NEW YORK – Like a star outfielder on the baseball team that usually calls the Bronx home, Kyle Monangai walked toward the center field wall of Yankee Stadium and threw his body toward his target as he approached the home field. ‘warning.
It was at the end of a 40-yard drive in the Pinstripe Bowl, and as the Rutgers running back was thrown out of bounds before hitting the pylon for the touchdown, he had once again thrown the Scarlet Knights on his back. They would score on the next play to take a double-digit lead over Miami, their first bowl win in nine years, but in the bag.
And the MVP was no surprise. It was Monangai, of course, who capped a season in which he led the Big Ten in rushing with arguably his best performance in the Scarlet Knights’ 31-24 victory. It was Monangai, of course, who once again provided Rutgers with a strong dose of toughness as he rushed for 163 yards on 25 carries.
In an era where star players are forgoing bowling to protect their NFL futures, Monangai made it clear he wouldn’t miss this game for anything. “I’ve always waited to play a bowl game here, so to pass up an opportunity would be crazy,” he said after becoming the eighth Rutgers player to rush for 1,000 yards.
It hasn’t always been pretty offensively for Rutgers — in this game or, for that matter, throughout the season. Against Miami, the passing game was once again virtually non-existent, with quarterback Gavin Wimsatt completing 7 of 15 attempts for just 84 yards.
Rutgers needed a brilliant day from Monangai to beat the Hurricanes, and he delivered. The best moment of Greg Schiano’s program? By announcing earlier this month that he would return for one more season, he ensured that the Scarlet Knights will have the focal point of their offense in place for what could be a promising 2024.
Under-recruited by powerhouse Don Bosco, Monangai was the first player to commit to Schiano when the coach returned to his old position in 2019. Schiano took a gamble on the undersized running back when the coach Bosco’s Dan Sabella told him he would “stand on the table.” for this guy,” a decision he would never regret.
“A lot of people told me, ‘Don’t do that. It’s too small. He can’t do it,” Schiano said.
Monangai has proven time and time again that he can do it at the highest level. He did it at Yankee Stadium on Thursday afternoon, ensuring that the Scarlet Knights would bring the Pinstripe Bowl trophy home across the Hudson River.
What will he do next season for an encore?
Here are five observations from the Pinstripe Bowl:
1. BLOCKED PERFECTION
A former Ivy League lacrosse player and a cancer survivor combined to make one of the biggest plays of the season for Rutgers. And, as is often the case for Rutgers in the Schiano era, it was done via a blocked kick.
Trevor Yeboah-Kodie, who played lacrosse at Brown before joining the Scarlet Knights this season, broke free untouched to smother a punt by Miami’s Dylan Joyce. That’s when Timmy Ward, a former equipment manager who overcame a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in high school, pounced on the loose ball in the end zone.
The piece could not have been more timely. The Rutgers defense had given up 17 points on Miami’s previous three possessions, but the 69th blocked kick for Rutgers under Schiano gave the Scarlet Knights all the momentum back.
2. DEION NEON
It was understandable why Mario Cristobal decided to roll the dice on a fourth-and-2 from the Miami 45-yard line with just under 10 minutes left. The Hurricanes trailed by 11 points, with the Scarlet Knights grabbing all the momentum. Miami needed a big play to change the game.
Instead, it was Rutgers linebacker Deion Jennings who stole the moment. He broke through the Miami line to tackle running back Henry Parrish Jr. for a two-yard loss. In the final game of a stellar career, Jennings made a huge defensive play to help win a bowl.
3. RECEPTION WITH TONE ADJUSTMENT
Perhaps in future seasons it will be difficult to get players to “buy in” to a cold-weather midweek bowl game at a ballpark. For now, however, it was clear that the Scarlet Knights were motivated to win the trophy – and some of their early game stamina came from an unlikely source.
Christian Dremel, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver, carried several Miami defenders for five more yards after initial contact on a 23-yard reception in the second quarter. The play set up a touchdown, with Kyle Monangai sneaking inside the pylon to give Rutgers a quick 14-0 lead.
Rutgers was the more physical team early in this game, and it wasn’t just Monangai and linebacker Mohamed Toure who had the big hits.
4. COSTLY SANCTIONS
Rutgers appeared to be headed for an easy victory when a series of stupid mistakes allowed Miami to score 10 points in the second quarter.
First, defensive end Aaron Lewis was called for back-to-back personal foul penalties to help Miami drive down the field for a touchdown. Then it was fellow teammate Wesley Bailey who was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for apparently stepping on an offensive lineman, those crucial 15 yards helping bring Miami closer to a field goal that ended the first half-time.
And, late in the game, two pass interference penalties in the end zone helped Miami score a late touchdown that made the final minutes far more interesting than they should have been.
The Scarlet Knights were, for the most part, a disciplined team in 2023, ranking 33rd nationally with 5.1 penalties per game. But they had their share of inexcusable mistakes, including several fatal penalties in a road loss to Iowa. Schiano will have a lot to clean up in the offseason.
5. ABOUT THIS “EASIER” 2024 CALENDAR…
Some other thoughts on the Pinstripe Bowl and around the Big Ten:
A. Perhaps it’s time to put aside talk of Rutgers having an “easier” 2024 schedule. Based on the results so far in bowl games, next season’s slate of opponents suddenly looks pretty solid.
b. Southern Cal won’t have 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, but his likely replacement, Miller Moss, threw a Holiday Bowl record six touchdown passes in his first college start to lead the Trojans to No. 16 of Louisville. Rutgers will travel to Los Angeles for the first time for a Big Ten game on Oct. 26, with a lot of pressure on USC coach Lincoln Riley to secure a playoff berth.
vs. Former rival USC didn’t look too bad either. UCLA, which visits SHI Stadium on October 19, beat Boise State in the LA Bowl. Chip Kelly, surviving (for now) after a series of middling seasons, earns a momentum-building victory.
d. It was hard to imagine Virginia Tech making a bowl, let alone winning one against a strong opponent, after the Scarlet Knights beat the Hokies in September. They dominated Tulane in the Military Appreciation Bowl with quarterback Kyron Drones drawing comparisons to Michael Vick – and the Drones will be back in 2024 when the Scarlet Knights travel to Blacksburg on September 21.
e. Even 5-7, Minnesota won the Quick Lane Bowl, beating Bowling Green. With three other Rutgers ’24 opponents – Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington – remaining to play, it’s possible they finish the year with an 8-0 record and, if the Huskies pull off two upsets in the four-way playoff teams. , a national championship. Hey, who knows?
F. It was clear why the Yankees were very excited to see the Scarlet Knights sitting at 6-6 when making their selection for the game. There were approximately 20,000 Rutgers fans in attendance at the game, a significantly larger number than their Miami counterparts.
g. Tackle of the Day: Davoun Fuse, destroying Miami’s returner on a kickoff.
h. Schiano clearly trusts his young kicker, but sending Jai Patel for a 53-yard attempt in the cold Bronx was too much to ask. His attempt failed.
I. Rutgers used the tush-push twice from the one-yard line in the first quarter, then managed a fake push for a first down in the third quarter. If only Rutgers’ offense had as much creativity from other teams.
j. Yankee Stadium is out of beer. Bad job, Yankees.
MORE FROM STEVE POLITI:
The Untold Story of How Rutgers Crushed the Big Ten
How a former Rutgers athlete was charged with murder in Tijuana
I was a Little League menace that knocked down the birds – and it’s time to tell the truth
The search for Luther Wright, once New Jersey’s greatest basketball talent
I played Augusta National and had my own Masters meltdown
Ranking the 99 Greatest Athletes in New Jersey History
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Steve Politi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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