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OTB Staff Round Table: Who Should Rutgers Start At QB Against Indiana?

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Our contributors debate who Chris Ash and John McNulty should tap to lead the offense on the opening drive of the game

Buffalo v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

After Artur Sitkowski started the first four games of the season with disappointing results, head coach Chris Ash has made it clear at Monday’s press conference that they are taking this week to evaluate the quarterbacks. Who will start against Indiana on Saturday remains to be seen, so some of our contributors got together to give their take on who it should be.

David Anderson: Many people felt Rutgers should take the growing pains of Art Sitkowski for better or worse as their starting quarterback. NBA teams tank to get a lottery pick, but in college football you don’t get a draft pick for losing. So I agreed with the logic that if Art was the best option to win games short term (beating out Gio and Johnathan Lewis), Rutgers should go with him. Once this season started going off the rails in week 3, if Sitkowski could at least move the ball when Rutgers was down then the upside would still be worth it. Unfortunately with Sitkowski in the game the last two weeks the team looked disheartened and was just hoping not to throw a pick six. Art was “better” than the previous week, but it would have been almost impossible to be worse.

Quick thoughts on Johnathan Lewis. Yes I think he physically should be able to take more hits and is tougher to bring down in the run game. It seems as an outside observer that his skillset may translate better to the game than practice, a la Tom Flacco perhaps. Some guys just perform better in games. But last year JLew completed just 36.8% of his passes so if the coaches and players don’t believe he is better than the other choices, he should be the 3rd man. The problem this coaching staff currently has is the fan base does not trust them in developing talent or even identifying who the best players are (much of which is overly speculative). So the problem really is that it’s unclear if the program as a whole believes in one guy. If there is no consensus, Lewis should get a look at some point this season since the emotional lift we saw Gio provide over the last few seasons was more than his pure talent would indicate.

Even though Rutgers was 125th in passing offense in 2017, I do think Giovanni Rescigno has to start this week against Indiana. Gio’s improvement year over year is hard to discern, but when he is in the game the team has more energy and the offense can be functional enough to at least evaluate the skill position players. With Art in the game the last two weeks it was almost impossible to determine how anyone on the offense was doing. I would like to see more points and yards when Rutgers is down big and the defense is in a prevent. Whichever quarterback is most able to move the ball even in garbage time should be in the game to at least create something to build on. Plus if the game is out of reach and Art goes into the game with zero pressure to perform it can only be positive.

Patrick Mella: Before I give my pick for who should start at quarterback this week, I think it’s important to note that one could make a good case for any of the three quarterbacks to start. All three come with their share of pros and cons, but I think a focus towards the future is important when making a decision. Gio Resigno is the safe pick, as he is by far the most experienced at the position and his toughness on the field is undeniable. Art Sitkowski has struggled mightily through the first four weeks, often struggling with passing accuracy and a tendency to lock onto receivers. Despite his struggles, he remains Rutgers’ prize possession, one they will look to preserve for future years. Jonathan Lewis brings a rare combination of size and mobility to the positional group, but has struggled to get any playing time this year.

At this point, with the team struggling how it has been, I think the experience is more important than wins and losses. They are likely to not win another game this year and even if they do what does it really matter? I think you give Sitkowski the start and hope to see some improvement. Coach McNulty has commented that Art might be trying too much to win the game, rather than managing the game and limiting turnovers. I know he has struggled but the next two months are his best chance to get some experience under his belt. People will argue start Gio and let Sitkowski learn behind him, but to me I would want him to learn by actually being out there. He can build a rapport with the offensive while getting more comfortable in McNulty’s offensive.

Cara Sanfilippo: I would agree with Patrick that a case can be made for any of the three options, but I would disagree with the mentality that we should just let Sitowski play for experience, outcome be damned. This is, one of, my issues with the coaching staff right now, and the infamous 5-6 year rebuild. These upperclassmen has been through a lot, and deserve better than to be overlooked and their seasons be seen as throwaways for the “future.” What future? If we can’t find a way to win some games, there will be no future. Who wants to play for the laughingstock of college football at 18? Ok, sorry, rant over. Back to the issue at hand.

I, for one, am removing Sitowski completely from this equation. While I think his development is important, I think he will be in a better position to develop if he is brought in for key plays throughout certain games. He is not ready to be the starter, and forcing him into this position will only shake his confidence and potentially stunt his growth. That leaves Gio and JLew, and I believe this is where the competition should lie. I love Gio, and I believe he is a leader and brings a fire to the offense. He should start, however, JLew needs to be brought in for some real reps, and not just when the situation is out of hand, or coming in and being pulled out in the next series. I don’t know what we have to lose at this point, and what the other two limited quarterbacks offer that he doesn’t. This feels like a Tom Savage situation, and we all know how that turned out. I have zero faith in this coaching staff right now, but hopefully they will make the right call this Saturday.

Nick Kosko: If Chris Ash believes he is the long term answer as the head coach, he will overrule anything if necessary and make sure Artur Sitkowski is starting this week and for the rest of the season. Gio Rescigno gives you some sort of spark sure, but the fact remains, Rutgers was 125th in passing offense last season. That is alarming. I get the offensive coordinator changes, but this was after 2016 where he provided a spark in place of Chris Laviano. I for one did not see much improvement. You have to take the lumps with Sitkowski. I know it has been painful to watch but what does it say to future recruits and the young players as a whole if you give up on Sitkowski and sit him? If Ash is going to preach to the 2019 and 2020 recruits that this program is building, then stand by that statement. Build with the youth movement. It may look bad, but it could pay off in two to three years with postseason play. There is no grad transfer, veteran, type quick fix for this program.

People tend to forget Sitkowski is a true freshman and was slinging the pigskin to high schoolers last fall. It takes time. He’s not Jake Fromm, the star quarterback of Georgia, who came in and was productive as a true freshman, leading Georgia to the National Championship game. Those guys don’t grow on trees.

Sitkowski also does not have much around him. Aside from Raheem Blackshear, the skill guys are not making plays. The offensive line is letting him down (mostly). You would think with all of these negatives, there should be a change at the most important position, but I would say otherwise. Everyone knows what Rescigno brings to the table and it’s not going to improve the offense much. I’d be more on board with Johnathan Lewis getting a shot but because he was put into action last season, did not redshirt, and has been buried all season as the third quarterback, it likely wouldn’t help.

Whether Rutgers finishes 1-11 or miraculously wins 4-5 games this season, it is Sitkowski’s job. Rescigno is the mentor figure and perhaps the coaches do their best to develop Lewis behind the scenes to make him No. 2 for the future or perhaps a challenger to Sitkowski next season. Stick with the young buck.

Jim Hoffman: This spring and summer, the coaching staff decided after seeing all three of the top quarterbacks, the starting rotation would be Art Sitkowski, Gio Rescigno, and Johnathan Lewis, in that order. Everyone knew a true freshman was going to struggle with the speed and the talent at the college level. As expected, that is precisely what occurred. Now that it has looked like the bottom has dropped out of the 2018 season, do you pull Artur Sitkowski and put redshirt senior Gio Rescigno in his place?

I have two thoughts. First, when possible, keep giving Sitkowski the ball. He will be learning, and gaining experience for the future. However, there is a caveat to that choice. If you are concerned that he is losing his confidence, then keeping him in will be a detriment, not a positive. That is part one.

Secondly, unless he is leading the team to win after win, you should have him out for a portion of each game, and in his place should be a combo of Lewis AND Rescigno, but primarily Lewis. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Gio but he is playing in his final eight game for the Scarlet Knights, and in a lost season, we need to get our younger players experience. Johnathan Lewis is a big, strong QB, and unless he is throwing a ton of interceptions, give him real-game experience. He gives another dimension to the game, as a running quarterback.

I would only replace both of them with Gio if the game warrants it, by either needing some calming, authoritative presence, or if one or both are unable to be on the field, for whatever reason. Otherwise, let Gio be the elder statesman, a kind of additional on-field coach to the younger players. Give the ball to Artur and Johnathan, and let them gain the experience.

Aaron Breitman: No matter who the coaching staff ultimately pick to start against Indiana on Saturday, I don’t expect the offense to be drastically improved. I think that while Sitkowski is clearly the future, changing his perspective during this game would be a good thing right now for his development.

It’s likely the veteran players have more confidence in Gio, despite his limitations. Rutgers has gotten its doors blown off in the first quarter in the past three games. Perhaps starting Gio would provide a spark to the morale of the team by having him in the game with the score even. He wouldn’t have the burden of taking over with the team trailing by a wide margin.

For Rutgers to compete against Indiana, they need to establish the run early and get into some type of rhythm. Getting the ball to Raheem Blackshear in the short passing game is essential as well. Last week, he was wide open on a screen pass with blockers and an open field in front of him, but Gio’s pass was short and went off the helmet of an offensive lineman. That is the type of play Rutgers must execute to have any chance of being competitive.

While I like Lewis and agree the staff should have given him an opportunity at the end of at least one of the past three games, they obviously aren’t considering him to start this weekend. However, if this game does get ugly, what harm is there in giving the kid a couple of series to see what he can do?

As for who should start, I do think shifting to Gio is the right move for this game. Not because he is necessarily better than Sitkowski, but it changes things up and this team certainly needs something to snap out of their lifeless starts to games. However, unless Gio can establish the offense effectively on his first two or three drives, I think you put Art in the game for a series and see how he looks. Perhaps they rotate the two every drive or two there after. And if they stick with Gio through the first half and Rutgers is trailing something like 28-3, then let Sitkowski start the second half.

The development of Sitkowski should still outweigh any other decision in this game, as well as moving forward. The thing is making him stand on the sidelines during the first quarter might actually help him by watching the action from a different perspective. It would also help messaging to the brigade of fans blaming Art for the offensive failures if Gio starts and doesn’t produce much better. Heck, I hope Gio is lights out on the field on Saturday if he does start. I’m not very confident he will make much of a difference though, in part because the wide receivers and offensive line have been major issues all season. However, if he can produce one of his trademark runs off of a scramble and wake up the offense with a big play, it can only help. And if he struggles, get Sitkowski in there by the start of second half at the latest. If he doesn’t show progress and the game is out of hand, give Lewis a shot at the end. Nothing should be off the table at this point with the way this season has gone.

As a staff, we are split on who should start against Indiana, Let us know who you think should get the call by voting in our poll and giving your take in the comment section.

Update: 7:00 PM Thursday

Poll

Who Should Start At Quarterback Against Indiana?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Artur Sitkowski
    (77 votes)
  • 41%
    Gio Rescigno
    (96 votes)
  • 25%
    Johnathan Lewis
    (60 votes)
233 votes total Vote Now