In the close to thirty years I have watched football and actually remembered it, I have never blamed a loss singularly on one single player. The first game I remember with absolute certainty was the Redskins defeat of the Bills in the Super Bowl. Had I remembered one year earlier, I still would not have blamed the Bills 20-19 loss on Scott Norwood, to add some perspective. Football is a team sport, but as Saturday’s contest fell more and more out of reach ...
The case that Art Sitkowski gave Rutgers zero chance to win
- Two pick sixes and another unforced INT deep in your own territory? If you throw interceptions on third and long or on deep attempts that function like punts, those are ok. Instead, Sitkowski was unable to compete possibly even a single pass to a receiver who was beyond the first down line to gain. His two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns were so directly at defenders that the only question was whether Rutgers could make a tackle. The first came on a third and four, while the second came with zero pressure on a second and eight. The third and final pass attempt on the day was picked off on a second and six with again zero pressure. Again, maybe only one pass to Jerome Washington was actually completed beyond the sticks, every first down came from yards after the catch.
- Play calling. To try and get Art in a rhythm after taking a beating at Ohio State, offensive coordinator John McNulty called for a quick screen to Raheem Blackshear on the first play, almost identical to the first play against Texas State. Sitkowski threw a laser beam over the head of Blackshear and his accuracy did not improve over the course of the day. It’s true on the first two drives, Rutgers telegraphed their playcalls after that first one. The coaching staff quickly regrouped and realized that you can’t just not throw the ball or the defense would be all over it. The playcalls after that were mostly pretty good and protection schemes kept Sitkowski upright and he was only hit hard once. You can’t ask for much more on this front, because if Rutgers did just run it every time, Kansas would have stopped it for the most part. Since KU was keying on the run there were plays to be made if the QB and receiver could have gotten on the same page. 7 for 19 for 47 yards with three interceptions when you faced almost zero pressure, not even Christian Hackenberg in the NFL could do worse.
- Coaching staff had to demonstrate confidence. Everything we heard was that Sitkowski won the starting job fair and square. Once that happens, you don’t want him to constantly be looking over his shoulder every time he makes a mistake, so he needs a little room for error. With the first interception for six, you just say it happens. Hey Sam Darnold regrouped last week when it happened to him. Then Rutgers had a few stops and starts but you hope a player with the perceived talent of Sitkowski can get it together with his team still in the game. Then Rutgers defense kept them in the game despite almost zero rest and Raheem Blackshear goes beast mode to cut it to 24-14. The tired defense botched the following drive, but Art could not take his turn to pick them up. He comes out for the second half but instead of having regrouped, he was equal or worse and finally the coaching staff had to take him out to avoid more lost confidence, but Rutgers margin for error was so thin at that point, it’s up to our readers if there was any left at that juncture. The most perplexing is the body language. Blackshear seemed not to be confident in Art as early as mid second quarter by his body language so if the whole team is not behind the QB, that’s when it’s really hard to figure out what the right move is.
The case that the team could have picked him up.
- Poor hands by virtually everyone in a white jersey. Sure Sitkowski fired the ball to Blackshear a few times at close range, but with such good hands you’d figure he might have been able to haul in another one or two. Even if those didn’t go for yardage maybe the confidence would have helped? Shameen Jones had two bad drops, Travis Vokolek had one, and I think Bo Melton had one, too, though it wasn’t exactly a perfect throw. Then fumbles by the guys with the perceived best hands on the team, Blackshear, Hilliman, even Gio were daggers. If Rutgers only had to contend with the Sitkowski interceptions, he might have built more confidence on sustained drives into Kansas territory. Instead, Art was stuck deep in his own end almost the entire time he was in there. Kansas only fumbled once and it fell harmlessly out of bounds.
- Other QB options. Before the game I did make a comment that Rutgers probably could win this game, even if Sitkowski was out due to injury, but I was dead wrong. This was based on the fact that Giovanni Rescigno led the team to three Big Ten victories in 2017. In one of those games against Mayland, former offensive coordinator Jerry Kill said Gio was perfect on his reads during the game. Unfortunately, Rescigno was not perfect Saturday. He avoided throwing an interception somehow (though he did have that fumble) and demonstrated better ability to complete the ball to pick up yardage against a prevent defense. All that said he led the team to ZERO points in a quarter and a half of action against Kansas’s third string defense. The head scratcher is that Kansas’s backup quarterback was WORSE at throwing the ball than Johnathan Lewis, making only one good read and throw to a receiver in any sort of traffic. Yet Kansas won the game. This goes back to Art earning the job handily, because if JLew could have given the staff any confidence, Rutgers could have employed the same strategy.
- The defense. The Rutgers defense was put in a ton of bad spots, but they did surrender 400 yards rushing. Let me write that again, FOUR HUNDRED YARDS rushing! And on the pick sixes, they didn’t even have to defend a short field. That seems almost unfathomable considering Kansas had only three drives of more than 43 yards. One of those drives was basically a one play 59 yard TD, so only one of those came outside of garbage time. Every defense wears out, but I don’t know how even an average defense came give up that many yards to a non option-running team that literally could not throw the ball at all other than slants against huge cushions and jump balls.
On that note, I think there were only TWO passes the entire game from either side that were completed to a receiver beyond the first down line to gain, three if you count the jump ball TD by Kansas. How that is even possible after 1950 is simply unbelievable.
After further review, I do not believe Art Sitkowski singularly lost this game, although it was at least worth investigating. In addition he should and will start again next week versus Buffalo, though the leash will be shorter. Vote in the poll and give us your comments below.
Did one player lose the game at Kansas?
This poll is closed
Yes, there is no way the rest of the team could overcome it.
No, football is still a team sport and Art didn’t give up 55 himself.