EVANSTON, Ill. — Ryan Hilinski threw for 267 yards and two touchdown passes on Saturday afternoon to boost Northwestern to a 21-7 victory over Rutgers.
Northwestern appeared to be a favorable matchup for the Scarlet Knights (3-4, 0-4 Big Ten), who were coming off three consecutive games against opponents currently ranked in the top 10. But with five of its first six drives ending in punts, Rutgers couldn’t muster enough offense to avoid opening conference play with four straight losses.
Though quarterback Noah Vedral hit all four of his passes on Rutgers’ only scoring drive of the game, he put together an altogether inconsistent day, going 18 of 30 for 152 yards.
“It’s very disappointing,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “We certainly have to assess where we are and why we’re here, and see what we can do to fix it. Some of it is personnel, some of it is execution. We’re trying to find an answer.”
Hilinski, making his third start since transferring from South Carolina, opened the scoring for the Wildcats (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) by capping off a 98-yard drive in the first quarter, hitting Malik Washington for a 64-yard touchdown pass. The completion — Hilinski’s longest as a Wildcat — helped his team secure its first conference win of the season.
“I think one of the biggest things is that we’re continuing to have fun,” Hilinski said. “This is a game we played when we were 5 years old. I personally play best when I’m having fun and just recognizing that this is a game we’ve been playing our whole lives.”
Washington plowed through a downfield defender on his touchdown grab and finished with 84 receiving yards on five catches. Fellow wideout Stephon Robinson Jr. had 115 yards, taking pressure off a Wildcats rushing attack that struggled to get going throughout the day. Often a key to Northwestern’s offensive approach, the ground game combined for just 135 yards on 48 attempts.
“Really proud of the squad,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “The way they bounced back this game and these last couple weeks. I thought they put a ton of work in to get better fundamentally. We were able to carry our preparation over into the game.”
Marshall Lang added a 2-yard touchdown reception in the second and Andrew Clair’s fourth-quarter TD run padded the lead for Northwestern, which led 14-7 at halftime.
The Scarlet Knights came up short on an opportunity to tighten the game in the third, as Valentino Ambrosio missed a 33-yard field goal after a delay of game penalty forced the team to scrap an attempt to go for it on fourth down.