Struggling Rutgers returns home to face undefeated Buffalo
PISCATWAY, N.J. (AP) — Rutgers coach Chris Ash started the season with hopes of finding a way to get to a bowl game.
Three games into the season, Ash is trying to win some games with a program that seemingly faces a longer-than-expected rebuilding process.
Lopsided losses to No. 4 Ohio State and Kansas have the Scarlet Knights (1-2) returning home Saturday to face Buffalo (3-0), a team many thought a likely check in the win column before the season.
The Bulls are off to their best start since 1983, scoring nearly 40 points a game with an offense that features quarterback Tyree Jackson and wide receivers Anthony Johnson and K.J. Osborn. With their sights set on a spot in the MAC Championship games, Buffalo is looking forward to facing a Power Five Conference.
“There is some excitement,” Osborn said. “We’re playing a Big Ten team and we are coming in with a chip on our shoulder.”
While Buffalo is 0-8 against Big Ten teams, MAC rival Eastern Michigan beat Rutgers last year for its first Big Ten win in school history. The Bulls had a win against the Scarlet Knights before they joined the Big Ten.
Rutgers had set goals to win all its nonconference games and head to a bowl game for the first time since 2014. Heading into Saturday’s game, Ash has a 7-20 record and his team is an underdog against Buffalo.
“I believe this is still a football team that can play really good football and win a lot of games,” Ash said. “We have to play better on Saturday. We have to coach better, we have to play better, and we have got to make sure we put our players in position to have success. If we can do that, and we put all those things together here soon, then we still have a chance to reach our goals.”
Things to watch on Saturday:
Rutgers has a penchant for turnovers and Buffalo takes the ball away. The Scarlet Knights have given the ball away 12 times (four fumbles lost, eight interceptions), while the Bulls have caused eight turnovers (five fumbles, three interceptions).
Ash didn’t give his true freshman quarterback Art Sitkowski a ringing endorsement this week. Through three games, Sitkowski has seven interceptions, three returned for touchdowns. Due to injury or benching, he only played about a half at No. 4 Ohio State and Kansas.
“The guy has played less than three college games. He played half a high school season last year at IMG, he split time and all that,” offensive coordinator John McNulty said. “I think it’s just being in those spots, and unfortunately it’s under fire in games. We try to recreate it as much as we can in practice, but we don’t see 10 turnovers in a practice either.”
After two straight road games, Rutgers is home for the next three games and six of the next eight.
Buffalo can rewrite a few sections of the history book with a win, including the first 4-0 start since 1981.
One of the few bright spots in last Saturday’s loss? Special teams for Rutgers can block kicks. With two blocked field goals against Kansas, Rutgers has 52 blocks since 2009, which leads the nation by 10 in that span.
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