Rutgers nears sale in Iowa as players prepare for ‘dream’ atmosphere

Aaron Lewis, a sophomore at Rutgers University, had a message for fans last week after the Crimson Knights beat Temple. The defensive line guy, who came off with the best performance of his young career, just wanted to say thank you to the fan base that made Lincoln Financial Field feel like home.

“I want the fans to know they’re doing a great job for us,” he said after Rutgers supporters made the trip to Philadelphia. “We all went out, looked to our right, we didn’t see cherry red, but we saw crimson red outside, and it was a wonderful sight to see.”

This week, Lewis and his colleagues expect to see nothing but scarlet.

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According to a Rutgers official, Saturday’s Big Ten game opener against Iowa State — which coach Greg Schiano dubbed “The Scarlet Out” — is about to sell out. This will be the first fan-night game at SHI Stadium since 2017 and possibly the best home atmosphere since the Scarlet Knights scored their first Big Ten win against Michigan in 2014.

Rutgers, who started 3-0 for the second consecutive season, has a chance of clinching one of his most important wins in Chiano’s second assignment on Saturday. Iowa State (2-1) was one of the pre-season favorites to win the Big Ten West and looked just as defensively as any other team in the country. However, the Hawkeyes – like the Scarlet Knights – have struggled offensively, making this a low-scoring game, where defense can fuel the energy of the crowd.

“When you grow up, you always dream about games like this,” said midfielder Dion Jennings. “That’s what we play for…A night is like Saturday. I can’t wait for that.”

That fuss was what Chiano and then-athletic director Bob Mulcahy envisioned when they expanded Rutgers Stadium, raising its capacity to over 50,000. Nights like Saturday—bringing big college football back to New Jersey—were part of what got Chiano back in again.

“That’s why you’re doing this,” Chiano said. “That’s why I came back to put us in a position to win these matches. Are we ready? Who knows. We will find out.”

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knows what a big night game in Piscataway can be. The longtime Big Ten veteran joked that he was old enough to remember “the hoopla in Piscataway” – tonight’s 15th Rutgers upset No. 3 in Louisville in 2006.

“We expect it to be crowded and noisy,” Ferentz told reporters in Iowa earlier this week. “It will just test our ability to focus, and the younger you have, the more challenging it is.”

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Ponter Adam Korsak, who had one of his best games against Iowa in 2019, said there was a noticeable buzz around campus.

“You can feel like you’re on campus, after football, just walking around,” Korsak said on Wednesday. “I’m just excited about what Saturday will bring. Obviously we eat it day by day, but you can feel the hype.”

This was not lost on the team’s younger players either. Defensive line worker Wesley Bailey said it’s important to feed energy but not waste it.

“I don’t want guys to be so excited that they don’t focus on what their job is supposed to be,” Bailey said. “Embrace the crowd, nurture the energy but don’t let it control you. Just keep going.”

However, the sophomore from Ottawa said he couldn’t be more excited about the atmosphere.

“It would be great,” Bailey said. “I’m so excited. Sometimes I can’t sleep even thinking about it. It’s going to be my first night game since I’ve been here, so seeing what Rutgers football is all about: the lights, 50,000 people here are just crazy and we’re playing Rutgers football.”

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Patrick Lanni can be reached at planni@njadvancemedia.com.

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