon Coleman, but they still managed to win two straight games over inferior competition. 

Since then, MSU has gotten blown out by Washington and Maryland in East Lansing, before facing a closer loss against an offensively-challenged Iowa Hawkeyes team. The Scarlet Knights should have the advantage, as a fired-up crowd and Michigan State’s woes will allow RU to secure their fifth win of the season. They would then only need one more win to reach bowl eligibility with a road trip to Indiana on deck.

Preview: 2023 Rutgers football season win/lose predictions

Photo Cred: Rutgers Wire

Speaking of Indiana, the Hoosiers are another Big Ten East team that have been struggling recently. They were soundly defeated by Maryland 44-17 after narrowly escaping with a 4OT win against lowly Akron. Offensive struggles led to Indiana firing their offensive coordinator, Walt Bell, and replacing him with former Temple head coach Rod Carey. RU has beaten Indiana in two consecutive years and is poised for a third straight victory over them. With a 6-2 record, the Scarlet Knights will likely secure a bowl game berth in October, with wins against Northwestern, Temple, Virginia Tech, Wagner, Michigan State, and Indiana. The two losses will have come on the road against Michigan and Wisconsin.

While the November schedule presents challenges, Rutgers is likely to have a bowl berth secured and will be energized for matchups against Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State, and Maryland. While they may not be favored in any of those games, the team still has the potential to win one or even two of them, especially against Iowa or Maryland. The season is heading in a positive direction! Fans can look forward to seeing if RU can maintain their momentum from a strong September into the tougher Big Ten schedule for the rest of the season and secure a bowl game berth. Until then, let’s keep chopping!

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