After winning just three games overall the past two seasons and having lost 21 straight in Big Ten play, there are obviously many areas that Rutgers football needs to improve in this season to have more success. Establishing an identity on both sides of the ball is an area that can lead to much needed progress this season, even if it doesn’t translate to more wins. The return of Greg Schiano should give fans hope that the aggressive mentality on defense will be a prominent change this season and beyond.
Defensively, the Scarlet Knights have struggled to force turnovers in recent seasons. They’ve only averaged 1 takeaway per game in the last 25 contests dating back to the 2017 season finale against Michigan State. Last season, the Rutgers defense only produced 10 turnovers in 12 games, with just 7 in 9 conference game. A lack of pass rush and putting pressure on the opposing quarterback was certainly an issue, as well as a lack of aggression in pass coverage.
While limiting opponents to big plays is a key to success on the defensive end, making big plays on their own and giving the offense good starting field position is crucial as well.
In head coach Greg Schiano’s first tenure at Rutgers, the defense played fast and with a purpose, making takeaways a priority. It’s clear that philosophy is being ingrained with the defense once again. Expect the Scarlet Knights will be far more aggressive on the defensive side this season.
When asked about the change in mentality this season under Schiano and defensive coordinator Robb Smith, junior cornerback Avery Young said, “The biggest difference is we are just getting our hands on more balls. We are going to have a lot of takeaways, you can expect that from our defense. We are going to fly around and get to the ball.”
Senior linebacker and last season’s leading tackler, Tyshon Fogg, echoed that sentiment regarding the biggest change, stating, “The mentality of getting to the ball. Everyone is swarming to the ball. Eleven guys to the ball all the time. That’s the biggest thing.” He continued, “We are trying to force takeaways. Making plays and playing free. It isn’t as much about schematics, but more the mindset of the defense. All the guys want to get 11 hats to the ball and play consistent through the game. That’s the biggest change.”
After watching the Rutgers defense play passively at times over the previous two seasons, this is a welcomed development. Schiano and Smith are working to reestablish a defensive identity that was not only successful previously for the program, but was also something Rutgers fans enjoyed watching. It’s clear the defense will look to be the aggressor against opponents this season and forcing turnovers will be a priority.
While the offense needs to be more productive and will look to generate more points with a new look spread offense, getting opportunities to start a drive on a short field would certainly help their cause. After the past few seasons of the defense getting worn down by the lack of offensive production and sustainable drives, this unit will take the fight to opponents this season. With Schiano on the sidelines, that’s the type of football Rutgers fans will recognize from the past and appreciate even more this go around.