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Rutgers Football: Art Sitkowski to start at Michigan

The five key takeaways from coaches press conference for Michigan game week.

Boston College v Rutgers
Sitkowski gets to show if he can complete passes against an elite pass defense.
Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

After Saturday’s loss to Boston College, Rutgers Football 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. “I don’t know anything about McLane so right now we’re proceeding with Art.’’

Ash also answered a follow up question, “No, there’s no -- I mean, there’s not even a reason to talk about that because McLane is not even cleared to play, so there is no conversation. Art is the quarterback. Art played a good game last game, and he will be our quarterback this week.” Then there were awkward continued follow ups. Ash didn’t make it explicitly clear initially, but the writers also were asking him to state the obvious, that Art was starting. Not a great way to start a press conference.

Dave’s take: Last week I said, “McLane Carter’s health is critical to RU’s chances this game.” Turns out I was probably wrong. Sitkowski was a lot better than anyone expected he could be outside the quarterback room. At this point, you aren’t going to preserve Art’s redshirt possibility (barring injury) after he just threw for 300 yards, has already played in two games with a third surely this weekend, and Carter isn’t even upgraded to questionable yet.

Ash thought by saying Carter was not cleared, why would you expect him to start after he hasn’t practiced in two weeks? Moving forward, my thoughts on what to do at quarterback will be covered in a later post this week.

2. “No, the five guys that have been are the guys that have been playing since last spring and all training camp.”

Ash responded to a question about whether or not there will be personnel changes on the offensive line. He added “If you look at the number of players that have played, we’ve rotated quite a few guys. If you looked at the first two weeks, I thought our O-line played pretty good.”

Dave’s take: Ok, well we saw Mike Lonsdorf getting a lot more than just rotational snaps in place of Raiqwon O’Neal at left tackle. So to say the plan remained the same seems not to be true. I thought the logic of keeping Lonsdorf in there as a better blocker on screens and equally adequate against defensive ends who couldn’t just bull rush him made sense. O’Neal is needed against Michigan because I don’t think Mike can handle those monsters physically from the Wolverines. So I wasn’t upset at the decision in the game to give other guys more run, but why not just say that?

At the other positions, Mike Maietti had a mixed bag, but you have to keep playing him at center. The protections were called well from what I could tell, guys weren’t just coming free like they were at Iowa without being accounted for. Nick Krimin wasn’t bad, but didn’t really impress. Zach Venesky needs to be more of a mauler in the run game, but was ok in both facets. Kamaal Seymour wasn’t getting enough push and there might have been some plays were Krimin and Venesky were switched to get the two best run blockers on the right side and break through a little bit. Unfortunately, this lack of two above average players in the run game and no one above average in the pass game is what concerned me at the beginning of the season.

More on the offensive line and penalties in the next question.

3A & 3B. “Saturday we had a negative yardage play and we had a penalty all in the opening drive. You just can’t do those ...” - Chris Ash.

“If we just let the guy go and didn’t take the penalty - we would have had a lot more points.” - John McNulty

McNulty was disappointed that RU could not block BC for a variety of reasons whether it be alignment, slants, etc. Rutgers was just “too passive” up front whereas BC came out blazing. McNulty didn’t throw the offensive line under the bus entirely, but mentioned several times that BC was stopping the run with just six players. Ash and McNulty talked briefly about the penalties.

Dave’s take: Against Kansas, BC couldn’t stop the run with eight guys, so the fact that they did it with six was extremely impressive in a week’s time. Much of that is on the Eagles’ coaching staff, but a lot rests with the Rutgers coaches who are teaching these offensive linemen. This was the first bump in the road for Coach Pete Rossomando. It’s not really on the running backs who weren’t missing holes, there just weren’t any.

I failed to talk about penalties in the Monday Morning Quarterback, but that compounded the existing blocking problems. Rutgers had at least two holding calls on screens (an extension of the run game) and the times linemen were out in front correctly, they missed blocks. One of the penalties (i think holding but may have been illegal man downfield) was an absolute dagger because it called back a huge gain for I think Pacheco. Then on a play where Rutgers was not flagged but had just blocked a for a screen the play before, two linemen missed the linebacker who ended up making a touchdown saving tackle. So the coaching staff needs to teach better blocking along with better timing to reduce yellow flags and fast.

4. “Some of the catches for Aaron and Raheem were as receivers.” - John McNulty

The rather astute question came from a young reporter who asked why the receivers only mustered 68 receiving yards when Rutgers passed for more than 300. What did McNulty attribute that to? McNulty talked himself through the question at first but then provided the simple fact that Aaron Young and Raheem Blackshear lined up quite often as wide receivers rather than in the backfield. McNulty continued that “they took some of those numbers away” because of his earlier point that BC was stopping the run with only six men.

Dave’s take: It was an excellent question and I was fine with McNulty’s answer. We all want the best playmakers on the field and got as much as we possibly could of Blackshear, Isaih Pacheco, Aaron Young, Daevon Robinson, and Bo Melton. Those deep shots to Robinson and Isaiah Washington were double covered and since Rutgers was moving the ball without having to chuck it downfield, continuing to send them downfield to occupy multiple defenders was helping intermediate routes break open which Art was hitting.

On the flip side, 68 yards is way more than we got out of the entire passing attack at Iowa, so sometimes take what you can get. The plus side and I can’t believe I am saying this after what we saw the last few years is that lack of separation wasn’t as much of a problem because Art was hitting guys coming out of their breaks and threw Washington and Robinson each open at least once with solid outside the numbers throws. This is much easier to do with receivers that have a larger catch radius. I think Eddie Lewis can get open, but right now the staff prefers Blackshear and Aaron Young at slot receiver and no reason to replace them since they are getting the job done with less drops.

5. “I’m happy with their performance the last three games.” - Andy Buh

The question was about how Buh felt about the play of his defensive line. “We were stopping the run, but getting into third and medium, third and short situations.” After that Buh talked about BC going to the short passing game and how RU didn’t have any opportunities to dig in.

Dave’s take: Hmmm. Buh felt the way I did after watching the game the first time. So that leads to a question I was trying to answer during my re-watch with two possible outcomes and more questions either way. If the defensive line played really well, does that mean the coaches are the problem for not calling enough slants, stunts, scheming people free, etc. and as a result failing to make plays? So A. If the coaches are the problem, what will they do differently? Or B. Are they admitting the defensive line just will never be able to shed blocks or bull rush effectively and this is the best we can get from this group? That would be an issue in recruiting and development.

My overall assessment of the defensive line is similar to that of the offensive line, I think they both took a step back against BC after a decent performance against Iowa. The lack of pass rush is concerning because you saw how on the other side BC played run first and was still able to generate a semblance of a pass rush. More importantly, too many guys got washed down when their job against the run is to fight pressure. If your team is too small, you need to use creative run blitzes, slants, stunts, etc which can occasionally catch you out of position but might also net you a negative play. Rutgers played it too straight up and you know that won’t work against anyone else on the schedule in all likelihood. I generally like Buh as a human being, but this does make me wonder. How many plays did the RU line disrupt BC? Any?

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: