PISCATAWAY, NJ (WNN) — While Rutgers may have the same players who beat Michigan State in the first match of the season a year ago, these No. 11 Spartans are very different.
Coach Mel Tucker has added to his lineup for Saturday’s game at SHI Stadium with 20 transfers, including five starts. Peyton Thorne has also taken over as the starting quarterback.
Michigan State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) has its best start since 2015, when they won their first eight games and made the college football playoffs. This is a big change from last season’s 2-5 record during the pandemic.
Rutgers, which went 3-6 in the return of Greg Schiano last season, is in the meat of its program. The Scarlet Knights (3-2, 0-2) are riding a two-game losing streak after losing to No. 9 Michigan and No. 7 Ohio State.
“You also have to remember, now, that game — we all used to practice during school,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said of last year’s game against the Spartans. “It’s a totally different look, as I’ve said before. I think different programs were affected differently. Now, it’s true.”
The key to Rutgers’ win last year was to force seven turnovers and convert them to 21 points. Michigan State has had three turnovers in five games this season.
The Spartans got a big contribution from the transfers.
Kenneth Walker from Wake Forest, running behind, ran for 680 yards to lead all the Soccer Bowl Subdivision players. Left tackle Jarrett Horst is starting after a transfer from Arkansas State, while the defense has three transfer starters from the SEC – linebacker Quavaris Crouch (Tennessee) and cornerbacks Chester Kimbrough (Florida) and Ronald Williams (Alabama).
“Coach Tucker always talks about being something special here at East Lansing,” said linebacker Michael Dowell. “We know that throughout the summer and even throughout the spring. I think now, East Lansing and the rest of the country are seeing that.”
Michigan State’s Jaden Reid leads all major college football players with 176.6 all-purpose yards per game. He is second with 23.2 yards per catch, eighth in kickoff returns, and is also among the nation’s leaders with eight touchdowns, five catches to score, and 92.6 yards received per game.
In the past two weeks, Reid has scored on punt returns to help the Spartans rally to beat Nebraska in overtime and get off to a strong start against Western Kentucky.
Reid joined Bill Simpson (1972) and James Ellis (1951) as the only player in the program’s history to score twice on punt returns in one season.
Rutgers have lost their last 32 matches against ranked teams. Its final reversal in the top 25 team was in 2009 when it defeated No. 23 South Florida 31–0.
This will be only the second time in the event’s history that the Scarlet Knights are playing ranked teams in three consecutive matches. It last held No. 2 South Florida, No. 6 West Virginia and No. 16 Connecticut in 2007. It defeated South Florida and lost the next two.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Rutgers is 0-24 against ranked conference foes.
The Spartans will be without linebacker Cal Halladay for the first half as he was dropped for targeting last week. Halladay had a career-high 10 tackles and was forced and a fumble in a win over Western Kentucky.
Rutgers has been hit. Leading receiver Bo Melton (shoulder) and left tackle Raekwon O’Neill (leg) were injured against Ohio State.
Josh Youngblood, who caught a TD last weekend, will replace Melton. Either Matt Rosso or Brendan Border can start with the tackle.
A targeting penalty would require backup safety Naijee Jones to sit in the first half.
Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral had his most disappointing game of the season against Ohio State.
After not throwing an interception in the first four games, Vedral was picked up three times by Bucky. Ohio State freshman Denzel Burke scored on a 23-yard interception return on the first one. This came after 40 seconds when Ohio State had taken a 7–0 lead.
Vedral has made 92 of 138 passes for 914 yards and six touchdowns. He tied for his 66.6% pass, which is 33rd nationally and fourth in the Big Ten.
Thorne has been excellent at quarterback for the Spartans. He is 82 of 130 for 1,236 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has also scored two runs.
Thorne played four games for the Spartans last season, starting with the last match against Penn State. He was 22 for 39 for 325 yards and three TDs in that start. 325 yards was a new record and the most by a Spartan quarterback on his debut.
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