PISCATAWAY, NJ – Justin Davidovicz’s 44-yard kick sailed through the uprights and the smattering of Rutgers faithful who had stayed into the fourth quarter finally had something to cheer about Saturday.
When the smoke from the cannon, fired in the corner of the end zone by some overzealous re-enactors after each Rutgers score, had cleared, referee Jeff Servinski was signaling a holding call against the Scarlet Knights and the kick wouldn't count.
It left Rutgers fans wishing they could turn the cannon on the whole season and blow it up.
Rutgers' final game at SHI Stadium in 2019 ended ian 27-0 loss to Michigan State. The Scarlet Knights have the unenviable task of traveling to Happy Valley next Saturday to play the Nitany Lions (9-2).
Saturday's final score could have been even more lopsided if you consider that the Scarlet Knights' defense registered two fourth-down stops and picked off a Brian Lewerke pass in the end zone in the third quarter. Plus, kicker Matt Coghlin's 33-yard field goal attempt doinked off the left upright.
The Scarlet Knights didn’t cross midfield in the first half under the direction of fourth-string quarterback Johnny Langen, who threw for just 57 yards and an interception Saturday. One of his eight completions was fumbled by wide receiver Isaiah Washington.
"We just couldn't move the ball," running back Isaih Pacheco said. "Turnovers were also big in this game. As soon as you give the ball up, a play can happen and as soon as you get the ball back, another big play can happen. Turnovers are key, we just have to get our drives together and take advantage of our opportunities."
Hanging over the half-empty stadium like the cannon smoke was the specter of Greg Schiano’s return to coach the team.
In fact, the loudest cheers of the day were reserved for Eric LeGrand, the former linebacker who is paralyzed after suffering a spinal cord injury in 2010.
The team’s unofficial biggest cheerleader spoke from the field and from the heart at halftime, saying, “To the board of governors, you guys know what you need to do.”
He didn’t say Schiano’s name, but the crowd knew he was talking about the coach that had led the team to six bowl game appearances over a seven-year stretch starting in 2005. The only thing apparently holding up Schiano's return to The Banks on the Old Raritan is the governors to approve the construction of a fieldhouse.
It’s unclear if even Schiano could help Rutgers compete in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights are 0-8 in the conference this year, including a 52-0 loss to Michigan, a 48-7 loss to Maryland and a 56-21 loss to Ohio State.
Rutgers’ only two victories have come against Massachusetts and Liberty. Oddly, deposed coach Chris Ash and his successor, Nunzio Campanile, each have claimed a victory.
On Saturday, Rutgers was at its worse offensively in the first half. The Scarlet Knights ran just 19 offensive plays and went 0-for-6 on third-down conversions. Michigan State had 20:47 in possession, Rutgers 9:13. Michigan State had 17 first downs, Rutgers 0. Michigan State had 267 total yards of offense, Rutgers had 30.
In all, Rutgers went 0-for 11 on third downs.
"(We) struggled on first down," Campanile said. "We needed to throw it on first down. We didn't compete them. When we ran it, we didn't really go anywhere. Yeah, I mean, for us, we don't want to be in a lot of third-and-longs. If we're in third-and-long, we struggle to complete them, protect them. There's a bunch of issues there."