Hindsight is 20/20, so let’s dive in.
Expectations coming into the UMass game
- We would see at least two Rutgers quarterbacks get significant snaps with an emphasis on the intermediate passing game. (Result: No.)
- Rutgers’s offensive line would be able to get significant push against the defensive front of the Minutemen. (Result: Yes.)
- UMass would have some success going four wide, forcing the Knights to play nickel and even dime coverage reducing the impact of Rutgers’s deep linebacker corps while exposing the undersized Scarlet defensive line in the run game. (Result: Yes)
- For UMass to have a chance they needed to win the turnover battle and gain momentum from those sudden changes. (Result: Yes)
Initial reactions during the game
- Rutgers will not be good in short yardage offensively this year, an area of relative strength dating back to early 2014, you could argue 2012. They don’t have the line to get a good enough push or the never ending supply of competent tight ends to plug in. Or a back like Josh Hicks, Jon Hilliman, Gus Edwards, etc. etc. etc. (Film verdict: Not so fast).
- Scarlet Defense was completely disheveled in the first quarter then got it together. (Film verdict: Not “completely”)
- Special teams was a mixed bag. (Film verdict: Absolutely correct.)
- McLane Carter’s interceptions were disappointing, but not nearly as bad as bad as most of what we saw from Rutgers QBs in 2018. (Film Verdict: Jury still out).
Sunday-Monday-Tuesday morning quarterback
- About the breakdowns in the secondary, Andy Buh took the blame for two of the four big plays UMass had, although good tackling and/or instincts could have saved those plays to basic first downs rather than explosive plays. This is something Scarlet Knight fans have been lucky to avoid for the most part in recent years with so much experience at the safety position. I feel confident that two or three guys will make those plays and become the starters by mid-season.
- Upon further inspection, the Rutgers coverage plan with their linebackers needs some serious analysis from the coaching staff. I like Tyreek Maddox-Williams, but he looked bigger than last year and a guy UMass tried to isolate. This is the reason Rutgers in the past went to someone like Ross Douglas in pass coverage at the SAM position. Rutgers has Malik Dixon at safety right now, but may revert to last year’s plan to use him as a SAM linebacker in passing situations. Otherwise we may see some of the true freshmen or Deion Jennings who boast better coverage skills than the other LBs.
- Julius Turner was a little rusty after missing spring and being limited in training camp. He will be heavily needed to disrupt the Iowa run game up the gut. I don’t think anyone else on the RU defense has the quickness to disrupt inside runs that Julius does when he is at his best.
- Rutgers offensive line did better than everyone made them out to be, but didn’t face an elite player like either of Iowa’s defensive ends. This will be a great test.
- Was Bo Melton just in need of a competent offense around him to break out? Yes/no. Yes because you could see at times he was matched up one on one and just needed a decently thrown ball to make a play. No because he was obviously stronger in his lower body and arms than a year ago to win those contested plays after defeating an initial jam.
Rutgers threw for over 300 yards for the first time since 2015. (No I don’t consider Isaih Pacheco’s 4 TDs a surprise).
Key takeaways from Iowa’s win over Miami (OH)
- Iowa’s offensive line was manhandling the RedHawks before injuries hit. The offensive line was getting two or three yard push most of the time. I thought an elite running back could have piled on even more yardage. I like Sargent, the Iowa RB, but he left some yards on the field.
- Nate Stanley doesn't always hit his receiver in stride in the hands, but his timing is amazing on when to throw the ball. It just goes to show that timing is more important than being able to hit a dime from 50 yards away.
- Iowa’s receivers are solid, but did not dominate the defensive backs they faced. Rutgers needs to battle them hard physically to disrupt the timing routes.
- Iowa did not get as much pressure with a four man rush as people are making them out to have accomplished. With such elite talent against a group of five opponent, I would have thought the RedHawk quarterback would be running for his life. He wasn't. Expect more ferocity after this week’s preparation on behalf of the Hawkeyes.
- Iowa’s man to man coverage was average at best in this game. It was unclear if that was due to the team being way more comfortable playing zone in their scheme or they have to play zone because they no longer have a guy like Desmond King. The linebackers rolled in coverage quite well from my vantage point, yet another example of how fundamentally sound Iowa is.
Remember that time Rutgers beat Michigan State then lost to New Hampshire? That time Michigan lost to Appalachian State then rebounded to go 9-3 on the year? Or that time Washington State lost to an FCS opponent then stole a victory over Rutgers in the closing seconds? Or that time Iowa lost to North Dakota State (who turned out to be pretty dang good) then beat Rutgers 14-7? Sadly, we all do even if it was for Janarion Grant in two of them.
Of course, it’s just one game. Last year Rutgers seemed to have the foundation in place during the opener versus Texas State if they could get better each week afterward. They didn’t and hadn't won a game since.
The talent gap with next week's opponent Iowa will not nearly be as significant as the games against Big Ten East powers. The difference is that Iowa has their SHI- “stadium” together better than most teams in the country each year and that competence/continuity results in a sum greater than its parts.
Nothing is wilder than week 2 in college football because those initial week 1 reactions either go nuclear or are quickly forgotten. So here’s to it!