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OTB staff reactions and bye week musings on Rutgers football

With the Scarlet Knights mired in a four game losing streak, we explore whether this team can be fixed?

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

As Rutgers has a much needed bye week after a disappointing loss to Northwestern last weekend, our staff took time to share some reactions to the defeat with an eye on what’s next for this team. There are no easy answers, but we discuss a variety of issues. Let’s kick things off here.

Art Stein: The consensus going into the game was that the Northwestern defense was susceptible on defense especially against the Rutgers running game. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way as Northwestern neutralized the Rutgers running game. The Scarlet Knights offensive line despite having to overcome injuries was a revolving door. What was more troubling, however, was Rutgers's inability to control the things that it could control and should have controlled. Penalties, poor tackling, and unimaginative play-calling all added to this fiasco. Throwing passes out into the flat was shown time and time again to not work.

Until this week, Noah Vedral operating the pass/run option was largely successful. But on Saturday, Vedral was slow to recognize plays and when he did take off, the Wildcats were there waiting for him. I thought Schiano would throw healthy doses of Langan at Northwestern to keep the Wildcats guessing but I think he got in for maybe 2-3 plays. I don’t recall a single short slant pass or more than one throw to Jovani Haskins, some of the things that could have neutralized the Northwestern defense or at least kept them guessing.

Rutgers looked uninspired, tired, and not prepared to play. This falls on coaching. As much as we all want to see Rutgers go to a bowl game this year, unless the offensive line improves dramatically, penalties are drastically reduced and we stop going for the highlight hits and just focus on wrapping up and bringing the runner down, we have very little chance of reaching six victories.

Dave White: The conservative play calling as opposed to last year’s fun-to-watch trick play jams really has me wondering what’s going on. I think early this season Schiano realized he didn’t have the horses on either the offensive or defensive line. This leads me to believe he and Sean Gleeson landed on a two-part strategy. Number 1, get Gavin Wimsatt on campus as soon as possible. Don’t give anyone the chance to poach him. Number 2, save the rest of the recruiting class. That means—unless it’s an Ohio State-level team—don’t get blown out.

Chris Ash attempted this in his second year (remember where the entire defense sold out to stop Saquon Barkley and still lost to Penn State)? Ash was able to keep the games close and even ended up with his best season record. I think Schiano is trying to keep things close and maybe be able to knock someone off close and late (like Michigan, almost)? However, that strategy also can lead to games where you just look flat-out done—particularly when you can’t even block a Twitter follower. And that’s what happened against Northwestern.

It will be interesting to track going forward—particularly since the team is so beat up right now. Schiano is a much better coach than Ash, and even though there may be similar strategies, I would assume the new head coach will make necessary adjustments... if he can.

Cara Sanfilippo: The air has fully deflated out of the balloon for me right now. After being pleasantly surprised with how Rutgers came to play in their first four games, this seems like a completely different team to me. Where is the hunger and passion we saw previously? I know the team is dealing with a lot of injuries but has that caused this team to completely malfunction? With the exception of a few key players, O3, Christian Izien, Julius Turner, Bo Melton, etc., showing some real fire on both sides of the ball, and of course our hero, Adam Korsak on special teams, this team seems lost and tired.

I believe in them. I believe in the coaches. I just think this is a pivotal moment for this team.

Are they going to lay down and say, ya know what, people are starting to see us as a doormat again so let’s just make it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or are they going to stand up like the fighters we know them to be and have a Friday Night Lights, TV show, not the movie, moment and prove that even with limitations they are here to win? Are the coaches going to show some more inspired play calling, help them to clean up the mistakes and penalties that are making them lose to themselves?

I honestly don’t believe this is all a talent gap issue. Are Schiano and Gleeson finally going to make a shift at quarterback because no offense to Vedral but we know his ceiling? I hope so because this team deserves to finally feel the fruits of victory. And because I would like to enjoy my season tickets. Onwards and upwards.

Aaron Breitman: The loss to Northwestern proved one thing....reality bites for Rutgers football. Depth was my biggest concern entering this season and it’s flared up to the point that you can almost see a flashing red alert sign above the Hale Center. Injuries to key veterans on the two deep have made it abundantly clear that this roster is not close to where it needs to be for Rutgers to make a legitimate jump to respectability in the Big Ten.

A lack of experience and raw talent on the roster exposes every flaw, making those injuries more costly. The coaching staff had their worst collective game of Schiano’s second tenure in the loss to Northwestern. They even contributed to an inexcusable eleven penalties with an assistant unintentionally interfering on the sideline in an area they weren’t allowed to be in. But the penalties also signaled a lack of cohesion on both sides of the ball due to the many injuries. There are important players out and also those who are gutting it out despite being less than 100%. Mixing and matching position groups with inexperienced players catches up with you and nowhere is this more apparent than along the offensive line.

We knew the Schiano 2.0 rebuild would take time. I look at it as a good thing that enough positive developments occurred leading up to this current four game losing streak. The fallout of unrest among the fan base is due to the unexpected positives pushing expectations past a realistic goal. Maybe panic hasn’t fully set in, but it moved into the neighborhood of the fan base.

It’s clear that Rutgers cannot rely solely on recruiting high school players to improve this team. Schiano and his staff will be hitting the transfer portal HARD this offseason. They did a great job upgrading the roster in their first year, but were unable to have nearly as much success in the portal this past offseason. A big reason why was so many veterans were returning. That’s not the case next season and they’ll be able to market the potential to start right away. Landing impact players while also cultivating young talent has to be balanced and is essential to long term, sustainable progress.

As for the rest of this season? It could be a rough go of it. Having the bye week and the opportunity to bounce back against Illinois right away could bring a much needed jolt of positivity back to the program and the fan base. If Rutgers isn’t competitive in that game, then you can pretty much envision what November is going to look like. Even so, there is no denying the program’s long term outlook is something to still be hopeful about under Schiano. It’s just that he isn’t the messiah and if that’s what people expected than reality is biting you even more.

Do you agree with anything we said or have a different take? What are your thoughts on the current state of Rutgers football? Let us know in the comment section.