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There aren't many adjectives left to describe this season for the Rutgers football team, but miserable might suffice.
After another blowout, this time a 34-7 drubbing at the hands of Maryland, the Scarlet Knights (1-6, 0-4) have completely unraveled. If it’s not the offensive line, it’s the penalties. If it’s not the penalties, it’s the pass rush. One week after another, it’s something different.
But, Saturday’s biggest problem came from the quarterback position. True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski went 2-16 for 8 yards. Eight yards. He threw half as many interceptions as he got yards and twice more than completions with his four picks — a new career high. Sitkowski now has 15 interceptions on the season compared to just 3 touchdowns.
“I’ve been through this before and I know how to regain from this and this is just a learning experience for me,” Sitkowski said. “I’m confident in my ability, better believe that. Anytime I step on the field I believe in myself. That’s without a doubt.”
Sitkowski’s performance is especially surprising considering it comes on the heels of possibly his best performance last week against Illinois in which he threw for 267 yards and 1 touchdown. He did, though, throw three interceptions, as well.
Interceptions proved to be the story of the day once again as Sitkowski and the offense could never get it together long enough to stay on the field and find a rhythm.
“Limit the turnovers,” Sitkowski said when asked what he has to do better going forward. “Being smart with the football. If it’s not there, throw the ball out of bounds, take a sec, don’t force anything and just go out there and rip it, don’t be shy. Just go out there and play football.”
On the other side of the ball, Rutgers’ defense let up 24 first-half points for the third straight game highlighted by a 65-yard run by running back Ty Johnson. But the Knights hung in there, keeping the Terrapins to 10 points in the second half.
But it was the offense that just couldn’t muster up anything in all facets of the game, forcing the defense to stay on the field and having head coach Chris Ash question the identity of his team.
“We gotta figure out … what is our identity and what we can do consistently to give ourselves a chance to move the ball, get some first downs, protect the ball and put some points on the board because right now it’s not working,” he said.
But it’s not like Rutgers didn’t have its opportunities to get on the board — thanks mostly to Maryland penalties.
With just more than 2 minutes left in the second quarter, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Mike Tverdov sacked Terrapin quarterback Kasim Hill who then fumbled the football. Tverdov recovered the ball on Maryland’s 25-yard line, giving the Knights great field position to try and score.
On the very next play, Sitkowski’s pass attempt got tipped and then picked off — his second of the day to that point — ending any threat Rutgers may have had. The Terrapins finished off the half by running out the clock.
“There were opportunities there. When you get a takeaway and then you turn the ball over that’s really tough … So, there were opportunities there, we’re just not taking advantage of them,” Ash said.
Perhaps the lone bright spot on the day was the emergence of freshman running back Isaih Pacheco.
Pacheco finished with 107 yards on 22 carries. He capped off his day by scoring his 1st collegiate touchdown in the waning seconds of the game on a drive in which the Knights ran the ball on all 13 plays and where Pacheco was heavily used.
Adding to his career day, Pacheco returned two kicks for 52 yards, including a nice 34-yard run, serving as the team’s lone kick returner on the day.
“It felt great, it felt like I’ve been there before,” he said. “I was really excited, but you know the end result wasn’t too good, but that’s my team. (We gotta) keep working hard, fighting every week and keep getting better.”
But even Pacheco couldn’t totally escape the misery.
On a Maryland kick late in the first quarter, the ball appeared to get lost in the wind and bounced in front of Pacheco, becoming a live ball. The Terrapins recovered and scored a field goal to end the quarter.
Nevertheless, there’s no doubt players like Pacheco and Tverdov and even Sitkowski are a part of the future for this team. But even after showing some glimpses of hope, Ash isn’t looking toward the future, he’s concerned about where his football team is right now, and right now that’s a 1-6 start.
“We gotta be perfect right now, and I’ve never been in a perfect game. We gave up a couple of explosive plays in the first half due to a couple of mistakes, but the guys fought and kept playing,” Ash said.
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