Rutgers football opened the 2018 season with a 35-7 triumph over Texas State on Saturday afternoon. There were some obvious signs of improvement and a few areas that still need some work. Overall, it was a solid result and this team produced when needed, as the issue was never in doubt. Here are some quick takeaways from today’s victory.
Raheem Blackshear Could Have Monster Season
While he did muff a punt for a turnover early in the second half, Blackshear also showed why he has enormous potential in John McNulty’s offense. Here was wisely made a priority and got 19 touches from scrimmage in the game. He had 62 rushing yards, 56 receiving yards and 150 all-purpose yards overall. The biggest key for Blackshear this season is to stay healthy, because he clearly has the talent to be a major contributor and a coordinator who knows how to get him the ball.
Elorm Lumor A Pleasant Surprise
What a statement from Lumor, who made it clear he is willing to fill the shoes of Kemoko Turay. Lumor was virtually everywhere on the field in the first half, producing multiple big plays. A sack, another tackle for a loss, the blocked field goal and fumble recovery, in which he almost scored, were all huge plays in the first half. While all of the seniors get most of the attention on the Rutgers defense, rightfully so, if Lumor can continue to play at this level the rest of the season, he will become a star in his own right.
Injuries A Concern
It was great to see Austin grab an interception in the first half, but it was quickly followed by a pit in every Rutgers fan’s stomach after he landed awkwardly and was slow to get up. He was looked at on the field by trainers and walked slowly off the field. He didn’t return and BTN said during the telecast that he was kept out as a precaution. He is the best player on the team and has had a tremendous training camp returning from last year’s season ending ACL injury. Hopefully, he is okay and will be fine the rest of the way, both for his own sake and the team’s. Other concerns include Tariq Cole, who was limping at times and Kiy Hester was helped off the field in the second half. Tijuan Mason was also carted off the field late in the game. Rutgers must keep their front line players healthy this season to be able to make significant progress in 2018.
Sitkowski Played Well But Also like A True Freshman
He completed almost 70% of his passes and looked poised at times, but made some bad mistakes as well, resulting in three interceptions. It didn’t help the offensive line was terrible in pass protection at times. However, this is what we signed up for Rutgers fans. Sitkowski is going to excite and frustrate multiple times in every game. Today was an important learning experience for the rookie and hopefully he gets better from it. That’s really the key and it may take until later in the season to see firsthand the improvement he makes. Patience is needed but Sitkowski played well enough to show why the staff believes in him as the quarterback to lead this program forward, now and in the future.
Poor Attendance But Good Student Support
I haven’t seen the official attendance count, but the upper deck was barely occupied and there were empty areas in the lower bowl as well. The positive was that the students showed up, something Rutgers needs to occur the entire season. It was a tough start time, noon on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. With two road games up next (Ohio State and Kansas) hopefully the home faithful shows up in stronger numbers on September 22nd against a dangerous opponent in Buffalo.
White Helmets At Home A Change
I’m a traditionalist, so I didn’t love the idea that Rutgers wasn’t wearing red helmets in the season opener. However, I will say the white helmets looked good with the new red jerseys and white pants. The stripes on the jerseys and pants helped tie it all together as well. Safe to assume the color scheme will be reversed for next week’s road contest at Ohio State.
Issue Never In Doubt Equals Progress
Yes, it was Texas State, a program who is coming off two consecutive two win campaigns. However, it was great to see Rutgers assert control early in the game and never look back. There were mistakes made along the way (4 turnovers, 7 penalties), but overall it was a solid opening game performance. They looked clearly improved in most areas. It was the first time Rutgers held an FBS opponent under 200 total yards since joining the Big Ten. We won’t know a lot about this team until next week when they face top five Ohio State, but what we did see today is a step forward at the start of Chris Ash’s third season.