PISCATAWAY, NJ - It has been a while since the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football program started a season 3-0. The last time they got off to such a strong start was 2012, which was Kyle Flood's first year as head coach and the season after Greg Schiano's initial departure.
It has been even longer- much longer, in fact- since the Scarlet Knights squared up against the Delaware Blue Hens. The last game they played against each other was on October 20, 1973, a game Rutgers won 24-7. The Scarlet Knights, entering Saturday, had an all-time record of 15-13-3 against the Blue Hens.
That record would see a slight improvement by the end of the day for Rutgers. In their last matchup this season against a non-Big Ten opponent, the Scarlet Knights displayed a relentless offensive attack that built a 35-10 lead entering halftime and cruised to a 45-13 win.
Noah Vedral was the star of the show. With the Scarlet Knights accruing 497 yards of total offense, 323 of them came from the arm of the senior quarterback, who completed 21 of his 25 passes, two of which were for touchdowns. Both of them were impressive, too: the first was a picture-perfect, 28-yard strike to Bo Melton, while the second was a 62-yard bomb to Brandon Sanders, who scored his first touchdown as a Scarlet Knight. 234 of these yards would be in the first half alone.
Melton had a huge game, with 121 receiving yards on only five catches. Rutgers racked up 159 more yards on the ground, with Isaih Pacheco leading the charge with 69 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. As a cherry on top, the offense did not turn the ball over at all.
Although Delaware outgained Rutgers in rushing by three yards, thanks to a fantastic performance by Dejoun Lee, who rushed for 121 yards on just 15 carries, the Blue Hens' passing attack was nearly nonexistent. Delaware quarterback Nolan Henderson went 11-20 with a meager 95 passing yards. Although they didn't force any turnovers, the Scarlet Knights' defense once again terrorized the opposing quarterback, as they sacked Henderson five times.
Rutgers, who entered the game as 19.5 point favorites, won the coin toss and chose to defer for the second half. Delaware's first drive was extended by a rare penalty on the Scarlet Knights, one of the most disciplined teams in the league so far, but it would end soon after that when Henderson was sacked by Julius Turner. Vedral then went to work, leading an 8-play, 67-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a remarkable catch by Melton for a 28-yard touchdown.
The Scarlet Knights blew the game open in the second quarter, finding the endzone on all three of their drives while adding a fourth on a punt return. After an exchange of punts, Vedral completed a 57-yard heave to Melton to begin a 84-yard touchdown drive on just four plays, the last of which was a 20-yard touchdown run by Pacheco.
Delaware responded in less than a minute, as Lee broke free on the first play of the drive for a 71-yard run that placed the ball on the 1-yard line. Henderson then found Thyrick Pitts in the endzone on the next play to put the Blue Hens on the board. But Rutgers responded in mere seconds, as on the very first play of their ensuing drive, Vedral launched a rainbow to a wide open Brandon Sanders, who scampered into the endzone for a 62-yard touchdown pass. It was Sanders's first touchdown for Rutgers.
Once again, Delaware drove deep into Rutgers territory, but an offensive holding penalty and a shared sack by Julius Turner and CJ Onyechi ended any chance for another touchdown. The Blue Hens would chip away at their deficit with a 53-yard field goal by Ryan Coe, but it would end up swelling again when Vedral led the Scarlet Knights on an 8-play, 60-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 6-yard touchdown run by Aaron Young to make it 28-10 Rutgers.
Delaware would go three-and-out on their next drive, but their subsequent punt would seal their fate. Punt returner Aron Cruikshank, who had returned four kickoffs for touchdowns so far in his college career, got his first punt return touchdown by returning a 49-yard kick 62 yards into the endzone. It was 35-10 entering halftime, and although there was still 30 minutes of play remaining, it was clear that the game was over.
The finishing touches on the victory came from a 34-yard field goal from Valentino Ambrosio on the opening drive of the second half, and a 1-yard touchdown run by Pacheco in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the defense pinned down the Blue Hens, only allowing a meaningless field goal in the third quarter.
What Does this Mean for Rutgers?
This was the Scarlet Knights' last non-conference game of the season; all of their remaining games are against Big Ten opponents. Regardless, a 3-0 start is always encouraging, and Rutgers was able to beat the teams they needed to beat. They obliterated a hapless Temple team in Week 1, beat Syracuse in a tight defensive struggle on the road, and blew out a decent Delaware team that still played in the far inferior FCS program. While these may not be the best opponents, these are games Rutgers, for the most part, should expect to win, and they more than delivered on that regard.
The Big Ten is a gauntlet, but if Rutgers can get wins against the better teams in the conference, they can make a serious statement. The road to legitimacy starts now.
Next Up For Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights will fly to the Big House up in Ann Arbor to take on Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines, who have also started 3-0 and have made their way back into the Top 25. A win, especially on the road, would be the perfect statement to deliver.
When they return on the Banks of the Old Raritan, the Scarlet Knights will host former Schiano colleague Ryan Day and the Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU may be vulnerable after their shocking home loss to Oregon, but they are still ranked No. 9 in the country and are still heavy favorites in the Big Ten. An upset there would surely put Rutgers into the conversation for a bowl game at the end of the year.
A win against either team would bring some much needed respect from the rest of the nation to Rutgers Football.