Our positional preview series continues with a position that has some clarity as the preseason is winding down. OK, we all know who the starting quarterback is for the opening of the 2017 season. The message that Bolin would be the starter was sneaking out about two weeks ago, as it became apparent to visitors to the camp that Bolin was the main guy with the first team.
Bolin, Rescigno & Lewis have all had 1st team reps but Bolin has had the bulk #rutgers— Keith Sargeant (@KSargeantNJ) August 12, 2017
With the announcement finally being made this week that Kyle Bolin has been named the starter for the team, we have an opportunity to look at the five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster eligible in 2017, as well as how they have each come to this point in their collegiate careers.
#9 Kyle Bolin (6’2”, 212 lbs.)
With the arrival of Kyle Bolin this season, the graduate transfer from Louisville added experience and skills to the group of players in the mix. The newly-announced starter redshirted as a freshman for the Cardinals, but started in five games as a redshirt sophomore, compiling a 3-2 regular season record. Due to injuries, the Lexington, Kentucky native Bolin started as a redshirt freshman in the 2014 Belk Bowl, where Louisville was beaten 37-14, due more to Louisville’s inability to stop Georgia’s running game than any fault of Bolin. With the arrival of 2016 Heisman Award winning QB Lamar Jackson, Bolin was relegated to a backup role, and came to Rutgers to have a final opportunity to be a starting quarterback on a P5 team. With a 58.8 completion rate, with 13 TDs against 10 INTs, he is the strongest, most experienced QB currently on the roster. A good stat to know he has yet to commit a fumble in the 15 games in which he appeared as a Louisville Cardinal. Let’s hope that continues.
Bolin’s success this year will be due (at least in part) to the ability of new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill’s ability and desire to tailor an offense around the skill-set of the players on the roster. Last year’s initial starter Chris Laviano was like Bolin, a pro-style quarterback, and former OC Drew Menniger’s inability or refusal to work with his QB’s strengths had a hand in Laviano’s inability to move the ball last season. Bolin’s being named as the starter will hopefully bear better fruit than the 2016 season!
Below is a clip from probably one of Kyle Bolin’s best games as a starter in 2015 against Syracuse. Perhaps it is just me, but I always like to watch clips where teams in red beat the Orange.
#11 Johnathan Lewis (6’3”, 240 lbs.)
True freshman Johnathan Lewis is considered by most to be the quarterback of the future at Rutgers, although many wondered if the future begins this year. It has still not been announced officially whether or not Lewis will be redshirted this year. The top-ranked quarterback in New Jersey (also ranked #2 in the East by Scout) has the size, strength, and speed to be the dual-threat quarterback that Head Coach Chris Ash envisions as his ideal QB.
Lewis’ high school stats are impressive, to say the least. While at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, the East Orange, NJ native led the Marauders to an 8-4 record and an appearance in the NJSIAA Non Public, Group 4 Championship game in 2016. Lewis had 1,557 passing yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 992 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. He was named to the first Team All-State and All-Non Public by the Newark Star-Ledger. As a junior, Lewis passed for 1,669 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and 501 rushing yards.
While these are high school highlights, it is clear to see that Lewis is a very special player, and the future of the position at Rutgers is indeed bright if he is able to meet the large expectations over the next four years.
#12 Zach Allen (6’3”, 212 lbs.)
The redshirt senior Allen has had a challenging collegiate career. Following graduating from Temple High School in Temple, TX, Allen moved on the TCU where he redshirted as a freshman, and then did not see any action as a quarterback for two consecutive seasons. Graduating early, Zach was a graduate transfer to Rutgers in 2016 with two season of eligibility remaining. Last year, he was used sparingly, appearing in the victory against New Mexico and the loss against Michigan. While only in for one series against New Mexico, he played in the fourth quarter of the devastating 78-0 loss to the Wolverines. He threw 10 passes and ran 11 times in that game.
During Spring practice this past April, Allen injured his ACL, and chose to rehab the injury rather than face season-ending surgery. Should the rehab of his injured knee prove to be unsuccessful, his only option going forward would be to apply for medical eligibility to play for a sixth season in 2018.
#14 Rob Nittolo (6’0”, 216 lbs.)
Nittolo is a graduate transfer from Southern Connecticut State with two seasons of eligibility remaining. The Palm Beach Gardens, FL native is not unknown in New Jersey however. He played his senior year of high school at Hillsborough High School, so he is now just 13 miles from where he played in high school. Though one season, he was prolific that year, scoring 27 touchdowns either in the air or through rushing, with a total of just under 2,600 yards in that season. In college, after a redshirt season at James Madison, Nittolo transferred to Southern Connecticut, where in his first season of play was named the ECAC Offensive Rookie of the Year, where he threw for 19 TDs against 11 INTs for just under 2000 yards on the season.
Below is a clip of his record-setting performance against Assumption, where he smashed a record set in 1990
#17 Giovanni Rescigno (6’3”, 228 lbs.)
Gio is entering his third season on the roster in Piscataway. The Macomb Township, MI native played at De La Salle High School, and started at quarterback as a senior and passed for 1,396 passing yards with 15 touchdowns in nine games. He also rushed for 512 yards on the ground with five more TDs.
While he redshirted his first season at Rutgers, and did not see action as a redshirt freshman, last season he took over the starting position as the season progressed, starting for the final five games of the season when 18 game starter Chris Laviano was benched after a mostly ineffective start to the 2016 season. Gio completed 56.2% of his passes last season for five touchdowns, and ran for two touchdowns as well. His ability to run was hobbled in the game against Minnesota, where he injured his hamstring. For the rest of the season, his running was mostly ineffective due to that injury.
The clip below is a mix of Rescigno’s 2016 highlights. The first play in the clip is Gio’s first-ever collegiate rushing attempt, which he took to the house for a 47 yard score.
#19 Tom Flacco (6’1”, 185 lbs.)
Flacco has recently transferred to Rutgers from Western Michigan, where he left following the departure of head coach P.J. Fleck, who left (with a majority of the coaching staff) for Minnesota in January of this year. The Voorhees, NJ native comes from a family of athletes, with his older brothers Joe (QB for Baltimore Ravens), John (former safety for Stanford), and Mike (who played minor league ball, and short stints in the NFL) all demonstrated their athletic abilities as well.
Tom played in 13 games over two seasons at Western Michigan, and due to transfer rules will sit out the 2017 season. He will have two years of eligibility left after his year off.
Below is a clip of Tom scoring his first collegiate touchdown, a short running play against Murray State:
The announcement regarding a starter has already been made, as well all know at this point. However, as Aaron Breitman stated in an article the day after the starter announcement was made, the real battle now will be for the #2 position. After Bolin, the order of quarterbacks would need to be, in this order: Gio Rescigno, Jonathan Lewis, Zach Allen and Rob Nittolo.
The main decision to be made is whether to redshirt Johnathan Lewis. Logic would say to give Johnathan the additional year to learn the system, get used to the much faster pace of Big Ten football over what he experienced in high school, and fight for a starting position next year after Bolin leaves. Keep in mind that Chris Ash may have dangled the “you’ll get to play early at Rutgers” card at the Lewis family when recruiting him, so a redshirt may not be a option the coaching staff wants to explore.
Additionally, the combination of Gio and Johnathan as the backup provides a variety of styles for which opposing teams must prepare. It will also give both of them opportunities to get some playing time, and keep sharp with game experience. Besides, there is no guarantee that there will not be injuries, and you want your backups ready to go if that situation occurs.
If both Lewis and Allen ultimately are not in the mix this year, due to the potential for one redshirting and the other’s health, then there will be three eligible quarterbacks for the coming year, and the order of play is simple, with Bolin, Rescigno, and Nittolo, in that order.
It will be an interesting season for sure, one far different than the one faced just a year ago. If Bolin can be effective and play unhurt, he has a strong cast of running backs and receivers with which to move the ball. They all depend, of course, of the ability of the offensive line giving the backfield enough time to execute the plays, something that was in short supply last year. If that is able to occur, we may see a Rutgers offense that is the most effective one on the field since 2014.