This football season, I get to humor the Rutgers fan base (and myself personally) with a weekly film analysis reboot after an extended hiatus. I reviewed the quarterbacks in the first game against Michigan State and Saturday against against Indiana, they did not get the job done enough to win. The biggest topic of contention was whether or not the offensive line was the number one culprit or not. So I spent some time looking at how the quarterbacks and offensive line worked together on Saturday.
- This game could have been noncompetitive if not for the defense playing well against the run for most of the first half.
- The middle two quarters looked a lot like the Rutgers offense from 2018 and 2019 with all the three and outs coupled with turnovers.
- Receivers were getting open against zone coverage, but they were not being found.
- The offensive line did not have a great game, though they were good enough both in run and pass protection if the rest of the offense could get their jobs done. Reggie Sutton was not nearly as effective as his offensive MVP performance in the first game.
- Rutgers could not capitalize with their scheme as much as Indiana did, reviewed Saturday.
Below are some thoughts on the re-watch.
Rutgers starting quarterback Noah Vedral showed good command of the offense in the first game, but really struggled reading pressures against Indiana. On the first two Rutgers drives, Vedral made a few plays with his legs, but his accuracy was suspect. For example he had an incompletion on a checkdown to Isaih Pacheco then completed a pass to Bo Melton, but not in stride and the defense was able to close down quickly.
The first play that could establish major momentum for either side came on the 3rd Rutgers possession, with the game still scoreless. Rutgers faced a 4th and 5 from the Indiana 38 yard line. In the Chris Ash era, fans felt like this would be a surrender punt, but Head Coach Greg Schiano elected to go for it which is the right call most of the time. It’s a very simple read as Rutgers did what they had success with in the season opener against Michigan State, a max protection (two extra blockers) with only three receivers out on the route. The max protection works on the bottom of your screen because the two defenders plus a safety behind them (off-screen) are just in no man’s land covering air / waiting for the back (#4 Aaron Young) or tight end Jovani Haskins to release late as an extra check down option.
Rutgers has seven players blocking five and though I am not a fan of throwing the ball short of the line to gain, this is the best opportunity do so with Aron Cruickshank (Jersey #2) in space. He would still have to break a tackle but that’s life.
The main topic of contention which will be true all day is how much blame should be assigned to the offensive line versus Vedral. On most of the plays we will review, I feel the line did an adequate (though not great job) at giving the skill position players a chance to make a play. In this example the line holds against the initial rush but protection starts to break down when the initial quarterback progression lasts longer than planned. From the alignment, it appears the play is designed to allow rollout to the left if the ball does not come out right away, as left tackle Raiqwon O’Neal is shoving his man inside and should create enough traffic to wash down anyone who get s free in the middle. Vedral should have rolled out to the left and the resulting scramble drill would have turned into schoolyard football which Rutgers would have had a chance to use wide receiver leverage and make a play OR if all receivers ran downfield then block to clear a lane for Vedral to run for the required yardage, but this did not happen.
If the quarterback has a laser beam of an arm, he could have stared down Cruickshank to try and get the outside DB to commit, then pivot and fire one to Isaiah Washington who is just at the line to gain if not a tad short. Vedral doesn’t have a rocket launcher attached to his shoulder and the ball is nearly intercepted. Vedral throws into the area where three defenders and two receivers are bunched up.
Despite the incompletion, Rutgers is given extra life when an Indiana defender hit Vedral in the head while he was engaged with an offensive lineman. Had this call gone against the Rutgers defense I would have been livid, but the fact is that Vedral did take a shot to the head and in football these days that is an automatic penalty.
Vedral did a great job showing resiliency and connected on a deep touchdown on the very next play. This is an example where Rutgers offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson is a mastermind based on his past history at using tendencies against the opponent. It also serves as an illustration that you can’t baby your quarterback even after he makes a bad play because by doing so, you reduce the options available in your playbook too much.
Indiana shows only three down linemen, but most interestingly their two safeties are both playing extremely deep, which is meant to protect against the deep pass and dare the other team to run the ball with 11 players going against 9 near the line of scrimmage. For a lot of college offenses, this is an automatic audible at the line to change the play to a run to the left side because Rutgers has a numbers advantage with Tight End Jovani Haskins having moved in motion from the right to left of Vedral in the pistol formation.
So Indiana’s defense is trying to dictate the Rutgers offense to run to a specific area, the offense’s left or secondarily a run to the offense’s right. Gleeson knows this and his players have been coached up to counter-attack it, which also builds incredible confidence in Rutgers players, knowing they have a smart coaches they can believe in.
When tight end Jovani Haskins motions to the left, Vedral reads the slot cornerback (top green circle) and sees he has adjusted his stance and starts to creep in. This is a tell that the top deep safety is going to be one on one with slot receiver Cruickshank. Then the second read for Vedral is the linebacker on the bottom (bottom green circle) to see if he is going to be blitzing. From his stance alone, it looks like he is ready to react to the run and most likely has outside contain if Rutgers runs to his side, though he is expecting Rutgers should run to the space opposite side where they have the numbers advantage. He does appear to be blitzing.
Then at the snap, Rutgers runs a traditional pro-style, play-action fake and you can see the green arrows indicating the run assignments that Indiana’s players have. This draws seven players into the box reducing the numbers advantage. Haskins moves back across the formation to kick out the linebacker at the bottom and Pacheco after the fake steps up to pick up either the corner or weak side linebacker if he crashes down / delayed blitzes.
The free safety is now with the thick green arrow responsible for Cruickshank in an extremely difficult assignment because Cruickshank has nine yards of space for a head start (red circle above). So if Rutgers can get enough time, Bo Melton (circled in cyan) should have enough time to run all the way across the field and shake his defender who had pretty good coverage initially. As mentioned on each of the last two broadcasts, long crossing routes eventually become open, virtually always.
Then from the screenshot below, Vedral stares at Cruickshank who if he makes a quick move could get open, but what ends up happening is Cruickshank goes down the middle drawing both safeties.
This other angle below shows how Cruickshank (red square) draws double coverage from both safeties and is not an option. Then circled in yellow, Isaiah Washington has a step on his defender, so a ball thrown to the “U” in the end zone might work if perfectly thrown. Vedral does not have a strong arm though as evidenced by the previous play, so he makes an easier throw to Bo Melton (cyan circle) running into the vacated space who now has created some separation from the defender. Of note is that with the sun, it was probably easier to see Melton than Washington in the shadow.
Well designed, well executed touchdown that took advantage of RU’s personnel and used Indiana’s expectations against them. Watch the full highlight in the tweet below:
Noah ➡️ Bo = @RFootball strikes first vs. No. 17 Indiana. pic.twitter.com/sOPiNETPhT— Rutgers On BTN (@RutgersOnBTN) October 31, 2020
Rutgers had ZERO, yes ZERO yards on offense in the second quarter. They had two three and outs that went for a combined -8 yards plus two interceptions thrown deep in their own territory that tallied just 8 yards between them prior to the turnovers.
The offensive line and quarterback were completely unprepared for one blitz when Indiana sent six, yet the six Rutgers blockers had two one on one breakdowns and failed to pick up a free rusher on the outside.
Indiana shows a similar look to the previous sack, but two of the six guys who initially show pass rush drop off, but Rutgers’s six men cannot block four. Aaron Young gets shoved back into his quarterback’s legs (red circle below) while left guard Cedrice Paillant #54, gets beaten to the inside by a stunting linebacker (yellow arrow) for an almost untouched hit on Vedral. The ball pops into the air and is intercepted by #18 at defensive end.
Vedral was not at fault on this play since he kept enough players in to block (six on six) and then his postsnap read that two were dropping into coverage meant that 1. Vedral should not need to rush the ball to his hot read, probably Tight End Jovani Haskins in the center of the field because 2. he has to trust six blockers can handle just four men. They couldn’t and Rutgers turned the ball over deep in their own end. This one falls on the offensive line and back Aaron Young who had a very rough day in blitz pickup, especially this play where Aaron was only needed as a safety valve if anyone came free, but failed to do so.
Indiana scored a touchdown with the extremely short field (three plays, six yards), culminating in the questionable touchdown call in a pile of bodies with no video evidence either way AND after the initial signal was short leading to wrath from the fan base on the miracle later in the game.
Disaster struck the Scarlet Knights again on their next offensive play.
The endzone view captures everything that is going on this play, which was the 1st and 10. Indiana is in a very conservative cover 2 as both safeties are playing deep. IU’s three linebackers are in coverage in the middle of the field and two cornerbacks guarding the sidelines. Bo Melton (rightmost red box) has some space but there is no good throwing angle at ths point. The slot receiver Christian Dremel has a defender right next to him on a hitch route. Vedral has plenty of time to get to his third read, Shameen Jones (green circle) who is definitely open, but the window is tight. I’m not sure what Vedral was seeing here, but I assume he either expected Jones to go deep middle (yellow arrow with ???) or was hoping for just another second so the middle linebacker would move a little more to open a window.
I assume it was the latter because Vedral’s 4th progression, Tight End Jovani Haskins (yellow circle) has leverage on his defender and could shield him to make a catch and the 5th option is Isaih Pacheco on a flare out to the left (off-screen) narrow yellow oval occupying the 11th defender also could have made a catch and moderate run.
The blocking is excellent on three defenders (green squares), but average by Sam Vretman (yellow square). I say “average” because giving your QB six seconds to get to his third progression is pretty adequate. In addition, the play is right in front of him so if he wants more time, should be able to use pocket presence and step to the left or right. This is what a quarterback like Tom Brady is a master at, he never gets sacked by the first defender that comes through since he uses angles to step and allow his lineman to reset his block.
Vretman eventually allows his defender to get an arm on Vedral’s arm and the ball flutters into a second interception. Back to back plays, back to back interceptions. It felt like 2018 all over again but to their credit, Rutgers didn’t quit.
The second half began with Indiana receiving the ball up 20-7. The Scarlet defense held up well and forced a three and out, resulting in a fair caught punt at the RU 48, their best field position since the early touchdown drive.
Sean Gleeson dialed up a nice screen on the first play to give Vedral confidence moving the ball to the IU 36. Rutgers has not overused screens like they did in year’s past and as a result they have proven more effective. The initial play action freezes defenders #1 and #2 in red before they continue their pass rush. A third defender was cut blocked by Tight End Jovani Haskins, but Vedral got the ball out just in time without rushing it as three defenders were right near him (red box). This patience allowed three blockers to get out in front of Pacheco.
If not for a shoe string tackle near the sideline, Pacheco may have gone all the way into the end zone. Unfortunately Rutgers only gained two yards on the next three plays setting up another 4th down in no man’s land. With a 4th and 8 at the Indiana 34, Gleeson called a rollout for Vedral to try and simplify his read for the second straight play.
In the screenshot below, Rutgers uses left tackle Raiqwon O’Neal as an eligible receiver, allowing him to occupy two players, the guy he is blocking AND the linebacker (top red arrow) who is respecting he could leak out for a pass. The Tight End Jovani Haskins (red box) is ineligible, but the linebacker #4 (other red arrow) does not realize and is covering a non-eligible man. So Rutgers is running a flood concept to the right side where they are trying to get just enough space to sneak in a completion. Running back Isaih Pacheco keeps the stong-side linebacker focused on him (yellow arrow) so Rutgers now has three receivers against four defenders to the bottom of the screen. Had this been a third or fourth and short, Vedral running himself to convert would have been more viable, but RU needed 8 so that was mostly off the table.
Things look promising on the initial roll out and in the screenshot below you can see Isaih Pacheco (green box) does a great job to buy Vedral time, but with all the congestion, Vedral had already moved beyond his read of Shameen Jones (cyan box) who is now open and tries to fit one in to Aron Cruickshank along the sideline with two defenders all over him. This is another example where a quarterback with a rocket arm would either A. trust it and throw back across it to Jones if he saw it or B. hit Bo Melton (yellow circle) along the sideline which would be much more effective if a taller receiver (think Kenny Britt) was in Melton’s position and could go up and get the ball. Ultimately I think the long-term solution here what Russell Wilson would do, since the safety is flat footed, Vedral could have pulled a schoolyard move, pointed to the end zone and thrown one deep down the sideline, hoping Melton could run under it faster than the safety could recover.
Instead an interception turns the ball over right in front of the Indiana bench. The interception itself was not a big deal as Indiana would have actually had better field position if the ball was incomplete since it was 4th down, but college football is a game of momentum and the Hoosiers in the mostly empty stadium fed off it. The defense could not get the momentum back, immediately on the following play, Indiana dialed up a bomb and gained 63 yards. Game over, drive home safely ... or so it would have been in recent years.
Rutgers defense dug into to force a field goal and keep the game 23-7, just two score deficit. Rutgers responded with a 10 play, 80 yard drive that included some Johnny Langan at quarterback and as a receiver. (The drive was saved by a roughing the passer at one point though.) Rutgers got in the end zone on a 37 yard TD run by Kay’Ron Adams, discussed by Greg here. Not only did Rutgers score the TD, they converted a two-point conversion even after a questionable call canceled their initial attempt. The second play required Isaih Pacheco to beat three defenders and he did, 23-15.
Indiana immediately went to work and extended the lead back to 30-15 with an intermediate passing clinic, but again Rutgers responded. After a huge kick return by Cruickshank (finally), Rutgers matriculated the ball to the Indiana 18. A field goal was probably out of the question the way Indiana’s offense was humming, so RU went for it on 4th down, playing to win as they should. Rutgers tried a seven step drop, but coverage was good, protection was good and Vedral’s pass was knocked down at the line of scrimmage to end the threat. There’s not much to analyze really so I skipped the screenshot.
It was obviously the right call because Indiana marched down for another touchdown to make it a 37-15 game, 12:37 left in the 4th quarter. Game over you’d think, but somehow once again, apparently not.
With Indiana in a cover 4 defense, allowing yards to eat clock, Rutgers gained huge yards on the ground and moved the ball to the Indiana 22 yard line. 4th and 2 was the dagger with Johnny Langan getting the call at quarterback as the Scarlet Knights failed to convert and ended up 0-4* on fourth down conversion attempts on the day.
The read was very simple and had Langan fired the ball to Haskins (cyan circle), Rutgers should have moved the chains. Langan instead gets the ball to Cruickshank (green circle) with space like we want to see RU playmakers getting the ball in space, but Cruickshank initially bobbles the ball despite a perfect throw and the cornerback makes a do or die dive (yellow arrow) to stop Rutgers short. Had Cruickshank caught the ball clean, he makes one side step and is in for a touchdown since there was no help. The safety off-screen had to follow Haskins so there was no one else in position as nine defenders are piled up in the box. A very well-designed play, but Indiana just made a big play.
So the game seemed over .. again but remained on life support as Indiana punted quickly and Rutgers got the ball back with 5:55 to go, down 22. Rutgers did what we wanted to see for the last four years in that down big and the defense willing to concede yards, RU moved the ball in intermediate chunks, culminating in another corner of the end zone touchdown, the second in as many weeks.
Good protection and average play design, but this was on Vedral simply throwing to his open receiver. Any of the three receivers could have been an option here because they all had leverage (three yellow circles) even if the separation was minimal. A great throw to the corner of the endzone (cyan arrow) and Rutgers was still on life support with 3:19 to go, down 37-21.
After the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Rutgers, a miracle comeback was still possible until a questionable decision called back a 4th and 32, you may have heard.
ABSOLUTE CHAOS FROM RUTGERS— br_betting (@br_betting) October 31, 2020
The play was reviewed and called back due to a forward pass.
It would have been a legendary cover for Rutgers +11.5 pic.twitter.com/OJU5UlcZvu
If Bo Melton had stepped out at the 1 yard line, would that play have even been reviewed? There was no flag on the play.
Well that was the funnest 16 point loss I have ever seen, or maybe I have watched too many Jets, Giants, and Eagles games this year ...
CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: 128 passing yards and three interceptions, to every other Power Five program would be seen as their worst game through the air in quite some time.
Reasons for pessimism: 1. Indiana didn’t even really play well (2.7 yards per carry, less than 300 passing yards), still scored 37 points, and barely blitzed in the second half. 2. If Rutgers didn’t get the onside kick that set up the late drama, this would have been a blowout with a lot of garbage time. 3. Despite Vedral’s struggles, the staff didn’t feel like any other QB could be the answer. 4. The element of surprise will be harder to maintain the rest of the way. 5. Every remaining RU opponent looked better in their second game than their first other than Michigan.
Reasons for optimism: 1. Michigan State looked good against Michigan. 2. Rutgers didn’t quit and if that amazing lateral play stood as called on the field, would mathematically have had a shot to tie the game like Indiana did against Penn State last week. 3. The wide receivers were getting open against zone coverage and more against man than anytime 2015. 4. The main goal is to show improvement in 2020, and this was the best performance Rutgers had against a ranked team in years, unlike uncompetitive efforts so often against less competition in recent years 5. The Rutgers coaching staff showed a good game plan and in game adjustments, so as they build the program will have better execution from current and future personnel. Gleeson did nothing in this game to dispel the thought that he is still “the real deal.”