Rather than keep the pure report card, this is the third post of a newly regular feature that moves us into the 21st century. Below is how the Rutgers Football position groups fared in each of the last two weeks. We had some drama last week, but make up for it with a double helping! Previous post here, following the Boston College game.
Rapid fire thoughts
Quarterbacks: Art Sitkowski’s performance was hard to evaluate against Michigan. He was often getting popped and under pressure. He completed a high percentage of his throws, but all short. It was hard to tell if he had missed opportunities downfield or would have hit them if he did. He called protections fine, it was just his blockers were losing one on one matchups.
Unfortunately, Sitkowski elected to sit out against Maryland. This was bad timing I think for him from a production standpoint, although I understand his emotions may not have allowed it. Instead Johnny Langan got the start. On the spectrum of Rutgers quarterbacks, I felt he was not the best option against Maryland if everyone was healthy, but that was not the case. Maryland has a lot of speed and therefore could contain quarterback runs yet Langan did manage 59 yards rushing. The Terps’ weakness is in their coverage which was awful and not exploited by RU save two 50-50 balls won by RU wideouts. The Terrapins let receivers run around wide open and for the most part Langan didn’t see them or couldn’t get the ball there whereas the new improved Art Sitkowski probably would have shredded them. That said, Art threw for 8 yards against Maryland last year, while Langan recorded 163 Saturday. After Cole Snyder came in for one play, I wanted to see what he could do against what will probably be the worst secondary Rutgers sees all season, but he did not get a look. If McLane Carter was healthy, I legitimately believe he could have (maybe 20% chance) led a comeback of epic proportions against this Maryland defense.
Running Backs: Against Michigan, c’mon guys. I know the offensive line did no favors, but did we see Blackshear or Pacheco really beat anybody on the corner? If they are so good, you have to make a few plays. Army did in the same stadium. Kay’Ron Adams showed some burst.
The Running backs had a better day against Maryland even without Blackshear. Isaih still managed 78 yards on 19 carries. Pacheco’s lost yardage carries came when he was met by two white jerseys in the backfield, a lot. Adams was not running with patience, but if he had any behind this offensive line it might have only resulted in less yards. Aaron Young is the team’s best offensive player without Raheem for sure, and could be soon even with him. Elijah Barnwell got two carries and may be needed to spell Pacheco.
Wide Receivers: Receivers did their job when given an opportunity against BC and carried that over against Michigan. Unfortunately, they were rarely targeted and had no major opportunities to make a play. Bo Melton made one nice move on a linebacker and showed he belonged on the field against the athletes Michigan trotted out, but otherwise got very few opportunities. There were more than zero drops, but it was not a major concern like years past.
For the third game in a row the wideouts did their job. I gave the up arrow against Maryland because they were running around wide open constantly and sticking their nose in to block downfield all game. When Langan did see someone and deliver the ball in his area, the Scarlet pass catchers hauled them in even when being hung out to dry. Paul Woods will be a solid player in any scheme. Mo Jabbie is reliable. Shameen Jones and Eddie Lewis returned from the dead. Isaiah Washington is more reliable than Tim Wright or Mark Harrison already. Melton has proven the UMass game was no fluke. The wideouts were the worst position on the team in 2017 and have now sneakily become arguably the best. Dare I say it, but the personnel quality and quantity at wide receiver needed for the Drew Mehringer / Tom Herman / Mike Leach style might actually be on the banks now.
Tight Ends / Fullbacks: After failing to get a hand on Michigan players, I gave the down arrow because the TE/FBs were useless to even be used in the game for most of it. It would have been a cop out to give an incomplete when it was mostly their own fault.
To their credit, the TEs and FBs rebounded against Maryland. Matt Alaimo lined up in a variety of places and at times with Brandon Myers was able to seal the edge and spring Isaih Pacheco to the outside. I know he wants to be a wide receiver, but Daevon Robinson can’t break away from anybody, so he should be used as a tight end at this point. He did have a bad block in the back that negated a 12 yard gain because he’s just not quick enough to block corners and safeties on the outside, but is better as a flexed TE. Langan should be able to find these guys on check downs as he gets more experience. Despite just one scholarship player healthy, I think Rutgers can make due here.
Offensive Line: Against Michigan, I gave the crying face because Art Sitkowski was under constant heat even with a four man rush inside the pocket. I know Michigan has good athletes, but on a second and medium, you have to be able to protect your quarterback. Nothing was doing in the run game as RU couldn’t generate any push. RU couldn’t even go max protection to try and get the ball down the field. It was hard to find any positives.
The offensive line was upgraded to the down arrow against Maryland. There were a few times where the pocket collapsed, but I’m sure it was difficult to block when they never knew if he was running left, running right, staying in the pocket or none of the above. In the run game, they were able to get some push when Maryland only had four or five guys playing the run. When Maryland had nine playing the run or brought more guys than they could block, it’s not on the O-Line. If they could have gotten a little more push, I could have given the even arrow. I do think Campanile’s scheme will be easier for a group that is just trying to be adequate. If they do stay spread on offense, I’d like to see an attempt to play O’Neal and/or Seymour inside to reduce their pass blocking exposure and possibly get some more interior push. Zach Venesky, Nick Krimin, Sam Vretman, and Manny Taylor simply don’t drive anyone back. Mike Lonsdorf (left tackle) and Mike Maietti (center) have the quickness to block in the spread and offset their power deficiencies.
Defensive Line: I gave the down arrow against Michigan because though they clogged space in the run game, were never able to force throws when Patterson rolled out. If a quarterback rolls out, there is no pocket and the offensive linemen have to simply avoid committing penalties. The lack of any sort of pressure was the team’s ondoing on several third and longs that Michigan converted. I could see an argument that this grade was harsh.
Against Maryland, the defensive line did a pretty good job. They clogged the middle enough to force UMd to run outside. In obvious passing situations, they did generate pressure consistently for the first time this year. Mike Tverdov was solid for the first time this year and we even had a Elorm Lumor sighting. Julius Turner and Jaohne Duggan showed hustle and CJ Onyechi was CJ Onyechi. They do need some more beef to compete against the bigger Big Ten offensive lines, but were not the problem today. For most of the first half, Maryland had negative rushing yards.
Linebackers: Olakunle Fatukasi looked the best he had all season against Michigan. Overall, the linebackers forced the ball outside the pocket a few times and prevented Michigan from running all over then. Despite the inflated score, the Wolverines never were able to just hand the ball off every down and run the clock out. The reason I didn’t go up arrow is because Wolverine backs and tight ends were running all over them.
The Maryland game was similar in many ways. The linebackers contained the run game for the most part on the inside, but were not helped much by the DBs on the perimeter. In coverage, Maryland exploited matchups on key third downs when they needed to. Tyshon Fogg played a good game again, but missed a few tackles in wide open spaces against guys running 4.3-4.4 times in the 40. They did bring some heat a few times when Rutgers remembered what a blitz was.
Defensive Backs: The Wolverines were getting a lot of big plays in the pass game, but many were on perfectly placed balls against pretty good coverage on rollouts where it was hard for the DBs to know how to play their men. And those men were often five star recruits. A few busted coverages is expected when the opponent throws so many balls. They were solid in run support, too.
Against Maryland though the DBs get the crying face. Tyrrell Pigrome who is not viewed as a viable quarterback by the Terp fans and media was shredding the RU Secondary (yes after Avery Young returned from suspension) after the inconsistent Josh Jackson burned them with a few big throws in the first half. Malik Dixon is not a viable option in coverage and Jarrett Paul is still being victimized way too often which I thought would stop by now. Tim Barrow and Christian Izien are by default the guys who probably need the most time.
Special teams: The kickoff return fumble to begin the second half put me over the edge against Michigan. Otherwise, Korsak wasn’t good enough to lift them out of the crying face. Rutgers needed to significantly win the special teams battle to prolong this game and absolutely did not after a great effort the previous week.
If it weren’t for three Korsak punts inside the 20 and two blocked kicks, they would have gotten the crying face against Maryland for the second straight week. Two missed field goals, poor punt protection even when Maryland didn’t bring the house, poor kickoff coverage, and several penalties. Korsak didn’t even have his best day. Should we just onside second half kickoffs? And yes Aaron Young had one nice return, but wouldn’t we be better off just fair catching to take the ball at the 25 every time?
Coaching: The coaching staff got the down arrow against Michigan, but avoided the crying face because I’m just not sure what more they could have done schematically once the game started going. They were able to avoid Michigan running backs just pounding the ball on them for big gains. Michigan just had too much talent and the Wolverine coaching staff knew how to utilize it against Rutgers. Still though, Army took the home team to double OT.
After the Michigan game, we had a coaching change where Nunzio Campanile replaced Chris Ash as Head Coach and John McNulty as offensive coordinator. The coaches against Maryland got the down arrow for different reasons. 1. Special teams were terrible. 2. Andy Buh’s defense was burned badly by big play after big play. 3. Campanile’s playcalling worked initially, but he could not adjust as Maryland stacked the box and played 1 on 1 coverage on the back end. Minus even more points for not going to a better thrower in Cole Snyder even in garbage time. The coaches had a little time to plan without Sitkowski, but Blackshear left them high and dry.
Conclusion and recommendations
When I was compiling these weeks, I tried to look at the ratings after the fact and say to myself, who was actually good in the last two drubbings? And when I looked at the groups individually, it almost felt like the grades were too high for major blowout loses to teams that aren’t even that good. RU lost to Maryland by 41 points at home and the Terrapins probably aren’t even going to a bowl.
On offense, Rutgers can do more in the pass game, and that’s the only way the run game improves. I know it is difficult midseason, but since we are in the tank, I’d tell Kamaal Seymour his better chance at the NFL is at guard anyway. That at least would give some push at one guard position and reduce his risk in pass protection. I think it would also free up Mike Maietti a little more. Then you decide what to do with Raiqwon O’Neal. If you want to play him at tackle, put him on the right side, but I also think it could make sense that he plays guard also. In John McNulty’s offense, you need quick guards who can pull, but if you plan to run the RPO spread plays in your playbook it makes more sense to put the guys who can drive someone back at the guard spots. Mike Lonsdorf probably has to play left tackle at this point, but I think Manny Taylor or maybe Omari Cooper could play RT in Nunzio’s scheme with occasional help from TE/FBs.
The jist of it is I think Rutgers should start with their best offensive lineman and put him where he can make the most difference. Then go to the second best and put him in that spot. Then you fill in the rest of the guys with the best remaining option. In a pro set you work outside in, but in the spread I think you go inside-out. I think you have to play Langan so he can become a viable backup down the line, but McLane Carter (if he still cares) gives this team the best chance to win unless Sitkowski rebuys in. And I do still think Cole Snyder has the highest floor as a passer on the team, long-term.
On defense, Chris Ash was probably the reason RU did not give up big plays the last two years. Andy Buh on his own was destroyed by chunk plays (per his reputation) much like Jay Niemann was when he had primary responsibilities last year in this area. When Ash was in charge of the defense, RU seemed to avoid these explosive plays. At defensive line, I don’t think there is any better approach at defensive tackle and despite the deficiencies, Rutgers rebounded from the BC game for two Big Ten games in which an opponent tried time and time again to run up the middle, but never really got it going. I’d like to see more from the ends, but they did get some pressure in obvious passing downs against Maryland, but the secondary broke down at times in key spots. You need to take a conservative approach at safety to limit the big play damage even at the expense of less big hits. At linebacker, keep rotating these guys and it’s better to blitz than have guys isolated in coverage against people they can’t cover. Yes the first TD was infuriating, but the TD to Fleet-Davis was much worse.
We welcome your comments, many of which may revolve around what group was in your opinion, unfairly rated in Games #4-5.
What should be the first order of business this week?
This poll is closed
Shuffle offensive line.
Alter safety rotation.
Figure out how to get the ball to wide receivers.
Strip Blackshear’s "C."
Focus on special teams.