When Greg Schiano returned as the head coach of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, there were no fans to enthusiastically greet him in his first season back at the helm.
Now, with fans back in the stands, SHI Stadium had perhaps its most electric atmosphere since Rutgers' first season in the Big Ten Conference.
While Rutgers struggled in their first season of Schiano's second stint, it was clear that the iconic coach of the Scarlet Knights was reinstalling the winning culture he had created during the football program's glory days. That "F.A.M.I.L.Y., Trust, Chop" mentality was on full display during this season's opener.
In an utterly dominant victory over the Temple Owls, the Scarlet Knights had total control on both sides of the ball. With a relentless defense that forced five turnovers, and a tenacious offense that took advantage of great field positioning, Rutgers made a major statement with a 61-14 win in front of a sold-out Piscataway crowd.
Senior quarterback Noah Vedral completed 15 of his 27 passes for 138 yards and threw one touchdown pass, all while leading Rutgers' ground attack with 58 rushing yards. Bo Melton was his top target, who caught six passes for 59 yards, including the touchdown pass.
Junior wideout Aron Cruickshank had a career-best 206 all-purpose yards. Although he only caught one pass for 14 yards, he rushed three times for 24 yards, returned two punts for 55, and returned four kickoffs for 113.
The defense terrorized Temple's freshman quarterback D'Wan Mathis, who went 8-for-25 with no touchdown passes, one interception, and was sacked in the endzone for a safety. Although he scored on a 3-yard run on the first drive of the third quarter that looked to give the Owls significant momentum, he was injured on that same play. Mathis was replaced by Justin Lynch, who didn't complete a single pass on three attempts, one of which was a 46-yard pick-six to Max Melton that was part of a 35-0 run by Rutgers to put the game completely out of reach.
The Scarlet Knights' dominance would begin with their very first punt. A beautiful 56-yard boot by Adam Korsak pinned the Owls at their own 1-yard line, and three plays later, senior linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi sacked Mathis in the end zone to give Rutgers a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
After receiving the free kick, Vedral engineered an 8-play, 26-yard scoring drive that included a 14-yard pass to Aaron Young on 4th-and-3. Valentino Ambrosio completed the drive by nailing a 25-yard field goal to make it a 5-0 Rutgers lead.
After an exchange of punts, senior defensive back Tre Avery intercepted a pass from Mathis and returned it 21 yards to the Temple 2-yard line. Rutgers backup quarterback and Swiss army knife Johnny Langan capitalized on the very next play with a 2-yard touchdown run to extend the Scarlet Knights' lead to 12-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, freshman Jamier Wright-Collins forced and recovered a fumble from Temple kick returner De'Von Fox, bringing the Rutgers offense right back onto the field inside Owl territory. They efficiently drove 28 yards in six plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Langan to make it a 19-0 game.
The turnover bug bit Temple yet again on their ensuing drive. Fatukasi struck again when his second of three sacks forced a fumble that was recovered by senior defensive lineman Ifeanyi Maijeh. With yet another short field, the Scarlet Knights drove 22 yards in four plays, finished by a Kyle Monangai 1-yard touchdown run.
Temple finally responded with a 7-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that was finished by an 11-yard run by Edward Saydee, which made it 26-7 Rutgers and concluded the scoring in the first half.
The Owls began putting pressure on Rutgers with the first drive of the second half, which was a 9-play, 81-yard touchdown drive. However, Mathis injured his ankle on his 3-yard touchdown run, and left the game after having it taped in the medical tent.
With the score now 26-14, Temple would not get any closer as Rutgers dominated the rest of the game.
After an exchange of punts, Rutgers reasserted themselves on a 40-yard catch-and-run to the endzone by Bo Melton. Just three plays into Temple's next drive, Max Melton, Bo's younger brother, intercepted Owl backup QB Lynch and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. In less than a minute and a half, Rutgers increased their lead from 26-14 to 40-14, and the game was all but over.
Rutgers scored touchdowns on their next three drives, with three different players running the ball in. Isaih Pacheco scored on a 2-yard run, Aaron Young on a 1-yard run, and Monangai scored his second touchdown of the game on a 7-yard run. All three of Temple's drives during that span ended in punts, before they turned the ball over for the fifth time when Lynch lost a fumble to Drew Singleton. Rutgers then simply ran out the clock to end the game.
By the time the clock hit zero, a statement had been delivered to the Piscataway crowd. Schiano's return marked the start of a return to respectability for Rutgers Football. This is a similar scenario for the 55-year-old head coach; in his previous 13-year stint with the team, he transformed a program only known for being the birthplace of college football to a regular FBS contender. If he did it once, he can certainly do it again, and from the way the team has responded so far in his second stint, Rutgers fans should have total trust in his process.
Next Up For Rutgers
Next week, the Scarlet Knights travel to upstate New York to battle an old Big East foe, the Syracuse Orange. The game will be at the Carrier Dome on Saturday at 2 PM (Eastern).