PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Things are turning around for Rutgers football.
The 16-game losing streak in the Big Ten Conference came to an end last week, and Chris Ash’s kids took another step Saturday with a 14-12 win over Purdue that gave the Scarlet Knights (3-4, 2-2) consecutive wins in the league for the first time since joining in 2014.
“The fact that I get to watch them celebrate the way they have the last two weekends, that’s all the gratification I need,” said Ash, whose team went winless in the conference last season. “That’s the only thing I worry about. I don’t care if it’s two wins in a row, three. Every Saturday we get one win and they get to celebrate like that, man, that’s so rewarding.”
The loss was a step back for Purdue (3-4, 1-3) which came into the game thinking about its first postseason bid since the 2012 season.
The Boilermakers did everything but win. They outgained Rutgers 474-217 and had the ball for 85 plays, 30 more than Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights just made the big plays.
Gus Edwards scored on a 74-yard run on Rutgers’ second offensive play and Gio Rescigno threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to halfback Raheem Blackshear in the second half to account for the scoring.
The defense forced two turnovers and limited Purdue to 4 of 19 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts. It also came up with a defensive stop on the 2-point conversion after Anthony Mahoungou made a one-handed catch of a 10-yard touchdown pass by David Blough with 25 seconds to play to cut the lead to two points.
Blough rolled to his right on the game-tying attempt but the Scarlet Knights gave him no place to run and his pass sailed over the heads of his receivers.
“We gave them three options that they would possibly do, and they did one of them and we defended it,” Ash said of the final defensive play.
The Scarlet Knights, who were 5-23 in conference play after a win over Illinois last week, never trailed. Edwards broke an ankle tackle near the left side of the line of scrimmage and went almost untouched the rest of the way for the Scarlet Knights’ longest run from scrimmage in a Big Ten game.
Purdue, which had a chance against now-No. 5 Wisconsin in the fourth quarter last week, got a 26-yard field goal from Spencer Evans early in the second quarter after a 10-play drive bogged down at the 4-yard line.
Rescigno stretched the lead to 14-3 early in the third quarter when the Boilermakers blew a coverage on a third-and-19 play from the Purdue 35. Blackshear circled out of the backfield and linebacker Danny Ezechukwu went for a play-action fake. Rescigno lofted the ball to a wide-open back and he scored after eluding a tackle attempt at the 5-yard line.
“It feels good. I can’t sit here and lie,” Rutgers fifth-year senior guard Dorian Miller said of the winning streak. “Two Big Ten games back-to-back. And like I was saying before, usually those games at home the past couple of years (don’t go our way).”
J.D. Dellinger had hit a 24-yard field goal on the series after Rescigno’s TD pass to get Purdue within 14-6.
“It’s tough because those defensive guys are playing so well and we are just letting them down,” said Blough, who has shared the quarterback job with Elijah Sindelar on an offense that has five field goals and a touchdown in its last two games.
Blough ran for 21 yards after escaping a sack attempt and hit Terry Wright for 16 yards on the nine-play, 70-yard drive that almost allowed Purdue to tie the game.
“We going to have to figure it out and improve,” said Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who took over the team this season. “We have a long ways to go. While it is, in my opinion, two steps backward, those things happen. As upset as I am and our team is, you have to use it as fuel to drive.”
Purdue: Still has a shot at its first postseason berth with games against Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana.
Rutgers: Has to be kicking itself for dropping a 16-13 decision to Eastern Michigan in the second week of the season. Had it not given EMU its first win over a Power-5 school, the Scarlet Knights would be 4-3 with winnable games against Maryland and Indiana on the schedule.
Purdue: Plays host to Nebraska on Saturday night.
Rutgers: At No. 19 Michigan on Saturday.