Less than two months after playing high school football followed by his sudden arrival on campus, Gavin Wimsatt helped Rutgers win its first Big Ten game of the season on Saturday. The highest rated quarterback prospect in program history made a first impression for the ages.
With the Scarlet Knights trailing Illinois 14-10, Wimsatt ran into the huddle for a fourth and five play at the Illini 33 yard line after starter Noah Vedral exited for a second time due to injury. His first collegiate snap was a high pressure one and Illinois brought a blitz on the play. Wimsatt handled the moment with poise, delivering a pinpoint pass across his body in stride to Bo Melton for a 13 yard completion.
The fourth down conversion was the play that changed the game. Rutgers started the fourth quarter on the Illinois 20 and soon after Noah Vedral, who battled injuries and played heroically all day, scored on a 15 yard run that gave Rutgers a 17-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Valentino Ambrosio added his second field goal of the game later on as RU won 20-14.
The defense was tremendous most of the game and never allowed Illinois to seriously threaten down the stretch. It was a huge victory for Rutgers and there were many important contributions in all three phases of the game.
Adam Korsak was brilliant again. Isaih Pacheco and Kyle Monangai ran really well. Kessawn Abraham’s huge stop on fourth down on Illinois’ last drive sealed the win. However, Wimsatt’s play generated a huge response from his teammates and changed the momentum in the game.
On Wimsatt’s big play, head coach Greg Schiano said after the game “That was a beautiful job. He came in and avoided the rush and then put one right on Bo’s chin. So a big-time play in a clutch situation.’’
When asked about the plan to play Wimsatt, Schiano explained, “Sean (Gleeson) and I have been discussing how to get him involved slowly. He has a few packages that he’s involved in and we just felt that was a good time to throw him in there.’’
On whether it should be expected that Wimsatt will play in the last month of the season, Schiano said, “Yes. I don’t know what that looks like. We just want to make sure that we’re bringing him along the right way. And some may say, ‘Well, fourth down, big game on the road.’ But we wanted to get him his first (action) on the road so it wasn’t all the fanfare of our fans. You don’t want to hear the whole stadium go, ‘Ooooh.’ But I was pleased. I was glad we were able to get him in. Certainly glad he was able to do what he did. And really glad that Noah was able to return and lead us to victory.’’
Vedral showed true leadership in coming back multiple times after being knocked out of the game. He made several big plays of his own and Vedral should remain the starter next week against Wisconsin. That being said, it’s clear Wimsatt has the tools to help this team win now. It only took one play to prove that and it’s fair to expect he will get more opportunities to do that in the final month of the regular season.
The future has arrived.