Rutgers was on a bye in Week 3 and held the Week 4, Game 3 press conference Monday to preview this Saturday’s matchup with Boston College.
Here’s my five biggest takeaways from listening to the press conference. As per past disclaimers, I am acknowledging in advance that because coaches try to avoid bulletin board or scouting material for opponents, much of the media commentary is likely excessive assessment. I may be overanalyzing or taking a leap in the conclusions per just a few small phrases from the Coach. Watch the full Chris Ash in the embedded video below.
1. “McLane Carter is still in the concussion protocol.’’
Ash addressed a question that there is a chance McLane will be able to practice tomorrow, though he has not yet returned to practice and is day to day. The team’s procedure is any player in concussion protocol needs to be symptom free for five days prior to a game. He said that Carter has been mostly symptom-free already so even if he does not practice Tuesday, he may be ok for Saturday. That said, the team was not ready to commit either way, though if Carter can’t go or hasn’t gotten enough reps, Art Sitkowski would get the start.
Dave’s take: McLane Carter’s health is critical to RU’s chances this game. Boston College leads the ACC with six interceptions and even though McLane Carter has thrown four in just six quarters of football in an RU uniform, I have more confidence in him than Art Sitkowski against an opportunistic defense like the Eagles. I understand though that if Carter cannot practice enough prior to Saturday, the team may be left with no choice but start Art and maybe go with a Johnny Langan package, who will surely be motivated to show his old mates why he can be a quarterback.
What I saw from the teams that stayed competitive this past weekend was fearlessness and confidence so Carter’s swagger is also quite important for my money. Sitkowski is still trying to just do the right thing on the field from what we saw against Iowa, not fully comfortable dropping back and firing. More on this later in the week, but the way to beat Boston College is to pull their linebackers in every possible direction horizontally and vertically. Jet sweeps, running back wheel routes, seam routes between the LB and safeties. Those seam routes are the riskiest passes in football because the ball needs to be placed in the middle of danger. When BC is going well, they trick you into making those throws into traffic and occasionally pick them off.
2. “The inside safety was a little over-aggressive on the corner route but really just being a little over-aggressive in both situations.”
The question was about what Ash thought the issues were at Iowa with the defensive secondary surrendering explosive plays. Ash began by identifying Avery Young being victimized by a double move, one of the few players Ash mentioned by name. Ash then also mentioned the scissors route Christian Izien jumped, too.
Dave’s take: I think it’s unfair to blame Avery Young completely on that touchdown. Yes he was beaten by a double move, but the coverage to me looked like the safety on his side should have had the deep route and Avery taken the intermediate out. That being said, when Young did not get acknowledgement from the safety, it is his job to avoid getting beat deep and be willing to accept a short completion.
So even though I prefer players making mistakes by being too aggressive, this seemed more like a miscommunication than an aggressive mistake. It should be expected with so many new safeties (like Izien) in the mix after such stability the last few years. Even when Jawuan Harris was thrust into action, he had experienced players around him to ensure the assignments were known. Rutgers safeties were more successful erring on the side of aggressiveness against Iowa than they were playing too hesitant against UMass.
On the flip side, this is the type of defensive challenge Rutgers needs to exploit in their opponents with such a well schemed route concept.
3. “But they should always at the end of the game be two of our leading guys in terms of touches offensively.”
Ash answered a very long question that had a simple premise, is he ok with the amount of touches Isaih Pacheco and Raheem Blackshear have gotten thus far this season. Ash pointed out that both his running backs did not come up with targets that would have added to their total and the number of plays the offense ran was so low, no one was piling up the touches.
Dave’s take: Have to agree with Ash here actually. At times I think the playcalling has been suspect the last 14 games under John McNulty, but even with a few more runs RU needed to hit something in the pass game to have beaten Iowa. Basically RU targeted or handed the ball to Pacheco, Blackshear, or Melton on what seemed like 75% of the plays against the Hawkeyes. You can’t get much higher than that, unless you have a Heisman candidate.
Against BC, we should see more of the same in terms of breakdown of targets/touches, but I want to see Blackshear or Melton in more jet sweeps. I much prefer those to some really short screen passes, though a properly designed traditional screen to a running back in a non-traditional down and distance is ok. Boston College’s defensive approach is similar to Iowa’s but they don’t have the same talent at defensive end, so hopefully RU learned something from the tape.
4. “Is [Daevon] a tight end? Is he a receiver?” “He has to have a handle on a lot of things.” - John McNulty
Ash previously indicated during his answers that Graduate transfer Tight End Kyle Penniston has already been ruled out for the game against Boston College. So the follow up questions to offensive coordinator John McNulty included several talking points regarding the tight end position. McNulty is pleased with Matt Alaimo, but also mentioned how several other players have had to wear multiple hats including Brandon Myers, Raheem Blackshear, and Daevon Robinson.
Dave’s take: I understand Robinson has to play some tight end or line up in that spot out of necessity, but if Robinson is really the team’s second best wide receiver we need to sacrifice at tight end. I don’t care if you use a 6th offensive lineman at tight end if that’s what it takes to get the ball to wide receivers who can make plays. Normally I clamor for niche roles for as many players as possible, though RU is limited on their TEs/FBs. If Robinson is it, shrink the playbook and try plays that do work, even though McNulty also said the bread and butter plays failed at Kinnick last week.
It will be nice to have Kyle Penniston back, but lining up in phone booths won’t win any games for Rutgers this year. It didn’t even work against UMass until very late when the Minutemen were both gassed and had basically every defensive starter injured at some point in the contest. Kansas went “full spread” against BC as one of our commenters suggested RU do against Iowa, simply abandon anything that didn’t stretch the defense horizontally. It worked for the Jayhawks and BC will be more mentally prepared for the attack, but do they have the personnel to adjust?
5. “Really good. We are really happy.” - Andy Buh
The question to defensive coordinator Andy Buh was how the coaching staff has felt Malik Dixon has performed at Safety so far this year. Buh continued, “we are really happy with his production.” The follow up was whether the staff is considering moving Dixon closer to the line of scrimmage to help generate a little more pass rush and Buh responded with a strong, concise, “no.” Note this followed Ash’s earlier comments about aggressive DB play.
Dave’s take: It was good to see Buh speak with such conviction that the game plan will not change. Confidence and conviction does matter, you could see it on the sidelines in a lot of other game this past weekend. That said, if Boston College can expose Rutgers linebackers in coverage with their tight ends, RU needs to reconsider and try to think outside the box figuratively (inside literally). I’m not saying Dixon is Khaseem Greene, but we saw what a converted safety could do at LB if you have other reliable linebackers on the field.
I won’t go back on my statement that one of the things that really needs to break right for Rutgers to improve this year is Malik Dixon being a good player. That said, I think there will be situations that RU could benefit from more speed at one of the linebacker spots. I like Olakunle Fatukasi and Tyreek Maddox-Williams against the run, but if Tyshon Fogg and Drew Singleton are going to make a ton of tackles any time a man is in their area, you may have some flexibility at LB. Jarrett Paul has been better than I expected and though he, Tim Barrow, and Christian Izien have made some mistakes, Rutgers could probably roll with those three guys at safety for the time being and one of the freshmen will hopefully be ready for the two-deep by midseason.
Let us know your thoughts on these takeaways and find links to videos of each segment of the press conference below.
Head Coach Chris Ash:
Offensive Coordinator John McNulty:
Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh: