Just a few weeks ago, expectations for the Scarlet Knights were high as they were 3-0 and played currently ninth ranked Michigan to the wire in Ann Arbor. Following the abbreviated 2020 season that saw Rutgers win three Big Ten games and with an experienced roster returning, it was realistic for fans to expect a bowl game in 2021.
Technically, Rutgers still has a chance to get to six wins and a bowl game. But realistically, the Northwestern game showed just how far the Scarlet Knights need to go.
Rutgers has been victimized by a lack of depth that has been exposed due to injuries. Nowhere is this truer than the offensive line. Reggie Sutton, who is their best offensive lineman, is out for the season. Left tackle, the most critical position on the offensive line, has seen Raiqwon O’Neal miss the past two games after leaving early on against Ohio State. The offensive line has been reduced to converted defensive linemen and inexperienced players not ready for prime time, which we went into detail here.
Any team’s offensive line are the gears to the engine that determines the success of the offense and right now, the gears need oil and alignment.
Without the time to throw, most quarterbacks are dead-in-the-water. It would be easy, too easy, to throw Noah Vedral under the bus and anoint him the poster child for all of Rutgers’ offensive woes. But to coin a modification of a famous Dennis Green quote: “He is who we thought he was.” In other words, Vedral has been an adequate game manager who has kept Rutgers close in most games and minimized mistakes.
The offensive game plan in general has appeared to be utilizing Vedral with his accuracy, use Johnny Langan in short yardage situations along with an effective running game and focusing on Bo Melton and Aron Cruickshank for big plays in the passing game. It has made sense and this formula has kept Rutgers competitive until injuries started piling up. A decimated offensive line has put a major fly in the ointment.
So, with a winnable game against Illinois coming up on October 30th, should the Scarlet Knights hope for reinforcements on the offensive line and stay the course with Vedral? The dilemma that Greg Schiano finds himself in is that the Scarlet Knights have a 4-star QB on their roster who happens to be the highest recruited quarterback in Rutgers history. So, would it be wise to hand the keys over to a true freshman quarterback just two months removed from high school?
Gavin Wimsatt is going to be the face of the Rutgers program next season. Did Wimsatt decide to attend Rutgers a year early to escape a toxic environment because he opted to not play for his home state Kentucky Wildcats? Most likely not. The reported NIL deal he signed was a major fact that accelerated his arrival. But at the end of the day, Wimsatt came to learn and to play.
But as they say, the situation on the ground has changed. If Rutgers had won last Saturday, we would not be having this conversation. However, this is not an all or nothing issue. Schiano could allow Wimsatt to get his feet wet without taking over fully and still retain his redshirt status.
The real question is should Rutgers replace Vedral with Wimsatt and accelerate his development? There are arguments both for and against. There is an old axiom that if you play a quarterback who is not ready or is playing behind a porous offensive line, then you risk ruining him for good. Recent examples where this was true for Rutgers was during the Ash era with Tylin Oden, Jonathan Lewis and Art Sitkowski. However, there are true freshmen playing at Power 5 schools and the NFL has also evolved from that antiquated way of thinking. But does this apply to Wimsatt? Based on scouting reports and high school rankings, Wimsatt is a far different prospect than Odin, Lewis or Sitkowski.
Here is the scouting report from cfbsaturdays.com.
“Gavin Wimsatt has good height for a quarterback and a projectable frame that will add good weight easily. He is already starting to fill out and should continue to do so as his career progresses. Wimsatt’s size will allow him to endure the physical demands of the position and allow him to be effective from the pocket. Gavin Wimsatt is a true dual threat quarterback who will give defenses fits with his throwing ability as well as his explosive running skills. He has a good arm and excellent feet that will help him develop into a player who could start for an upper echelon power five team.” Wimsatt was ranked as the 10th best quarterback prospect by cfbsaturdays.com and 12th nationally by 247 Sports when he was still classified as a class of 2022 recruit.
Evaluating Rutgers current back-ups, Greg Schiano has repeatedly said he sees no separation between Evan Simon and Cole Snyder. And Schiano was true to his word by putting Simon in ahead of Snyder at Northwestern when Vedral left the game due to injury with the outcome still hanging in the balance. This was an interesting development because Snyder had been the first backup in previous games this season and has already redshirted while Simon has not. Is this an indication of Rutgers strategy moving forward? Or does it apply more to the old adage, that if you have two back-up quarterbacks of relatively equal ability, you really have no back-up quarterback?
Taking all things into consideration, it is time for Wimsatt to see the field. It would be imprudent to play the young quarterback against Penn State or Wisconsin. But Illinois, Indiana, and Maryland present opportunities for Wimsatt to get his feet wet. Wimsatt has a cannon for an arm which would keep defenses honest, and he is an elusive and strong runner. He also comes to the banks with a ton of confidence and a bit of a swagger which is a particularly good thing for the future Scarlet Knights quarterback. The risk of injury is always there regardless of how good or bad the offensive line is.
Vedral could remain the starter or perhaps a change is made with Snyder or Simon. It seems unlikely that Sean Gleeson would hand over the keys to the offense to Wimsatt already. At a minimum though, it is time for Rutgers to let its prized recruit inject some positive momentum back into the season with an opportunity to play, even if it is selectively. Getting Wimsatt some real experience in a controlled way, whether it’s with a set package or certain drives or plays in a game, could accelerate his development. It also makes the Rutgers offense harder to prepare for. Whatever happens, it’s time to do something different after averaging 11.5 points in the first four Big Ten games.