Rutgers and Northwestern will both be looking for bounce-back performances when they square off on Saturday afternoon. The Scarlet Knights are on a three-game losing streak, but all three of those losses came against ranked opponents. Northwestern is coming off one of its worst setbacks in recent memory, getting blown out in a 56-7 final at Nebraska.
Rutgers looking to snap three-game skidRutgers opened the season with three consecutive wins, building on a solid 2019-20 campaign. Those victories came against Temple, Syracuse and Delaware—all three were double-digit wins. The Scarlet Knights put together another solid performance in Week 4, competing with No. 19 Michigan until the waning moments of a 20-13 loss. They have not fared quite as well in their last two contests against ranked opponents. Ohio State blew them out in a 52-13 final and Michigan State notched a 31-13 win last week. Rutgers will be hoping to secure its first Big Ten victory of the year on Saturday.
The offense is led by senior quarterback Noah Vedral, who has completed 63.9 percent of his passes and has a 6-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio. Rutgers is putting up 354.7 yards per game, which ranks in the lower third of college football. Running back Isiah Pacheco has carried the ball 82 times for 314 yards, averaging 3.8 yards per attempt. Vedral has added 172 rushing yards of his own, but he is only averaging 3.1 yards per carry. Wide receiver Bo Melton has caught a team-high 24 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, while Aron Cruickshank has added 20 receptions for 244 yards. They are going to face a Northwestern defense that is No. 110, allowing 448.6 yards per game.
Wildcats seeking answersNorthwestern is off to a slow start in 2021. It opened the year with a 17-point loss to Michigan State before picking up a 24-6 win against Indiana State. The Wildcats were unable to build on that momentum, losing to Duke by seven points in Week 3. They notched their second win against Ohio, but that victory is going to be overshadowed by what was to come. Northwestern did not put up a fight at Nebraska last week, getting blown out in a 56-7 decision. It was the most lopsided Big Ten win that Nebraska has had in its 10 years since joining the conference. Meanwhile, it was Northwestern’s second-largest loss in 16 years under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Senior quarterback Hunter Johnson was ineffective during the first three games of the season, so sophomore quarterback Ryan Hilinski has taken over as the starter. He has not been great either, completing just 59.1 percent of his passes for 378 yards and one touchdown. However, he has not thrown an interception, which is why he continues to get the nod. Running back Evan Hull is the backbone of the offense, averaging 7.3 yards on 70 carries. The Wildcats do not have strong offensive numbers as a team, posting just 369.2 yards per game. They are going to face a Rutgers defense that is allowing 363.3 yards per contest.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
These teams might have similar records, but Rutgers has had a much more difficult strength of schedule. The Scarlet Knights have lost to three straight-ranked teams after beating three unranked teams to open the season. Motivation has not been an issue under head coach Greg Schiano and I expect his team to come out ready to play on the road. Rutgers is led by its strong defense, which is the unit you want to be led by in a road game. Northwestern is coming off one of its worst losses in recent memory, so it is not a team that I want to be backing in this game.
Full-Game Total Pick
If you are looking for fireworks from one of Saturday’s early kickoffs, this is not going to be the game to watch. Rutgers has not been strong offensively, relying on its defense to stay competitive. The Scarlet Knights have gone under the total in six of their last nine games. Northwestern has had to change quarterbacks due to poor play and has still not found a signal-caller who can consistently lead them down the field. It is going to be difficult for the Wildcats to score points on Saturday. They have gone under in six of their last seven home games.