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Five Reasons for optimism with Rutgers football

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A two-part series looking at hope and concern for the program moving forward.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 season is officially over for Rutgers football after finishing with a 5-7 record. Now it’s time to start assessing the state of this team with five reasons for optimism and five reasons for pessimism for next season. Below are five reasons for optimism and click here for the five reasons for pessimism.

Gavin Wimsatt has one season under his belt

The highest quarterback recruit in program history only played in three games and while he wasn’t able to replicate the impact he made in his one play debut in the win over Illinois, having him on the team this season should benefit his development. He traveled to road games, was in communication with an assistant during games and got almost three months of practice time in.

If Rutgers wants to take the next step as an offense next season, it’s hard to envision how that would be possible without Wimsatt taking the reigns and making an impact. While his usage was a bit questionable, it’s clear that Greg Schiano and Sean Gleeson operated all season with Wimsatt in front of mind in regard to decision making. He is in a much better position to lead the offense next season because of his early arrival compared to his original plan of 2022.

2022 recruiting class holding strong

Speaking of Wimsatt, another benefit of his early arrival has helped to keep the 2022 recruiting class pretty much intact. While 4-star Davison Igbinosun did decommit this fall, Rutgers is still in the mix. Most importantly, four other 4-stars have remained committed to in linebackers Moses Walker and Anthony Johnson, offensive tackle Jacob Allen and running back Samuel Brown. So have high 3-star recruits Kenny Fletcher and Rashad Rochelle. The staff was even able to flip Q’yaeir Price from Syracuse mid-season.

Even without Wimsatt included in the 2022 class rankings, the group is currently ranked 22nd nationally and 5th in the Big Ten. Most are expected to enroll in January and that will be a huge plus for the program to have the best class potentially ever from a rankings perspective getting started right away.

Young contributors on defense

While the defense is losing top contributors in Olakunle Fatukasi and Julius Turner, this unit saw a good amount of young talent emerge this season. Max Melton, although he missed time due to a suspension and injury, was a playmaker and led the team with 3 interceptions. Kyonte Hamilton and Aaron Lewis along the defensive line, Tyreem Powell and Khayri Banton at linebacker, as well as Robert Longerbeam and Alijah Clark, who missed most of the second half of the season due to injury, showed flashes in extended action this fall. A dozen first or second year players gained experience this season for the defense and give this unit a good base to build from beginning next season.

One more year for Adam Korsak

The Ray Guy Award finalist is officially returning next season and that is huge news for Rutgers. He is a true weapon in special teams and has now gone two plus seasons with 122 punt attempts without a touchback. Rutgers broke an NCAA record with a net punting average of 45.34 per attempt this season. He can change momentum and flip the field in a way that most cannot. Korsak is special and the fact that he can return next season is huge for special teams play.

Offense can only go up

If Rutgers can win five games with an offense that struggled all season, imagine what they can accomplish with an average one. The Scarlet Knights only averaged 13.6 points per game against ten power five teams and still won three due to limiting turnovers and strong defensive play. It’s a formula that worked somewhat but without any big play potential, RU struggled to stay in games most of the time. As has been the case for years, the defense wears down in the second half against Big Ten competition because the offense is unable to sustain drives.

Stabilizing the offensive line, finding playmakers and developing Wimsatt at QB are necessary steps for this unit to improve next season. While the offense was even worse during the late stages of the Chris Ash era, this season felt like the bottom for this current coaching staff. While offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson was questioned by his play calling at times this season, another year of development and working in players at a higher talent level should move the needle forward next season and beyond.