Below is how the Rutgers Football position groups fared in game two against Indiana. They never quit and made a game of it late. This week warrants a lot more discussion, so your thoughts are welcomed in the comments section.
Quick recap and what to watch for in Game 3 against Ohio State.
Had it not been for some 4th quarter drives to energize the club, the QBs probably deserved the sad face. Instead we saw enthusiasm for a potential comeback in a Big Ten game unlike anything since probably 2016. Noah Vedral struggled to set protections / see blitzers, read coverages, throw accurate balls in the middle two quarters, and at times even throw the ball away on time. Johnny Langan had some success in limited action and might deserve more of a look. Listed backup Art Sitkowski did not play for the second consecutive game.
This week @ OSU: The Buckeyes are a juggernaut, they have individual players who can lock up receivers one on one. I’d like to see one of the quarterbacks with more arm talent get some reps, likely Sitkowski or even Cole Snyder for a series if the game is out of hand to try and push the ball downfield. I was hoping to see it in the Indiana game, but can understand Rutgers was trying to set their foundation and was mathematically still in the game late. Throw some balls downfield and if they fall or are intercepted, so be it. The only way Rutgers will ever beat Ohio State in the near future is if they have an unconscious game through the air.
The running backs had a very up and down day. Kay’Ron Adams has gotten some kudos, though he capitalized on some good blocking during his carries and a time in the game when Indiana was willing to allow yards on the ground or short passing game. Isaih Pacheco was up and down, but still the best back on the team right now. Aaron Young had a game he’d like to forget. They were not the reason the team lost, but they didn’t pull more of their share of the weight by any means, even if their yards per carry average was a full yard better than Indiana’s.
This week @ OSU: Two things. 1. Who can make a few guys miss? Is it Adams? Is it Pacheco? Is it Young on yards after catches? 2. Who is the best receiver that can be trusted on blitz pickup and dump offs since you know that the QBs will have to settle a lot. This game should be an open tryout for the 3rd down back role. Honestly, I’d like to see Johnny Langan get a look joining the aforementioned three.
This group is showing more growth than any other position group, even though their reception totals still are far from most college football teams across the country. The staff has smartly worked to start by just getting Vedral some chemistry with the starters and slowly incorporated the rest of the two-deep. Against zone coverage, they were getting open plenty. Against man coverage, they were getting enough separation, the best we have seen in five years. I’m not saying guys were getting wide open against Indiana, but when the ball was delivered as they came out of their breaks, there was space to catch it and a reduction in drops compared to the Michigan State game.
This week @ OSU: It’s easy to show improvement when you have been terrible for so long. Let’s see some people get open against top tier talent. Now like most powerhouses, Ohio State’s only discernable weakness is their secondary, which makes sense when so few opponents can test it regularly. Can Rutgers make the plays when they are there and also get a few easy completions?
Last week the group struggled in the pass game and the run game. Against Indiana was probably worse as they tallied just one catch for zero yards by Matt Alaimo. On the re-watch starter Jovani Haskins was better than when I watched in real time blocking than he was in the opener, so there’s that. Alaimo and Johnathan Lewis were not particularly effective, but Brandon Myers was good in short yardage again. They get the sad face because they need to do something to help this offense, and so far it’s pretty much ONLY just a decent blocking for Johnny Langan in goal line packages.
This week @ OSU: In the intermediate run, tight end is a position that can accelerate the rebuild tremendously and this group has the talent to do so. We saw this in Schiano 1.0 with Sam Johnson and Clark Harris. I time and time again give the Stanford Harbaugh example because of the mismatches tight ends can create against middle of the pack opponents, but there will be no mismatches against the Buckeyes. So in this game I want to see the tight ends just execute the core competencies: block linebackers and safeties in the box, show proper timing on their releases as late checkdowns, and make a few catches against zone coverage even if well short of the sticks.
The good: The offensive line was significantly better at understanding how to block on run plays than they were in the season opener, though it was an extremely low bar. Rutgers ran for a yard per carry better than versus Michigan State which is more impressive considering that Noah Vedral picked up less cheap yards on designed runs. When Indiana just rushed their four defensive linemen without zone blitzing, they got minimal pressure. The bad: A few plays in both phases broke down because of a single individual losing his matchup when everyone else did a good job.
The ugly: Between the offensive line, backs, and quarterbacks setting protections, they really struggled in blitz pickup. The Rutgers late comeback attempt came after Indiana stopped sending extra people or even showing they might.
This week @ OSU: I expect this group to get manhandled a lot physically because their talent and depth is worse here than any other position group on the team. Offensive line coach Andrew Aurich should be looking to see even if a player loses his assignment, if it was physical and not mental, at least something positive can be taken away. Like most other position groups, who will show signs that eventually they can be an All Big Ten caliber player, which to do so requires you to at least stalemate the best? Raiqwon O’Neal has the size and mental makeup. Reggie Sutton has the agility for a tackle. Sam Vretman and CJ Hanson have the size on the interior. Who can stand up to the guy across from them? Jonah Jackson did and ended up a high NFL draft pick.
There were two major takeaways from the game against Indiana. First, that when Rutgers really wanted to stop the run, they could, as the Hoosiers managed a paltry 2.7 yards per carry. This made Indiana one dimensional, even though the Hoosiers were good when forced to pass the ball. The second was that we are really starting to see some clear indications as to who are the best on game day from a position group that rotates up to 10 or 11 guys. Michael Dwumfour and Julius Turner are for sure the most important pieces, but the picture is less clear at end. Against the pass, Rutgers was not consistently getting pressure with four but they did a few times get to the quarterback without needing to blitz which happened zero times I remember against Michigan State. At times by stunting, it opened huge holes and allowed for easy Indiana yards. Freshman Aaron Lewis got his first career game action.
This week @ OSU: You are facing an offensive line whose weakest link is probably a four-star recruit that had 20+ power five offers. It would be nice to just see some positives, no matter what they are. For example in a game against Penn State a few years ago, CJ Onyechi made a name for himself when he stopped Heisman front runner Saquon Barkley twice behind the line of scrimmage in a mano a mano matchup. Once the game is out of reach, see if you can stop the run by whatever means necessary, if the defensive backs get torched with the game already out of hand, so be it, at least you learned something from the front seven.
Mohamed Toure was ejected for targeting early in this game and the Rutgers pass rush took some time to regroup overall even though they held Indiana to a field goal on that particular drive. Eventually Rashawn Battle (who normally plays middle linebacker) basically just took Toure’s pass rush specialist role. Otherwise, they had a pretty good day stopping the run game out of almost exclusively the base defense. Against the pass, they were a liability.
This week @ OSU: Against Ohio State, this group faces another mobile quarterback Justin Fields who prefers to stay back and pass, running more as a last resort. With this game not winnable, I want to see 1. if Deion Jennings can have a bounce back game in coverage and 2. if there are some less experienced linebackers with more eligibility buried on the depth chart that may not have the refined skills, but do have the physical gifts to one day be able to go toe to toe with the five-star talent the Buckeyes have all over their roster.
Opportunistic last week, no answer for a speedster this week. I had a disagreement with one of our readers as to whether opponents big plays in the pass game are the norm or not in college football. It was a healthy debate, but with the way the game is played now in college and the NFL, every competent team will have a few long passes each game no matter how good your defensive backs are. Michael Penix Jr. for the most part wasn’t throwing receivers open against good, tight coverage as much as I thought we might see but he was very good at reading coverages and manipulating defenders with his eyes.
This week @ OSU:
Justin Fields is a Heisman contender, but I am not confident in his ability to read any sort of complex defense (so do not pick him, New York Jets) since he mostly only throws the ball to receivers who are surely open (or at the very least have obvious leverage) when there is no pass rush. In general this season I ask for the same thing I asked for the past few years, can we please see some depth other than 2.5 serviceable corners and 1.5 Big Ten quality safeties? In this game against Ohio State though it’s the opposite lesson we are trying to learn, since I don’t expect a second team corner or safety to really be able to slow down a Heisman level passing attack. Remember how Avery Young in his first action as a true freshman really struggled against OSU in 2018 but went on to have a good season? So it’s more about the top guys: Avery Young, Tre Avery, and Brendon White. Can any of them win their one on one matchups? If so, then it builds confidence RU can leave them on an island in clutch situations later in the year against other top conference playmakers.
In the first half the only bright spot was Adam Korsak, albeit only one punt downed inside the five yard line. The rugby style roll outs will eventually result in big plays with kicks hitting unsuspecting opponents and/or fakes that present themselves for easy first downs if Rutgers has a numbers advantage. We need to see how Guy Fava performs when give more opportunities because Rutgers doesn’t just need an average kicker, they need elite play from that spot to win again this year. Aron Cruickshank had literally nowhere to go early on resulting in terrible field position, but in a game that was not very winnable I was ok that Rutgers used it to practice live kickoffs and eventually they did break a big one with a 55 yard return.
This week @ OSU: Rutgers will need an exceptional game from their specials units in all phases to keep the game close with the Buckeyes. That may mean more boom or bust kickoff returns, even if they are extremely risky. It would be nice to see a blocked kick for confidence at minimum.
For the most part, coaching was still pretty good despite the loss. Defensively they struggled to contain Whop Philyor, but we saw Rutgers try several different approaches to slow Indiana down rather than trying the same thing over and over again. On offense, I think the coaches did as much as they could with the limitations Rutgers still has in their passing game and the limited reps. Too often across the entire football landscape when coaches lose faith in their quarterback they think the other team won’t notice, and it never works. As mentioned in the film review, Rutgers tried all different types of formations, plays, and personnel which eventually got them back on track offensively, but it was too little too late. Other than returning kickoffs and consistently getting stuck at your own 15, I like what they are doing on special teams in the other facets.
This week @ OSU: A few other reporters put it best that the test for this coaching staff is whether or not they can just get one good punch in, hit Ohio State in the mouth early so to speak. We are nowhere near the point where they could “put a scare” into the home team in Columbus. I want to learn something from this team on Saturday, unlike what we saw from the last two coaching staffs which was acceptance of not being able to do anything against top tier teams.
I don’t put much stock in the final score of blowouts because you can’t just play not to lose by as much, it hurts the psyche of your team and in the modern game allows the opponent to just attack you however they want. For Rutgers though, I underestimated the damage of the 78-0 drubbing in 2016. Rutgers has to continue to show that they are playing the same sport as Ohio State, which was a rare highlight last season. I don’t think RU can beat OSU for at least another 10 years, yet Purdue somehow did it twice in the last 11 years, so assuming you have no chance ever is a loser’s mindset. Rutgers need to give us and themselves some reasons to believe the gap is closing.
Rutgers was one overturned call away from backdoor covering the point spread against a ranked opponent for the only the second time since 2015 (that bizarre 2018 Northwestern game being the other), but they will only go as far as their quarterbacks take them. They received a passable level of play throughout almost the entire rest of their roster, with some improvement from every position group other than maybe defensive back compared to the season opener. This program is still absolutely trending in the right direction.