In Rutgers’ season opening 48-21 victory over UMass, it was an up and down night that produced a decent amount of hope and some fear as well in regard to how this team might fare this fall. Trailing by two touchdowns less than six minutes into the game, it was followed by the Scarlet Knights scoring 41 unanswered points to end it. That made it an interesting night. Let’s look at the good, which there was a lot of offensively, the bad, which was present for too much of the game, and the ugly, including being left hungry for more.
- The dynamic duo of Isaih Pacheco and Raheem Blackshear played their roles very well, with Isaih wearing down the opponent’s defense with his rushing and Raheem making plays catching the ball. They combined for 321 yards from scrimmage, five touchdowns, with each scoring from at least 30 yards out. I loved how offensive coordinator John McNulty used them together in certain formations. McNulty showed he worked all offseason on restructuring the Rutgers offense. So far, so good. If they can continue to play well, Rutgers has a chance to be much improved on offense this season.
- Another reason that is possible is due to McLane Carter at quarterback. He made some mistakes with three interceptions, but he also showed a lot of positves for a sustained stretch of action, most notably the second quarter. He threw for 340 yards and had a completion percentage of 67.7%, both very good. Carter demonstrated poise and confidence in how operated, made most smart decisions and most importantly, got his playmakers the football. While Carter has some rust to work off of only player a few games total the past two seasons, he could be the type of quarterback who improves throughout the course of the season.
- I was happiest for Bo Melton after he finally delivered a big game and right when Rutgers needed it most. Six catches and 127 yards, including a 39 yard touchdown reception in traffic was the best game of his Rutgers career. The former 4-star recruit and now junior is trying to fulfill his potential this season. He is certainly off a to good start and looked physically stronger, as well as mentally more confident.
- Big plays were scarce last season, so much so I forgot what they looked like. Tonight, Rutgers produced four plays over 25 yards and two farther than 50 yards. That’s a huge improvement and something this team needs to produce on a regular basis to exceed expectations this season.
- It was refreshing to see Ash send the offense back out on the field with a 10 point lead and less than two minutes left in the first half, the ball at midfield. Ash spoke about the decision in his postgame presser here. He has been super conservative with play calling in his previous three seasons at Rutgers, so he is adjusting. The offense rewarded him, with Carter throwing a 30 yard pass to Blackshear on the drive for the score that essentially ended the game at the half.
- The defense allowed 164 yards in the first quarter, and then just 143 yards the rest of the game. They also forced two turnovers and pitched a shutout the final three quarters. There should be a serious concern about the ability to stop the run, but the defense looked a lot better as the game wore on. How they far next week at Iowa will be something to watch for.
- The offensive line allowed just 1 sack and for the most part provided steady protection for Carter in the passing game. With backs like Pacheco and Blackshear, the line can do more with less, as those players can be successful with just a little bit of space. How they hold up in Big Ten play is a major question this season.
- Time of possession was dominated by Rutgers with over 36 minutes with the ball. That’s the preferred style of play for the Scarlet Knights and while having that spread is not going to always happen against Big Ten opponents, it’s good to see the offense dominate that aspect of the game against any opponent.
- Rutgers was 7 of 14 on third down conversions and 1 of 1 on fourth down. This is a stat to track all season, as our Adam Ross covered how impactful it would be if RU could improve on moving the chains on a more regular basis.
- Perseverance was strong on the home side tonight. I know it’s only UMass, but this team fought their way back in impressive fashion and turned what was once a sure fire disaster into a more good than bad king of game.
- Ending a nation’s worst 11 game losing streak. Let’s not do that again.
- The first quarter was an absolute disaster. Rutgers had the energy sucked out of them between a 12 play, 75 yard opening touchdown drive by UMass and Carter’s pick on the third play of the offense’s night. Critical mistakes resulted in extending two scoring drives for the Minutemen. You’d be lying if you don’t admit to having that sinking feeling that Rutgers was going to get run off the field. The only positive in the opening quarter of the season was when it ended.
- Figuring out Walt Bell’s offense to start was a challenge for his former colleague, new Rutgers defensive coordinator Andy Buh. Bell is a smart offensive mind and was able to confuse RU early on in this game. To their credit, the defense finally figured it out, but they are fortunate that the slow start didn’t cost them the game.
- Defending the run has been a problem in previous years and it was again on Friday night. Allowing two scores from 30+ yards out is a major concern, especially with both runs busting right up the gut. Ten players on defense registered at least 4 tackles apiece, but if this unit can’t limit big plays in the rushing game, it will be tough for them to make much progress this season.
- Two of Carter’s INT’s were bad decisions and throws. The middle pick was a deep ball inside the UMass red zone and was one on one coverage. That happens. The first on the opening drive and the last one in the end zone were certainly decison making issues that need to be resolved. Carter played well overall, but throwing three INT’s in a Big Ten game will spell infinite doom.
- Six penalties for 75 yards, including two on Avery Young, arguably the best player on the team, that extended drives and led to UMass touchdowns were downright offensive.
- Maybe this is a stretch and more “illogical” versus “ugly”, but I thought it was maddening that Blackshear didn’t have a play called for him until the eighth snap of the game. Down two touchdowns, there was already urgency on the second drive and Blackshear didn’t get a play until the fifth one. I think McNulty called a good game and obviously Blackshear got plenty of touches, but I doubt we see that happen again this season.
- Per posts on the Rutgers football fan page on Facebook, at least one concession stand ran out of almost every item by halftime. Tough start for the new food and beverage vendor, but I’m sure they’ll figure out. Hopefully, they get busier and busier as the attendance booms because of much improved play on the field this season. Now give me a $12 dollar craft beer.