The Rutgers offense showed major improvement in the season opening 38-27 victory over Michigan State on Saturday. After scoring just six touchdowns in nine conference games last season, they almost equaled that total against the Spartans with five. Having a defense and special teams that produced seven takeaways certainly helped the offense with such a high scoring output. It led to five touchdowns in the game for Rutgers, just one shy from what the offense produced in total in NINE Big Ten games last season. The offense was able to execute in key spots and played a big role in clinching the victory down the stretch.
Nebraska grad transfer Noah Vedral Got the start and was 18 of 29 for 169 yards, one touchdown each on the ground and through the air, 1 interception and a lost fumble. His command of the offense and steady approach was instrumental in the offense showing major improvement compared to years past.
On the key drive of the game with Rutgers leading 28-20 late third quarter after a huge defensive stop, the offense put together a 14 play, six plus minute drive that saw Vedral complete three of four passes, including a 30 yarder to Aron Cruickshank to get things started. After the drive resulted in a 44 yard field goal by Guy Fava, Vedral threw his best pass of the game on the next possession for a 14 yard touchdown to Shameen Jones in the corner of the end zone. It clinched the victory by giving Rutgers an insurmountable 38-20 lead with under five minutes remaining.
Asked about his debut, Vedral said, “Super special. This place feels like home. I’ve been looking for a home and these guys have welcomed me. Coach Schiano welcomed me. I’m glad we were able to bring home a W.”
In regard to the difference between this team and how Rutgers was last season, Vedral explained “I only really know the team I had the pleasure to play with today. Anyone who plays college football will tell you they don’t have the opportunity to look around too much.” He continued “I knew what we had when I committed to come here. This summer I was super excited about what we had between the players coach Schiano brought in and the guys that have developed to be the top players for us. Super proud of the team. The guys played really well. We had our fair share of mistakes that we will clean up. We’ll get ready for next week soon.”
In regard to Vedral’s understanding of the offense installed by Sean Gleeson, he stated “I made my mistakes, so I’ll have some stuff to clean up and get that worked out this week. I feel comfortable. Coach Gleeson did a really good job getting myself and all of the quarterbacks ready to run this offense. He does a really good job of looking at and building around what he has, but also keeping his identity as a play caller and developing a fast, physical team that we hope to continue to be.”
One strength is Vedral’s running ability, which was showcased with his 24 yard touchdown run in the second quarter. On the play, Vedral explained “We had worked that play this week in practice. Kind of like an RPO type setup play. The defense gave us what we wanted and that was my job. Keep the ball and get what I can.”
Running back Isaih Pacheco didn’t have much daylight to run in the second half but he finished with 61 yards rushing on 19 carries and 2 touchdowns. He was asked about Vedral’s performance and said “I think Noah did a good job and the line did a good job. We have to go in the film room (on Sunday) and get back to work. It’s not an off day tomorrow. We have to consistently keep chopping.”
As for the entire offense, Pacheco stated “I feel like we did a really good job today. We came out and executed. We chopped the moment at any given time. That’s what we need to do every week. We’ve been doing it the past couple of months. Just keep chopping the moment and keep things rolling.”
Pacheco showed off a new facet to his game by leading Rutgers with 5 receptions for a total of 37 yards. On his impact in the passing game, Pacheco commented “A lot of guys worked hard in the offseason and that was something that I did. Catching the ball in the offseason and practice was what I put my mind to.” He continued, “Focus on the offensive line has been good and everyone is getting along. We just keep working. We have to keep picking the energy up even when we are down. Run off the field and keep going.”
As for the receiving core, Bo Melton had four catches for 50 yards and Wisconsin transfer Aron Cruickshank has four grabs for 43 yards. A bright spot in the passing game was Jones, who had three catches for 32 yards overall along and with his beautiful touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Vedral praised the group, stating “I thought they battled and played really well. Those are really good wideouts. Physically gifted, intelligent, they work hard, can’t really ask for a whole lot more.” He continued, “I thought they played really well today. As a quarterback, it makes me happy to have really talented wideouts.”
As for the key to continued success for the offense, Vedral already sounded well versed in the way Greg Schiano wants this team to approach everything.
“Chop the moment,” he said. Vedral added, “Each play, each series, each meeting on the sideline. Lose yourself in the moment, obsess over the moment and do your job. I thought our guys did that today. We were able to come out on top due to coach Schiano’s emphasis on doing your job. What do I have to do to help my team win? I think each player did that to the best of their abilities today.”
Not every game this season will go so well for the offense, but Pacheco discussed the unit’s long term approach. He said, “I think we are prepared if something goes wrong. We move onto the next moment. We just kept working.” Pacheco continued, “If something went wrong, everyone had their chest up, head up, let’s go. Defense is going to do a good job. They are our brothers and we trust them. If something happens, it’s not about pointing a finger. It’s lets keep going.”
There is a long way to on both sides of the ball, but with Schiano leading Rutgers is playing a team with all its parts moving in the same direction.