Spring practice concludes for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team this weekend with the spring game on April 13.
This series reviewed the state of each positional group during the “off-season” and has just two groups left. We continue with the most maligned group over the past four years, the quarterbacks.
Position coach: John McNulty
Key players lost: Giovanni Rescigno, Rob Nittolo, Johnathan Lewis (to TE)
Key players returning: Artur Sitkowski (So.), Austin Albericci (RFr.)
Newcomers: Cole Snyder (Fr. early enrollee), Johnny Langan (RFr. transfer from BC), Cooper Heisey (Fr. early enrollee), one freshman in summer
What they did well in 2018: Two-minute drill (at times).
I waffled for a while on whether it was more appropriate to select “nothing” as the most correct answer here. The team as a whole finished dead last in the FBS with 13.5 points per game, and no one is more responsible for that figure than the most important position on the field: quarterback. That said, Rutgers did move the ball heading into half and at times in second half situations where they were in the hurry up.
Rutgers struggled to get a first down on most drives and went three and out. When they were able to convert at least one and play with a little pace, there were occasional signs of life. This likely stems from a number of factors. 1. The offensive line protected well enough when it was not an obvious passing situation, but oddly when they provided too much time, the quarterbacks never capitalized. In two minute drill situations the required quick decisions made the ball come out faster with some hope of success (i.e. less time to think helped). 2. Defenses didn’t have time to play press man or a lot of other crazy coverages. So against a finite set of defenses, especially when wideouts weren’t being jammed to hinder the timing, there were glimpses. 3. The entire offense seemed to play with more purpose in these situations. I don’t think Drew Mehringer-ball would have been the answer, though you can see the advantages to it.
So all of this points to improved confidence and timing being critical to seeing any growth at all from the QBs and the RU offense.
Needs Improvement: Everything. #1: Completing passes.
For the third consecutive season, the feeling when Rutgers completed even the most basic pass for positive yardage was a lot like biting into a “fun size” candy bar. The first bite tastes surprisingly even better than you expected, but you get maybe one more chomp and then it’s immediately back to life without candy. The two quarterbacks who saw game action completed under 49% of their passes for the entire season with 5 TDs and 21 INTs, so it was more likely a pass would go incomplete than be caught by a Scarlet Knight.
The low point came against Maryland (and current defensive coordinator Andy Buh) when Art Sitkowski and Giovanni Rescigno combined to complete just 2 of 17 passes with FIVE interceptions. The two completions went for just eight yards. That was far from the only low point of the season, but even those who didn’t watch the games get the picture. Sure receivers need to get open, not drop the ball, and everyone needs to block better, but a good quarterback can reduce the impact of all these other deficiencies with pocket presence, accuracy, and playmaking.
The quarterbacks need dramatic improvement in seemingly every area and completing the most basic balls is the first step toward growth in virtually all of them. If they can build some rapport with the receivers and take pressure off the offensive line and running backs, the games should become watchable again. Most importantly if RU is trailing, they can string some passes together to give the defense some rest, eat the clock, and maybe get a few points.
Changes expected in 2019
The team changes offensive coordinators. For the first time in a decade, Rutgers enters a season with the same offensive coordinator as the previous year. John McNulty has five quarterbacks in spring camp which is not a lot when two of them are walk-ons, but remember how bad things were in Spring 2017? In that spring game, Giovanni Rescigno and walk-on Troy Anthony were the only healthy quarterbacks on the roster.
Rescigno and Rob Nittolo have graduated, while Johnathan Lewis has permanently moved to tight end. This does reduce the depth in the quarterback room, but could help orient the team in the same direction. From the outside, it seemed like there was not a consensus among the players last season about who should be the starting quarterback. This put Sitkowski in a tough spot as a true freshman when a team captain and two-year starter was his backup. If Art does turn the corner, a lot may be based on a pure leadership upgrade.
Johnny Langan is an intriguing transfer from Boston College who starred at Bergen Catholic in North Jersey. Langan’s eligibility is still undecided and it is evident the Eagles’ program was asking him to play another position. Johnny surely comes as a playmaker and winner, but could fall into the same circumstances as Giovanni Rescigno where he simply doesn’t throw the ball well enough to be effective against mid-tier Big Ten opponents. The intangibles and toughness are there at minimum.
True freshman Cole Snyder enrolled early and doesn’t wow you getting off the bus. From everything we heard he does throw a good ball and seems to rally his teammates no matter what he’s doing, so he could be the backup quickly and even push for a starting job soon. Commit Zamar Wise is a tremendous runner and has some top end throwing skills, but is not as refined as Snyder in the pocket. Rutgers has been unable to thrive with a dual-threat QB dating back to Ray Lucas, but Wise has as easy a path as any to crack the lineup, likely in sub packages only considering he was not on the team this spring.
Way too early predictions
Eldest statesman Art Sitkowski starts the season opener. At some point in the early season as the pass protection is still figuring itself out, Art gets shaken up. Though Art is very tough and not seriously injured, his inconsistent play allows the coaching staff an opportunity to give recently declared eligible transfer Johnny Langan some reps.
Langan does his best to rally the troops a la Gio Rescigno, but eventually defenses recognize the similar flaws in his throwing at this stage. After the team shifts to a creative spread, perimeter rushing attack, Langan himself gets dinged up from running so many quarterback option keepers and scrambles. Sitkowski is pressed back into action and performs his best to date after having more time to grow as just a true sophomore.
True freshman Cole Snyder gets a cameo in the season’s final four games with no risk of burning a redshirt and puts on a young Doug Flutie like performance. Like this. The flashes of excellent touch on his throws without being affected too much by a lack of height set up another controversy heading into the 2020 offseason.
Don’t put too much stock either way in Saturday’s performances like some of us were guilty of last year. Let’s hope I’m wrong and everyone exceeds expectations in the fall.
Previous positional reviews: