While there have been many issues for Rutgers football over the previous five seasons that produced just 13 wins, a glaring one was at quarterback. A rotating door of offensive coordinators certainly hasn’t helped and with Greg Schiano back, hiring Sean Gleeson was a major first step towards reshaping the offense. Of course, finding the right quarterback to lead it was also key.
Enter Noah Vedral, who made his official entrance into Rutgers fans hearts on Saturday by leading the offense to just one less touchdown then they scored all of last season in Big Ten play. The defensive effort that led to seven takeaways certainly helped, but it was obvious that the spread offense led by Vedral was improved over what the program has had the last several years. He completed 18 of 29 passes for 169 yards, had one touchdown each on the ground and through the air, as well as an interception and a lost fumble. While there were some mistakes, his command of the offense and steady approach were evident.
His reaction to the win was workmanlike, stating “You want to get that win and get to sleep because you know you have another week coming. That’s a hint to the type of guy I am.”
While Rutgers has had several quarterbacks transfer in and start games the past few years, none came with Big Ten experience. Vedral played quarterback in five games last season for Nebraska, including two starts. While he battled through injuries most of the season, he threw for 418 yards and ran for 106 yards. With junior Adrian Martinez seemingly entrenched as the starter there, Vedral made the decision to leave and enter the transfer portal last winter.
Earlier this week on a call Vedral, who was also a walk-on for the Nebraska basketball team last season, made it clear why he chose Rutgers. He explained, “I really believe in coach Schiano. He was one of the first people to call me when my name entered the portal. A little bit of shell shock, because I knew the name, what he had been to this program and at other stops in his career in the pros and at Ohio State.”
Vedral continued, “I felt a special connection with coach Schiano when it started and it continued through the process, which took about two weeks before making a decision. I wanted to take my time, but not take too much time. It was the opportunity (here) and the belief he had. What he had told me about the talent in the room, about the guys on the team, the offensive skill, the defense they were going to have. It was appealing for a quarterback to know there was going to be a support system around me and have a really talented team to compete with. A lot of it was that I believed in coach Schiano’s vision and the plan he had laid out for us to get there.”
It was a leap of faith from Vedral, who chose Rutgers despite never even having been to the garden state before. On his recruitment, he stated that “it was all virtual. I had never been to the northeast. The closest I had ever been to New Jersey was Boston.” He continued, “I didn’t really know a lot about Rutgers. The virtual visit gave me a good inkling on what the campus looked like, the facilities, but I had never been here so it was all new. I still don’t feel like I know the Rutgers campus and area, campus life as well as it would be in a non-Covid era. I’m excited once we get through Covid I’ll get a chance to see Rutgers in its full potential.”
As for what Vedral learned about his experience at Nebraska, he said “It was a good learning experience there. There are no off days. I think coach Schiano says it really well here, ‘Leaders don’t get off days.’ You can’t come out to practice and have a bad day. In a quarterback competition, its almost emphasized. You have to bring it every single day. Having been through it once before I think there was some stuff that I had learned that helped. Just like every position, no position is safe. Mine is never safe. You are constantly competing, whether it is for Indiana but also with the guys behind you. That’s how you continue to excel and to get better every single week.”
Rutgers has a huge opportunity this weekend in the home opener against no. 17 Indiana. It’s worth noting that last season, Vedral had his best game in a Nebraska uniform against the Hoosiers. Despite a 38-31 loss, he completed 14 of 16 passes for a career high 201 yards, rushed seven times for 21 yards for two rushing touchdowns and caught a 22 yard pass while playing through an injury and missing several series’ in the game.
On the matchup this week, Vedral said, “They are a talented team. Obviously they’re win last week showed that. They are ranked this week. We take our approach to them very seriously as with every team. We are going to chop every day in practice. Watch the tape. Get ready. Look at what they did this year. Look at what they did last year and get as much information as we can.”
On what Vedral and the offense can learn from last week’s performance against Michigan State, he explained “As an offense we had our hiccups. As a quarterback I had mine. Always good to get the rust off and see those things on tape. There are some mistakes that we made that we can’t make playing against a team like Indiana. Take whatever you learned from that tape and apply it to practice and be able to use it on Saturday. Nothing in particular, but those hiccups that we identified as an offense and me personally, we are going to get those cleaned up and get ready to go for Saturday.”
Vedral has worked hard to develop a rapport with the receivers and credited their hard work as a reason their relationship has grown in such a short time. “We have a talented wideout group top to bottom. Not any one guy needs to be singled out. We do a lot of work after practice. Coach Underwood has them getting 30 to 40 catches every day after practice.”
He continued “I think that attention to detail (helps). I try and stay to throw it to them and maybe get a couple routes that we missed that day. Routes that we know are going to be a big part of the game plan. Emphasize those and make sure those are completed multiple times a day. All that stuff adds up. We did a lot of it in training camp. I think those guys do a really good job of staying afterward and getting extra work. I’m with them every day and get that connection going after practice.”
As for Rutgers having the opportunity to end the longest drought of any power five conference team in beating a ranked opponent, Vedral said the approach is simple.
“We are going to chop every moment, every opponent. Nameless, faceless. Look at the tape. Look at the defense. Make our plan. We are going to do our best at executing our plan. Regardless of if the opponent is ranked or unranked. It is a good opportunity. We are not blind to that fact. We are really going to zero in on our jobs in the moment and the opportunity each play has for us. Try not to get caught up in the excitement and hype that comes with playing a ranked team. Doing your job, chopping your job. Doing the best you can.”
It’s admirable the job that Vedral has done already considering he has come from thousands of miles away from home during a global pandemic. He is close to his family and said “I’m a small circle guy. I’ve got a group of close friends, my family.”
He explained the contact he had with them after Saturday’s victory. “Back home I had a lot of texts. I had to make a lot of calls to grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles. Talked to my mom and dad. They drove 10 hours after my little brothers game to be there in East Lansing. I definitely called them on the ride home because we weren’t really able to hang out after the game due to Covid. It was nice to hear from some people that I don’t always hear from.”
Although it was just one game, Vedral is off to an inspiring start at Rutgers and could be the long term answer at quarterback for several seasons. While fans are still getting to know him, Vedral has made a good first impression. He made it clear after Saturday’s game that Rutgers was the right choice for him stating, “This place feels like home.” After the recent history at the quarterback position, it is clear that Rutgers is lucky to have him.