The Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team’s spring activities have been cancelled just like all other NCAA spring athletic events. With the hope that fall football happens, even if it is delayed or there’s a limited summer training camp, we will proceed with our traditional spring position reviews. With the current worldwide global health crisis, we are living day to day, but hopefully both Rutgers Football and the world at large have brighter days ahead.
This series reviews the state of each positional group based on the best information we have today. In the absence of spring practice, naturally less intelligence is available than it has been in previous campaigns. Also, with the new transfer portal, eligibility questions are best guess and we won’t assume anyone who has already entered the transfer portal will return. The team’s official website does not currently have a 2020 roster posted.
We finish with this 2020 spring series with the quarterbacks.
Position coach: Sean Gleeson
Key players lost: McLane Carter (graduation)
Key players returning: Art Sitkowski (RSo.), Johnny Langan (RSo.), Cole Snyder (RFr.), Austin Albericci (RSo.)
Newcomers: Peyton Powell (transfer - Baylor), Evan Simon (early enrollee)
What they did well in 2019: Run the ball.
Of course, this is not the main strength you want out of the quarterback position unless your team runs the triple option. Rutgers ran a lot of QB option with Johnny Langan (391 rush yds, 3 TD), but they became a spread offense in the second half of the season. At the very least, it gave the offense some hope when they went onto the field that a few first downs could be achieved to build some momentum and physically take it to the opponent.
Art Sitkowski and McLane Carter were not the type of rushing threat Langan is, but both have good mobility and if given a lane could pick up some yards. Cole Snyder (one six yard scramble on his only official rushing attempt) who didn’t see more than one snap until the final game is in the same mold. Rutgers wasn’t able to soften up defenses enough though, to then air it out into vacated space.
The bigger takeaway here is that all of the current Rutgers quarterbacks are mobile enough to avoid lesser pressure and run for a few yards occasionally if a play breaks down. That doesn’t necessarily equate to elite pocket presence, but it’s a start.
Needs Improvement: Everything. #1: Develop rhythm in the passing game.
Even in the two wins, Rutgers was very inconsistent in ever really building a rhythm in moving the ball through the air. Rutgers fans remember when Gary Nova was on, he was hitting receivers in stride, on time over and over again. The pitch and catch looked so easy, it was expected during those periods of “good”. On the flip side, “bad” Gary Nova looked a lot what we have seen from the quarterback position the last two seasons.
The quarterbacks on this roster with experience, Sitkowski and Langan, had occasional moments where they put together a handful of consecutive plays. For Sitkowski (44-68, 429 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT), stretches against Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin in 2018 showed he could in a game move his team down the field through the air. Langan (80-159, 840 yards, 4 TD, 9 INT) in one game last year (I think Penn State) went Tim Tebow 4th quarter unconscious at one point, when he was in the zone and hit perhaps his three best passes at the college level in a row. Cole Snyder (3-3, 35 yards) in his one drive all season (yes we all wanted more), did move the team a bit.
All this being said, none of the current players have shown an ability to consistently lead their team methodically down the field through the air. Until this changes, we will continue to wish we rooted for virtually every other team in the NCAA’s passing attack.
Changes expected in 2020
The team changes offensive coordinators, as Sean Gleeson is the 12th different offensive coordinator in as many seasons. Gleeson will also coach the quarterbacks, which is less of a concern than past OCs for me because Gleeson was a successful college quarterback himself and has a proven track record. Sean was the offensive coordinator and QB coach at Princeton, then had similar success with significantly higher level of competition at Oklahoma State last year.
With scheme, all we really know is that Rutgers will run some version of a spread, not a pro style as their base as they did under the previous Schiano regime. Gleeson at Princeton ran all sorts of looks, one of his most effective wrinkles being in 12 personnel, which includes one back and two tight ends, though for the most part they ran 11 personnel with three wide receivers on the field. There is a general confidence that Gleeson has a flexible offensive mind who will take advantage of his best players better than most of the previous OCs failed to do. For example at Princeton he one season ran a lot of two quarterback sets (and had a QB lead his team in rushing) and heavy running back platoon, but last year with the Cowboys the team used one QB and one RB exclusively. Gleeson was able to add his own spin on Oklahoma State Head Coach Mike Gundy’s Air Raid without compromising what they had been running in previous years, a great sign.
In terms of personnel, McLane Carter is out of eligibility, barring a last minute 6th year due to past medical issues. Even if McLane received a favorable ruling by the NCAA, there has been no word he would return to the banks. Otherwise, all the other 2019 quarterbacks return with two additions. Early enrollee Evan Simon has higher upside as a pure pocket passer than any QB recruit in the last decade other than perhaps Sitkowski, but Simon played a lot more snaps at the high school level.
The biggest wildcard here is the addition of Baylor transfer Peyton Powell. Powell is expected to get a crack at Quarterback, though he is such a good athlete could end up at wide receiver or in the secondary if it doesn’t work out. He played at Permian in Odessa, Texas (arguably the highest level of High School football in the country) and was an effective though not elite thrower of the football. Fans may look at the success Gleeson had with Spencer Sanders as a true dual threat last year, but keep in mind Sanders is a former Gatorade National Player of the Year who threw for 54 TDs as a high school senior compared to Powell’s 15. Watching his throwing highlights, you can see Peyton’s throwing motion is more of a side arm quick sling, so barring a significant change won’t be enough in the Big Ten as a pure passer. Of course Rutgers went with Johnny Langan last year and Powell is faster, though not as powerful.
Way too early predictions
Eldest statesman Art Sitkowski starts the season opener, again. Those who read the site will hopefully consider me neither a Sitkowski defender nor a Sitkowski hater as my thoughts on him generally have not changed. Art was forced to play before he was ready especially considering he split snaps as a high school senior, but is extremely tough physically and mentally. Art was atrocious against Iowa after Carter went down, but looked well on his way to becoming a competent signal caller against Boston College and Michigan. He wasn’t necessarily “good” but for a true sophomore on a bad team, completing 64+% of his passes the first RU QB to be over 60% since Chris Laviano in 2015. Without being an elite runner, for Sitkowski to have success especially around a questionable offensive line, he needs to be absolutely on target with his screens, slants, and other quick throws. He threw less interceptions in 2019 after leading the nation in 2018, but we need more data.
Johnny Langan is a tough runner who deserves to be the quarterback in goal line situations initially after his body of work in 2019. That said, unless he is significantly better at throwing the ball, I don’t envision him as the true backup long term. Johnny could get a look if Rutgers experiments with two quarterback sets like Princeton did and if the starter was to get injured in a game, I could see him getting the nod to get through the game based on his experience. Langan will partially transition to an H-back role, while adding gadget capability. Peyton Powell adds a nice option for trick plays, too, not more.
Cole Snyder should be good enough already to be a competent backup and has played enough football without superstar talent around him to get by. Snyder seems to understand how to put proper touch on his throws as well as the angles required for different levels of a defense. Evan Simon has a similar skillset, but probably needs a year to adjust to the college game.
Below Average. If you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterbacks. In RU’s case they don’t even have one surefire option. The best hope for the future is that either Cole Snyder or Evan Simon becomes a Chas Dodd or Ryan Hart level player. Like Dodd, Snyder in my eyes has a very high floor based on his natural throwing ability and mobility, though the best case is probably along the lines of what Indiana had with Peyton Ramsey who beat Rutgers twice before eventually being replaced by the higher ceiling Michael Penix Jr with the Hoosiers.
Simon is the best long term option in my opinion and just looks like a confident, under control leader like Ryan Hart did. Even if Sitkowski is a bigger, stronger guy with the highest potential, Simon just looks more like a Power Five quarterback when you watch his film. Evan appears bigger than Cole, and yet is equally smooth with his footwork with more touch on his deep attempts. Simon may not be as quick as Snyder to accelerate, but his top speed is quite comparable. In 2021 I think Simon could be an unquestioned starter all season.
The problem is that you have one guy with NFL potential, but a long way from it (Sitkowski), one with solid starter potential in Simon, and other players with limitations. Of course I hope one of them is able to just be way better than I anticipated and become awesome, but Rutgers needs to add a player with at least Simon’s skills and upside every single year and occasionally land a big fish to be the next Mike Teel.
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