EAST LANSING, Mich. — Behind a dominant defensive effort and an opportunistic scoring attack, Rutgers football (1-0, 1-0) downed Michigan State (0-1, 0-1), 38-27, on Saturday afternoon in East Lansing to open the 2020 season. The Scarlet Knights – who never trailed in the road matchup and limited the Spartans to just one trip inside the red zone – scored 21 points off seven takeaways to deliver Greg Schiano his first win since returning as head coach.
A staple during Schiano's first tenure "On the Banks", RU's defense flourished against MSU. Rutgers' seven takeaways (six on defense and one on special teams) were the most in a conference game since it joined the Big Ten in 2014. The Scarlet Knights generated 12 tackles-for-loss – which included two sacks from defensive end Mohamed Toure – and picked off Rocky Lombardi twice with interceptions from cornerback Tre Avery and safety Brendon White.
Noah Vedral made his first start at quarterback for Rutgers and finished 18-of-29 with 169 yards and a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Shameen Jones. Vedral scored one of four rushing touchdowns for the Scarlet Knights, as running back Isaih Pacheco (two touchdowns) and quarterback Johnny Langan (one rushing score) also found paydirt to help Rutgers secure its fourth win all time against MSU.
The 11-point win tied for the largest margin of victory on the road in Big Ten action since Rutgers defeated Illinois, 35-24, on Oct. 14, 2017 in Champaign.
Rutgers wasted no time against the Spartans, as it capped 10-play, 75-yard opening drive with a 12-yard rushing touchdown from Pacheco to go up 7-0. The Scarlet Knights' defense followed with their first of seven turnovers after White scooped up a fumble caused by cornerback Avery Young.
RU turned another turnover – a forced fumble from Toure recovered by linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams at the MSU one-yard line – into seven points when Langan scored on the keeper to make it 14-0 Rutgers with 6:57 left in the quarter.
Michigan State added a touchdown in the final minute of the opening quarter to make it a 14-7 contest in favor of Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights forced three MSU penalties, produced two turnovers, added a sack and stuffed the Spartans on a fourth-down attempt to set the defensive tone early.
RU's defense provided yet another opportunity for the offense when Avery picked off Lombardi at the 12:18 mark in the second quarter. Vedral followed two plays later with a 24-yard rushing touchdown to put Rutgers up 21-7.
Young then provided his second takeaway in as many quarters, this time stripping MSU's Jayden Reed at the Scarlet Knights' 22-yard line which was recovered by linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi.
RU's final score of the half came courtesy of Pacheco, who closed out a six-play, 53-yard drive with his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon, this one for three yards. Michigan State added two field goals in the final three minutes of the quarter, as Rutgers entered the locker room with a 28-13 advantage, its largest halftime lead in league play since joining the conference.
Rutgers' defense continued its strong play in the second half, though Michigan State outscored the Scarlet Knights, 7-0, in the third quarter. Toure recorded his second sack of the day on a third-and-11 attempt with 6:30 left in the quarter to force a punt, but the Spartans recovered a muffed punt and scored a 30-yard touchdown to make it 28-20 heading into the final 15 minutes.
The Scarlet Knights left no doubt in the fourth quarter, as it used more than nine minutes of game clock and scores on two possessions to put the game away. Place kicker Guy Fava connected on a 44-yard attempt to close out RU's first drive of the quarter to make it 31-20 with 12:20 left to play.
Rutgers was forced to punt on its following possession, but MSU fumbled its return attempt which was recovered by wide receiver Bo Melton at the Michigan State 26-yard line. Vedral quickly turned the opportunity into a touchdown, as he found Jones in the back of the end zone on a 14-yard toss to make it 38-20 with just over four minutes to go.
After the Spartans added a touchdown with under two minutes to go and got the ball back for another possession, the Scarlet Knights closed the door when White hauled in a deflected pass during MSU's final drive to secure the 38-27 road win.
Rutgers returns to New Jersey to face Indiana in its home opener at SHI Stadium Oct. 31. The game, presented by PNC Bank, is set to start at 3:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.