Are the Hawks About to Be Slain?
Rutgers University, affectionately called “Buttgers” by a certain crass and sophomoric segment of the Iowa fanbase, is in fact a team in the Big Ten. It is a fact that I confess I often forget. Iowa plays them so infrequently and
Buttgers Rutgers’ connection to the Big Ten brand is so tenuous that I often forget about their existence altogether. They are truly the Jeb Bush of the Big Ten.
Buttgers Rutgers is on Iowa’s schedule for the 2022 and think about them I must. After an “extensive and extremely thorough” dive into the Buttgers Rutgers University football team, here is my robust analysis: a half-hearted “meh.” But let’s get you up to speed on Buttgers Rutgers first.
After a decade spent unsuccessfully trying to replace Greg Schiano as the Head Football Coach, who left Rutgers in 2011 to spend two fraught years as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before being fired, in 2020 Rutgers decided to just bring back Greg Schiano to replace Greg Schiano. Three years in and the trend is vaguely positive, at least by Rutgers' standards. They went 3-6 in the bizarre 2020 Covid year. In 2021, Rutgers’ losing 5-7 record was their best in seven years and good enough to be the Safety School Big Ten fill-in for the TaxSlayer Bowl. But Rutgers’ finest accomplishment last season was probably giving eventual Big Ten Champion and College Football Playoff team Michigan if not a scare than a serious bout of indigestion, actually outgaining the Wolverines 352 yards to 275 but ultimately losing the game 20-13. (The low point was Rutgers’ double-digit loss to the abysmal Northwestern Wildcats.)
I looked at the stats to see what Rutgers was good at in 2021, and they were pretty balanced in that they were almost equally bad at everything. The thing they were “best” at was running the football, where they fell ninth in the Big Ten last year averaging 138 yards/game. (I probably don’t need to tell you that they were better than Iowa, but I’m telling you anyway.) Rutgers gave up 161 yards a game on the ground, second only to Northwestern for worst in the Big Ten. Passing-wise, they were 11th throwing the football at 171 yards/game and 10th defending the pass at 234 yards/game. All told they generated 310 yards/game on offense while giving up 396 yards/game, which does make it difficult to win football games. (For comparison’s sake, Iowa generated 303 yards/offense while yielding 328 yards/game. If you are curious, Iowa made up that yardage deficit via special teams, by being the least penalized team in the Big Ten, and of course, a fuck-ton of interceptions.)
Averages aren’t everything, of course. If advanced stats are more your thing, SP+ looks at Rutgers' defense a lot more favorably (46th in college football overall) given how they held up against some of the better offenses of the Big Ten, while knocking their offense down a lot for poor showings against the Big Ten’s worst defenses ](109th overall, actually worse than Iowa!) But the bottom line is they were not particularly good last year, and you would probably peg them for the 12th best team in the Big Ten ahead of a Northwestern and Indiana, and not really much higher than that.
But what do we expect of Rutgers in 2022 though? Probably more of the same. Noah Vedral is still bringing that Big Ten West Quarterback energy to Rutgers, though Greg Schiano could always hit the variance button and go with redshirt freshman and Rutgers' highest ranked recruit ever, 4* QB Gavin Wimsatt instead. (Though the dude is literally 18 years old and probably needs some more reps before hitting the field.) Their two best skill position players from last year, wide-out Bo Melton and running back Isiah Pacheco, are currently trying to make NFL rosters. Even factoring transfers and some improvement, they probably won’t be particularly good on offense. Defensively though, they should be pretty feisty, with a number of playmakers but in particular a couple of seasoned and excellent safeties in Avery Young and Christian Izien shoring up the secondary and offering run support. All told, they sure seem like a team that might scrap their way to six wins and a middling bowl game in the cutthroat Big Ten East.
So what happens when the Hawkeyes make their first ever trip to Piscataway, New Jersey this fall? Well, you can probably guess what I’m worried about: The Scarlet Knights spraying the Hawkeyes with their stank and turning the game into a smelly shit show, with Rutgers playing like slightly less butt and climbing out of the stink pile with the W. Iowa has played Rutgers all of twice in their history. The last one in 2019 was a bonafide 30-0 smackdown. In 2016 though, Iowa won 14-7 after a game that was pretty assy in its own right. Iowa struggled plenty last year against worse defenses than Rutgers in 2021 (17 points against Northwestern is really just one example, but other examples are available if you want them.) If Iowa can’t grind down the Rutgers defense with Williams and Williams, C.B.A.s or Rutgers avoids coughing up the football, this could easily be a one-score game, mid-teens sludge show in the fourth quarter, with victory or defeat in Iowa’s least daunting Big Ten game only a brainfart away…
Ben’s Anxiety Scale: 4/10
Homer Version: Buttgers is as Buttgers does. Noah Vedral can’t stop the flood of defenders in the back-field and Williams and Williams pummel Rutgers to slay the Knights and notch Iowa’s first Big Ten win of the season.
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