The 2018 Rutgers football season has been described by virtually every negative adjective and metaphorical representation of catastrophe in the dictionary. After Saturday’s contest as I was writing the recap I had to ask myself, has anyone on this team exceeded expectations?
Without doing a side by side comparison from Pro Football Focus on every player on the roster for fear of it being too painful, below is a stack ranking based on the eye test compared to what the coaching staff and media had predicted.
- Adam Korsak. Though the classified as a sophomore due to the British education system, Korsak is not only in his first year with the Rutgers Football program, but his first playing organized football overall. Initially his distance was not great, but his non-spiraling kicks and placement made it difficult for returners to get anything going. In the last few weeks he has continued to get the ball farther down the field and has proven to be the Scarlet Knights most effective player regardless of position. I posed the question in the game recap, how ugly would these scores be if Adam was not constantly pinning teams deep in their own territory and given no chance at a return? You hear the term thrown around a lot that a guy is a “football player”, but before we say that about Adam we can say he’s an “athlete” who excels at golf and seems capable at anything that requires hand eye coordination.
- Avery Young. With injuries to Bless Austin and Tre Avery, Young was pressed into the starting lineup at Ohio State. It was baptism by fire as he was burned badly at least twice, though he did show some good pursuit in the game. Since Week 2, Young has gotten better each week in less than ideal circumstances in coverage and seemingly is the only player on the Rutgers defense with the combination of speed and hustle to chase down big plays. When reviewing tape of commits I often look to see if a guy is an absolute “beast” or not at the high school level, but I completely underrated Young. He is big for a corner and has some good speed which translates well in the return game. With the secondary littered with injuries (other than Isaiah Wharton who deserves an Ironman award), Young has become a legit Big Ten player right out of the gate.
- Mike Tverdov. Young got the nod over Tverdov only because he was forced into a starting role from the second week of the season. In the last few weeks, Tverdov is among the team’s best players. Before garbage time against Maryland, Mike provided the only Rutgers highlight of the contest with a strip sack and recovery in traffic. His natural position right now is strong-side end, but he has been forced to play weak-side end (the jack) that also has coverage responsibilities which he has done admirably for a redshirt freshman lineman. Watching him is eerily similar to recalling his older brother who also would line up anywhere on the defensive front and bring energy. At times, he looks like the only guy bringing energy on the defense and Rutgers needs that to spread throughout the entire team.
- Isaih Pacheco. Yes, he ran for 100 yards mostly once the outcome of the game was already decided. Yes his touchdown was against third stringers. Regardless, he is a joy to watch. Last night I was watching all-time great NFL running back highlights to try and recall who’s running style he has. It’s somewhere between Walter Payton and Jim Brown, although he doesn’t nearly have the same speed or ball security (really needs to work on it). Like both players, Pacheco seems to run through the first defender seemingly like every time and never dies easy. His enthusiasm on the offensive side is much the same as Tverdov on the defensive side, when the offense breaks the huddle knowing Pacheco is getting the rock, they seem to fire off the line a little quicker. Pacheco also seems to get around the corner with speed in a way that few RU backs ever have seemed to do, yet Maryland has like four guys who make it look easy on their team right now. I’m not guaranteeing he will play in the NFL, but this guy should be getting the rock as Todd Gurley-light at the college level the next few seasons. I really like Jon Hilliman (who does seem to do everything right) and Raheem Blackshear (most elusive), but the team seems to feed off Pacheco and they need more of it even if he has less success against opposing starters.
Tverdov’s sack against Maryland came when he was unblocked, but his will against Illinois in the tweeted highlight below is even more impressive:
Mike Tverdov gets a sack and celebrates with the chop. pic.twitter.com/9K0MF5k6zo— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) October 6, 2018
Honorable Mention: Eddie Lewis. Kessawn Abraham. Lewis was my presumed starter at slot receiver, but took some time to unseat incumbent Hunter Hayek. Eddie is so quick, he always has a step on his defender and if he can learn to break a few tackles will be a valuable receiver for several years. Abraham should start getting more looks in the secondary, but is an absolute wrecking ball as a gunner on the punt team lately. Back to back Adam Korsak punts were foolishly returned by Maryland and Abraham brought the wood both times. Kessawn like Olaklunle Fatukasi last year brings some swagger to the coverage units.
We could get some comments (and they are welcomed) on Elorm Lumor, Justin Davidovicz, and Travis Vokolek. Feel free to chime in if you believe they exceeded expectations. My thought is that the staff spoke so highly of all three in the offseason that their performances so far is what many would have expected.
Looking to bounce back
The list of players who have underachieved is so long, it’s difficult to peel back the onion as to who is really at fault in many situations on both sides of the ball. I’ll mention just one who seems to be avoiding a lot of blame, Deonte Roberts.
Chris Ash and Jay Niemann have been fielding constant blame about alignment, but they all of a sudden did not start teaching bad technique AND bad alignment. Roberts is in his third year as a starter in the same defense the team has run each year. It’s his second as defensive captain and he’s your middle linebacker. Last year they didn’t seem to have these issues with the same linebackers and safeties on the field. I can understand if Deonte is banged up, but shouldn’t he be helping to align personnel regardless? Or perhaps the defensive line is SO much worse this year that there’s nothing more he can do? Were we just spoiled by other three year starters at Mike linebacker like Devraun Thompson and Steve Beauharnais in recent years?
Recruiting will likely take a continued hit with decomittments as we have seen in past years where the team struggled, most notably 2013, so player development will become even more paramount. The fact that all the overachievers are first year players presents an interesting series of questions. Are the first year players on this list only out of necessity? Or were they actually smartly recruited by this coaching staff?
Whatever the answer is, the group of individuals coaching Rutgers Football in 2019 will have to do a much better job in player development or it will be a long few seasons on the banks.
Give us your thoughts in the comments section below.