Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys thought his team delivered its most complete performance so far this season – on offense, defense and special teams – in last week’s 31-10 win at Maryland.
Now, Claeys will try to avoid any letups against a struggling Rutgers team Saturday for homecoming.
The Scarlet Knights (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten) come in riding a five-game losing streak and sit 108th in the latest USA Today Sagarin computer rankings. The Gophers, 49th in those same rankings, are 19-point favorites.
“It happens every week somewhere,” Claeys said of college football upsets. “Virginia Tech's an awfully good football team. [Last] week, they slipped up against Syracuse, you know? And so that's the challenge. That's what we get paid for, is to make sure they're ready to go on Saturday.”
The Scarlet Knights have been playing football for 148 years, the past three in the Big Ten, yet this will be their first time playing the Gophers anywhere. So there’s no history to lean on, similar to the Maryland game, where the teams had played only one other time (in 1977).
After firing coach Kyle Flood last season, and finishing 4-8, Rutgers hired Chris Ash, who’d been the co-defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Ohio State.
Rutgers had a decent start to the season, going 2-2, including a hard-fought, 14-7 home loss to Iowa. But wide receiver Janarion Grant, who has eight career special teams touchdowns (five kickoff returns, three punt returns), suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the Hawkeyes.
“Obviously, they lost a great player earlier in the year, so you can say anything that you want,” Gophers defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel said. “Not everybody has a lot of that guy running around. No. 1 was dynamic. You lose a guy like that, it’s hard to replace, but they’ve got other guys that are good players.”
Still, in a stretch from that Iowa defeat to last week’s loss to Illinois, Rutgers was outscored 160-0. Of course that includes eight quarters against Ohio State and Michigan.
“This week, we’re both 0-0 in my head,” Gophers linebacker Jonathan Celestin said. “So in the end of the week, we want to come out 1-0. We prepare for them like we prepared for Penn State, like we prepared for Maryland. It doesn’t matter. Any team can be beat on any day.”