After Rutgers lost their most winnable game of their Big Ten schedule on Saturday against Illinois, it seemed like the right time for our staff to come together and give some thoughts on the current state of this football team. Today, head coach Chris Ash announced that Gio Rescigno was replacing Chris Laviano as the starting quarterback. However, that is just one piece to the puzzle. Recruiting is a major piece too, and our own Griffin Whitmer saw the future firsthand this past weekend and highlighted why Rutgers fans should be hopeful. Here are several contributor’s thoughts on the this season and beyond, both on the field and with recruiting, as well as how the coaching staff has done in year one of the Ash Era.
Jim Hoffman: Since the end of the game on Saturday, I have had this horrible empty feeling inside. It reminds me of times when I was in high school and I was walking into an algebra test and I hadn’t studied. I have no answers for what’s going on. Watching Rutgers’ poor tackling, incomprehensible passes, and obviously unable to hold onto kickoffs and punts is almost physically debilitating to me. Where do we go? My only answer would be focus on fundamentals, as they seem to not be there.
That said, I was very heartened by the play of Gio Rescigno against Illinois. I think he has shown more spark for the team than any of the other QBs on the squad, and I am glad he is getting the chance to start now. Robert Martin continues to be a stud running back, trying to fight for yards on every opportunity.
My final thought is that after watching Saturday’s game, a large part of why I was SO disappointed because the Scarlet Knights really did move the ball well yesterday between the 20 yard lines. In the red zone, it collapsed due to mental errors and poor play calling. It is like seeing a program SO close to having it work, and then fall down, over and over. I have doubts at this point of another win this season, but will be elated if they prove me wrong.
Dave White: Basketball starts soon*!
*Come on what else would you expect from me?
Bob Cancro: First, there are moments when I hate Dave.
Moving on. Remember the summer when some of us - me included - said 6-6 was a real possibility? We also said 4-8 was a possibility. None of us realized back then that we didn’t have a QB. The old “when you have two QBs you really have none” was magnified - we had four. Does that lead you to less than one?
We all saw Ash’s early recruiting and were excited. We saw him change the way we did business and we were excited. We saw Pat Hobbs act intelligently and forcefully and we were excited. We were all thinking with out hearts; our emotions were sky high. We should have known better. Ash himself said there is a big difference between good and great and great and elite. As a team we are just okay, and that’s less - a lot less - than most of the teams we have played.
We need a QB, one who is more than simply a competent-game-manager QB. Right now, it seems that Gio Rescigno is that player. Most were leaning in his direction after the Illinois game, and Ash now feels the same. We can plug in Tylin Oden occasionally but we need to keep someone in there who can compete against the teams left on the schedule. That isn’t Chris Laviano or Zach Allen.
In all likelihood I will pick against us this week. As one of my colleagues said in last week’s predictions, we haven’t shown that we can win against Big Ten competition. We can, though. It was not a complete debacle against Illinois. There were positives and it is on Chris Ash and his staff to change things and build on the positives. And unlike a certain coach in South Bend, Chris Ash does not throw his players under the bus.
This season is not over. Overall, the trajectory for the program is good, even though the eye test now looks bad . And while we are not going to a bowl, we can win again; I believe we will. Chris Ash has three things to do now: (1) regroup this team and prepare then for the remaining five games; (2) decide on how he is going to go forward with his offense and new found starting QB; (3) keep the 2017 recruiting class intact and build on it.
Aaron Breitman: I admit I completely underestimated how difficult it would be to replace the quality of talent we lost from last season’s team. Losing Leonte Carroo was obviously a major loss to the offense. However, losing a rock on the offensive line like Keith Lumpkin, as well as running back Paul James, who made big plays his entire career, have also been big losses. Although the pro style is no more, fullback Sam Bergen was one of the best athletes on the team and a leader. Kyle Federico also gave a certain level of confidence in the kicking game.
On defense, linebackers Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts have been up and down and are still learning. The departures of Steve Longa and Quentin Gause were major losses. Despite their struggles in the pass game at times, they were both tackling machines and very experienced players. At the other linebacker spot, we essentially traded South Carolina graduate transfer Kaiwan Lewis for unheralded true freshman Tyreek Maddox-Williams, who wasn’t near the two deep back in August. This isn’t to say the three first-year starters don’t have potential, but it’s certainly a couple steps back right now versus last season.
This team does have some very good seniors, but when Janarion Grant and Quanzell Lambert were lost for the season in the fourth game, the talent level went down in a big way at those positions. Losing journeyman Greg Jones to a career ending injury as well, who Maddox-Williams replaced, took a valuable teammate and some spirit out of the locker room.
You can say I am making excuses, but that’s almost a dozen key veteran players from last season who are no longer playing. Kyle Flood got lucky if you ask me, as he didn't have to live with the mess he left behind due to years of subpar recruiting. I’m also not saying that Chris Ash and the current staff couldn't be doing a better job, because they could be. However, it was also unrealistic for us to think they would hit the ground running on all cylinders in year one. They simply don’t have enough talent on the current roster to compensate for their own developmental period as a staff this season.
The only thing we can do is be patient and give Ash time to turn this program into his own. For me, this season is nowhere near as bad as last season. We have been less competitive on the field, but the program is on it’s way to being revamped for the better. This time last season, we were right in the middle of the Flood experiment gone terribly wrong. That was hopeless. This is painful and frustrating, but hope exists. Big difference. Sometimes you have to go backwards before moving forward. Ash hasn’t been perfect, but his experience should give confidence his tenure will be closer to Schiano’s than Flood’s. Now is time to root for the young players to get a lot of playing time and develop. If most of the current recruiting class stays on board because they believe in Ash and final rankings are in the 30’s, that will easily be the biggest win of the season.
Griffin Whitmer: Rutgers needed a change at QB, and Gio Rescigno stepped up against Illinois and earned the job. Not only could he actually move the offense, but he led them on a touchdown drive and threw for over 100 yards in one half of action. He wasn’t perfect, but he clearly provided a spark and an energy that just wasn’t there with Chris Laviano on the field.
As for the team, the depth is really showing and Rutgers probably won’t be favored to win another game this year. There just aren’t enough good players on the team to play at a competitive level. This may sound bad, but the team is playing for 2017 and the future. It is about planting seeds for the future and installing the philosophy of the football team. I certainly did not expect the team to be this bad and losing against Illinois at home is simply inexcusable. I expected them to be 3-4 at this point with winnable games against Minnesota, Indiana, Penn State, and Maryland. None of those games look winnable anymore. However, that’s okay. This is a rebuilding year and we have to live with it. The program was driven into the ground the past few years and it is showing. Chris Ash will build it back up and I am not concerned about this team in the long run.
Andy Egan: On the bright side, this defense is actually not bad. That sounds weird when you consider Rutgers has given up 11 million points in the past four games, but I actually put a lot of that on the offense. For example, this week, it was the 5 turnovers and short fields the offense gave Illinois. Against Michigan and Ohio State, it’s hard to blame the defense when they are constantly on the field. When the O goes three-and-out in under a minute (of real time, not game time) again and again, it definitely wears on a defense. Teams like the Buckeyes and Wolverines make you pay for that, and the effect is cumulative, as you can see when those games got increasingly out of hand after (relatively) decent first quarters. I’m actually mostly ok with where the D is, given a lot of injuries and such. They gave up two or three big plays to Illinois, and without those, that’s a totally different game. Can we PLEASE figure out how to stop a half back toss or an end-around run though? And there is still way too much arm-tackling. Those are killers.
Offense is a mess right now, and some bizarre decisions have not helped matters. A lot of this is on Mehringer and Ash, but not all of it -- the rest is on talent and execution (so Flood and the players). My thoughts here are mostly questions: Where is Josh Hicks, and why isn’t he getting a lot more carries (or even better, why aren’t we going with BOTH Martin and Hicks in some backfield sets, and running something approaching a triple option sometimes?) Why didn’t we see Gio again until this week after his second play from scrimmage was a 40+ yard TD run? Receivers look lost — but I like the increased use of Tsimis, as a veteran who runs decent routes and has good hands, just to move the chains. Same goes for Arcidiacono, who has made some big third down grabs. On a side note and looking backward, how much unwatchable crap football did Carroo and Grant cover up the last few years? Wow.
I’m holding out hope for one or two more wins this season. Otherwise, I want as much planning for the future as possible. More Tylin Oden, more KJ Gray and Damon Hayes in the secondary, and how about some more Trey Sneed? We almost certainly will not have a bowl game experience to sell to recruits this year, but we sure as hell can sell the chance for early playing time for worthy competitors and kids who buy in. Assuming the current recruiting class mostly holds, help is on the way, especially at receiver and QB. Ahmir Mitchell will make an immediate impact, and look for rookies Wormley, Melton and Watts to compete for major playing time too.