The future is now for Rutgers football, as true freshman Artur Sitkowski was announced as the starting quarterback by head coach Chris Ash on Friday. With the season opener against Texas State on September 1st now just a little more than a week away, a decision needed to be made after three weeks of fall camp. Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media was the first to break the news.
Per the Rutgers press release:
“Sitkowski is set to become the first Rutgers true freshman to start the season opener since Ryan Cubit in 2001. The last true freshman to start any game behind center for the Scarlet Knights was Gary Nova in an overtime win over USF on Nov. 5, 2011.”
Sitkowski had a strong spring camp and after working hard this summer, he was considered the favorite heading into fall training camp. The competition between Sitkowski, fifth-year senior Gio Rescigno and sophomore Johnathan Lewis was a good one, making it the strongest QB group the program has had since Ash took over three years ago.
New offensive coordinator John McNulty has implemented a multiple type offense grounded in pro-style principles, a system that makes Sitkowski’s skill set the best fit of three quarterbacks. The former 4-star recruit and Old Bridge native is a prototypical dropback passer who can make all the throws needed. At 6’5”, he has the size and arm strength that is required to be able to stretch opposing defenses and generate big plays down the field.
SB Nation’s National Recruiting Director, Bud Elliott, had this to say about the former highly touted recruit who was once committed to Miami. “Sitkowski came to IMG with a lot of promise due to his excellent physical tools. And I saw those tools on display in high school. He has a big arm and is athletic”, said Elliott. He continued, “there were also hurdles that he will need to overcome. He can be a bit robotic, and didn’t always identify where to throw the ball on time. I imagine Rutgers will use a simple plan with him early on in order to help him gain comfort.”
While Sitkowski did ultimately lose his starting job at high school powerhouse IMG last season, failing to regain his spot after suffering an injury, the experience likely benefited his development in the long run. The quarterback that beat him out is Zack Annexstad, who was just named as the starting signal caller at Minnesota.
Sitkowski has improved since last year, putting in a lot of work with QB trainer Tony Racioppi, which we detailed here. After arriving to the program last January, he put in extra time in fine tuning his mechanics and learning the way that Rutgers wants him to operate in spring camp helped generate confidence that he was the right guy to lead McNulty’s offense. Although reports during training camp were mixed regarding his performance, he ultimately needs reps and experience more than anything else in order to reach his full potential. The talent and mental makeup appear to be there.
Here are five takeaways on the decision of Ash and McNulty to start Sitkowski.
Big Play Potential A Clear Edge
During BTN’s visit to Rutgers camp earlier this month, McNulty harped on three main points of focus in regard to the quarterback position within his offense. Recognition of the defense and ability to adjust the play at the line, converting on third down, and making big plays through the air. The first comes with experience and involves football IQ, the second and third require talent and ability. As I wrote last weekend, in a battle of youth versus experience with Sitkowski competing against Gio Rescigno, the decision should be based on talent and upside. For a program still in rebuilding mode and not competing for championships, along with an offense predicated on gaining large chunks of yardage off of big plays, it makes perfect sense to start the true freshman who happens to have the highest ceiling of the position group.
McNulty Envisions Long Term Plan at Rutgers
Sitkowski will certainly be learning on the job. Mistakes will be made. However, based on his potential, McNulty is betting that he can produce enough big plays to help offset some mistakes that he does make this season.
I also think this decision bodes well in regard to McNulty breaking the streak of Rutgers having nine different offensive coordinators in nine straight seasons. He is investing his time not only in this season, but in developing a young quarterback who he believes has NFL potential. My point being, McNulty probably plans to be here for awhile and that bodes well for the future development of Sitkowski, as well as finally developing stability within the Rutgers offense. This is a partnership that is just beginning and that’s an exciting notion.
Schedule Built For Opportunity
With a somewhat manageable schedule in September and early October, other than a away game against top ten Ohio State, Sitkowski has an opportunity to lead this team to early season victories while also learning along the way. Starting the season with Sitkowski gives him the opportunity to develop as the fall progresses, which culminates with a brutal stretch in November. The last four matchups of the season are at Wisconsin, home games against Michigan and Penn State, followed by a road contest at Michigan State. For Rutgers to compete against the top teams in the Big Ten, they need an offense that can score points and Sitkowski offers the best opportunity to produce in that area this season. There is potential for the unit to be much improved by November after two months of playing together and the bye week after the eighth game. If Rutgers had waited to promote Sitkowski later in the season, he would have lost valuable development time in games that are more manageable than the final stretch.
Gio & Lewis Are Intriguing Backups
While Rescigno and Lewis each showed limitations in action last season, both have shown improvement this offseason. So much in fact that they made the quarterback decision harder than Ash and McNulty likely envisioned it would be after the spring. As a backup, Gio offers leadership and experience that will offer a steady hand if thrust into game action. The game plan would need to be adjusted, but he has proven to have alligator blood and has found a way in a less talented offense before. He will serve as a great mentor for Sitkowski as well.
Lewis offers McNulty the chance to mix things up here and there if he wants to bring him in for certain situations or packages. Despite likely starting the season as the #3 quarterback, Lewis has developed nicely and should not be written off in the slightest. He is learning a new system and still developing his body. Sitkowski is the guy right now, but Lewis offers a complete switch up during certain drives if McNulty so chooses to exercise that avenue at times this season.
Damn The Torpedoes
In addition to the futility on offense during the first two seasons under Ash, a major complaint of fans and media alike has been the ultra conservative nature of the play calling and decision making. Some of that was justifiable based on limited personnel, but it was frustrating to see Rutgers, for example, having possession in the opponents end of the field and still punting on fourth down. McNulty and Sitkowski signal the end to that approach. Letting it fly with a young and talented quarterback will not always be pretty, but it will lead to more growth and a higher ceiling for the offense in the long run.
As Wayne Gretzky and Michael Scott famously said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I’ll be happy with a Rutgers offense that is aggressive, strategically creative and willing to take chances, even if it doesn’t always lead to success. And it gives this team something to believe in, as well as QB who can hopefully inspire his teammates, recruits, and fan base, no and in the future. Time to buckle up for the ride!
Here is a video of Sitkowski talking to SB Nation last year. (note: this recruiting profile is over a year old. Sitkowski is now listed as 6’5” and 224 pounds per the Rutgers official roster.)
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