Last Saturday’s 35-24 win over Illinois was not just the first Power Five win in 2017, nor was it just the first conference win since October 2015. It was also the first start this season for quarterback Gio Rescigno. Gio started five games last season, but had been passed over this year in favor of graduate transfer Kyle Bolin. However, following the 56-0 shellacking at the hands of Ohio State, the coaches decided to reopen the quarterback position and determine whether to make a change from Bolin.
Reopening the quarterback position was a necessary jolt to the team. It occurred following a 1-4 start, the only win against Morgan State, a FCS team that finally won their first game last weekend against an FCS team that was also winless this season.
Given an extra week to prepare with the bye, Head Coach Chris Ash chose Gio over the former starter Bolin, and Johnathan “The Future” Lewis. It was a wise choice, and perhaps the only logical choice to make.
So, how did Gio do? Well, his stats are not eye-popping, but most importantly, other than a fumble when he was injured, he did not make any major mistakes. That is the positive when going to a quarterback with Big Ten experience. He knew what he was facing, and didn’t rattle at all. In passing, Gio was 50%, gaining 89 yards and no TDs, giving him a rating of 124.8. However, his mobility, which was lacking after a hamstring injury last season, created issues for the Illini defense, forcing them to prepare for either a pass, run, or handoff with each play. Gio ran seven times in the game, gaining an additional 41 yards, which is 5.9 yards per carry. His longest was a 16 yard scamper.
For good and for bad, the most obvious quality Gio demonstrated was his toughness. When he did run, he battled, and did not quit when he was hit. He fought for any additional yards he could get. It was impressive to see his willingness to fight, but also troubling. The need for a healthy quarterback sometimes outweighs the need to make that additional yard here and there.
Perhaps the coaching staff can teach him how to slide instead of taking a hit? It would probably increase his ability to stay on the field. It was in his first extended time on the field that he pulled his hamstring last year against Minnesota, and this year his first start ended when he took a helmet to the leg, forcing him out of the remainder of the game, with the exception of letting him take a knee in the “victory formation” at the very end of the game.
In Monday’s press conference, two things were said of note. First, Offensive Coordinator Jerry Kill praised Rescigno’s toughness, and obviously likes his willingness to fight. As Kill said in his drawl, “He (Rescigno) brought a little juice to the team, he’s kind of a fiery guy...” You can hear him below on that, as well as stating concerns about his injury, stating Gio is currently day-to-day regarding playing against Purdue this week.
Secondly, in Coach Ash’s meeting with the press, he states that Gio’s ability to throw on the run is “a different element, one that we needed...” and “we wanted a more mobile quarterback, and that’s really what went into the decision to play Gio, and we got that.”
Overall, Gio was able to supply the spark the team needed, and it may have been the difference in the win on Saturday. Let’s hope he is able to be behind center (and healthy) this weekend against Purdue.