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OTB Staff Thoughts On Rutgers’ Season Opening Win Over Texas State

Our take on the beginning of Chris Ash’s third campaign

Jon Hilliman powers through for his second touchdown of the game.
Scott Greenwald

With Rutgers opening the season with a solid 35-7 victory over Texas State, our contributors share their thoughts on what to make of the performance.

Patrick Mella: Overall, I think there were more positives than negative takeaways from the game. First off, best wishes to Tijuan Mason after a tough, tough injury. Hate to see injuries like that but he is young and hopefully has a speedy recovery. As for the team, the obvious focus was on Sitkowski. I thought he played better than what the stat line showed. The touchdown to Washington that was negated by a flag and subsequent interception really changed the complexion of his day. But as I mentioned in the comments section during the game, these are the growing pains you’re going to have to deal with when you start a true freshman quarterback. The running game looked good as Rutgers was able to showcase several different backs with Blackshear being the explosive of the bunch although Pacheco showed a lot of promise. Defensively, it was great to see them play with a high level of intensity. What’s intriguing about this unit is that they don’t do any one thing really well. I don’t mean that as a knock, because they do have play makers on defense. I think the point I’m trying to make is the overall feel of this unit is much more of a cohesive, “pack mentality.” And over the course of entire season, that mentality could be a driving force for the defense. But as for today, it was a job well done.

Cara Sanfilippo: Well, that was fun. While the attendance numbers and pictures won’t show it, it was a great atmosphere at the stadium today. Fans were very excited to see Rutgers controlling the game from the start, the defense dominating for the most part, and a much more dynamic offense. Sitkowski for the most part was a pleasant surprise. What concerns me is the fact that the offensive line was porous against a not great team and there were many penalties and mistakes that against a better team would have changed the course of the game. Sitkowski’s first interception was due in part to a touchdown being called back due to a false start. That kind of mistake is just sloppy. Ash called it a ““sloppy win” to the press. Listen, I’ll take any W I can, especially at the first game of the season with a lot of young talent on the field. It was fun to watch the energy and heart of this team being a positive outcome. I just hope the team can learn from their mistakes before they face tougher competition because I truly am excited to see some strong performances ahead of us. Seeing them play today makes me optimistic for the future of this team.

Aaron Breitman: In Ash’s first season, Rutgers trailed Howard 14-0 and New Mexico 21-0, both contests coming at home. The Scarlet Knights were able to recover and win both games, but it was unsettling to see them struggle at times during those matchups. Last season, Rutgers struggled for an entire game against perceived weaker competition, losing to Eastern Michigan by 3 points. So for me, seeing Rutgers come out and assert control from the opening drive against Texas State was a positive step forward. It was encouraging they finally beat a FBS team in non-conference play as handily as they did. The issue was never in doubt and although Rutgers made some mistakes, they can be viewed as opening game issues that need improvement, rather than red flag concerns because they were pretty sound in most areas. This team is improved, but needs to continue to show they are getting better each week. Ohio State will be a daunting task next week, but really it’s more important that Rutgers take care of business against Kansas (who lost to FCS Nicholls State) and Buffalo in the two games that follow.

Nick Kosko: Any Rutgers fan watching the game has to take the positives despite that the opponent was Texas State. The defense shined but will have to clean up the tackling, especially against Ohio State on the road. The Buckeyes can make mincemeat of the Scarlet Knights defense based on missed tackles alone, so I am sure Chris Ash will go to the basics in practice. Overall, it is nice to see the Rutgers defense give up zero points. The offense looked good most of the day but the turnovers can be a little worrisome. Artur Sitkowski is a freshman so it’s easy to hit the brakes and not hit the panic button. Mistakes will happen. He is only 18 after all. Rutgers is going to have to clean it up next week and limit the turnovers, otherwise Ohio State can practically end the game in the first quarter. But, looking at the positives, Sitkowski looks like a program changing quarterback. The potential is there in his arm talent and the tight window throws that few gunslingers can make. As long as he continues to grow in John McNulty’s offense, Sitkowski is going to shine. If I am going to pinpoint one other man on the offense, it has to be Raheem Blackshear. The all-purpose back can be a major weapon in Big Ten play as long as he is healthy and given the space to work. Good start to the season and fans might be thinking “one down, five to go!”

Jim Hoffman: I thought the team looked strong overall. I was glad to see both offense and defense took advantage of opportunities to shine. The team definitely showed need for growth, as the number of penalties by both offense and defense seemed high. However, it may just be perception, as the number against Rutgers was doubled by the number of penalties against Texas State. Any game with 22 penalties called in the game can feel stalled by that number of game stoppages. While Rutgers was only a couple above their average for penalties, they happened at times that really extended drives by the Bobcats.

I also thought that two true freshmen, Isaiah Pacheco and Artur Sitkowski looked very strong in their college debuts. Though he only had 11 runs all game, Pacheco gained 76 yards, including a long run of 28 yards. More importantly, his running style is electric, and it got the attention of the crowd right away. Sitkowski was in the entire game until the last few minutes, and though he had three interceptions (not unexpected in a true freshman’s first collegiate game), he had a good passing game overall, ending with a quarterback rating of 119, throwing 20 for 29 for over 200 yards.

Raheem Blackshear showed himself to be a much stronger player physically than last year, but did not seem to lose any of his speed with the added muscle, gaining over 100 yards with his runs and his receptions.

My last thought echoes Aaron’s: we didn’t fall down and have to pick ourselves off to fight back. Rutgers was strong start to finish, and played the way a Big Ten team should against a foe from the Sun Belt Conference. That provides some solace for fans as we move on to one of our toughest games of the season next week in Columbus.

T.J. Jurkiewicz:

Yesterday showed the Rutgers fan base that there is plenty to be excited for in the 2018 season and beyond. It started from the opening offensive possession that saw true freshman QB Art Sitkowski lead a long scoring drive capped by a Raheem Blackshear touchdown. The defense looked absolutely incredible with a standout performance from Elorm Lumor who was all over the field making plays. The defense shut out the Bobcats in fact as their 7 points came via a Sitkowski pick six. Sitkowski ended up throwing 3 interceptions on the day, including a bad one in the end zone as the offense was about to score but there was still some positivity as the play before he made a perfect throw for a touchdown to Jerome Washington that was negated by penalty. If the fanbase can be patient with Sitkowski’s growing pains, I think this program is going to be rewarded as he can lead this team for 3-4 years and take us to places not seen in quite a while.

Another thing worth mentioning was the performance of true freshman RB Isaiah Pacheco who came in during the later stages of the game and looked absolutely incredible, with a running style that I could only describe as “violent.” Hopefully we can see more of Pacheco this season in a 3 RB rotation with Blackshear and Jon Hilliman.

It was refreshing to see Chris Ash completely dominate a Division 1A opponent for what seems like the first time in his Rutgers career. Consider me excited to possibly pull off some upsets this season.

Namrita Singh: It was nice to see this team pick up a win in their season opener and it was even nicer to see them play somewhat consistently from start to finish and not fall behind early and have to claw their way back into the game. They held Texas State to just seven points and the offense was able to put complete drives together. They controlled the game from the get go.

Both Sitkowski and Pacheco looked good in their debuts, as others have already mentioned. There were definitely some rookie mistakes, especially on Sitkowski’s end, but those are things he can work through and hopefully learn from as the season goes on. Blackshear stood out too. Austin’s interception was nice and the fact that he was able to walk off the field on his own is comforting.

Overall, the team just looks better. There is still plenty of work to be done (I wasn’t particularly happy with the penalties and turnovers) but I’m hoping those are mainly because of first game jitters and won’t be a lasting problem. I’m also hoping the injuries won’t be long term and that the students will continue to support the team this season if they can win more games.

And with that said, can we skip next weekend and just head to Kansas?

For all of our coverage of Rutgers’ win over Texas State, click here.