The Scarlet team defeated the White team 23-21 in an entertaining spring game for Rutgers football on Thursday night. While it’s important to not take too much away from this type of contest, the encouraging thing was that this team looked deeper and more talented than last fall. It’s also difficult to take too much away from the defense with split personnel, but there was plenty to be excited about on the offensive side of the ball. Here are five players who made positive impressions in the spring game.
Starting quarterback Noah Vedral looked good and was not limited at all from the gruesome ankle injury he suffered against Maryland last season. Vedral finished the spring game completing 9 of 13 passes for 113 yards along with 5 carries for 18 yards rushing. He showed even more command of the offense and was constantly coaching up the younger players. With the most important question answered in Vedral looking 100% health wise, the next biggest question was who would emerge as the backup.
Evan Simon made some good throws downfield, including a 23 yard touchdown pass to Shameen Jones before finishing 9 of 16 for 114 yards. He also had 24 yards rushing on just two carries. However, it was Cole Snyder who I thought impressed the most with his efficiency and crispness. He completed 13 of 16 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 22 yards and a touchdown on four carries.
Snyder said about spring camp, “I think all quarterbacks have had the same amount of time in the offense, so I think as we continue to go through installs, all of the quarterbacks are feeling more comfortable. Coach Gleeson feels more comfortable to put more stuff on our plate. I think all of the QB’s are doing really well and absorbing everything that coach Gleeson has to offer.”
I don’t think anything was decided tonight in regard to the backup role. Johnny Langan also was not utilized much in what was a vanilla game plan all night, although he threw the lone interception in the game. I do think though that we saw enough to be encouraged that both Simon and Snyder have the potential to be capable backups to Vedral next season.
Speaking of Snyder, he completed the biggest play of the night to Washington, who made a dazzling one handed catch as he streaked down the sideline for a 65 yard touchdown. If the 6’3” sophomore can emerge as another big play target downfield to compliment Bo Melton, the offense will be much more dangerous next season. His size and athleticism were on full display on the touchdown. He finished with four catches for 76 yards and the score.
After a solid debut in 2019, Washington saw a lot less playing time last season. Seeing him stand out in the spring game is a good sign and Schiano was positive about Washington in the postgame. He said, “I think he had a really good spring. He came in with a chip on his shoulder and he worked very hard. I think he got a little low at one point and then fought his way out and then tonight obviously that was a spectacular play but he had some other plays, as well. I was glad to see him end spring on that note. He’s a good player. He’s a guy that is a great guy to have on the football team, and I think that he will bring production to the offense come fall.”
Tight end was a position that Rutgers needs to improve on for next season and the 6’7” freshman showed a lot of promise on Thursday night. Konopka had 3 catches for 55 yards, including hauling in two that were heavily defended. He also showcased himself as a physical blocker. While starter Jovani Haskins looked improved as well and had a very good night with 6 catches for 58 yards, Konopka’s emergence was the real story. If the Scarlet Knights are going to improve in Schiano’s second season, they need improved depth at every position. Konopka gave real hope that along with Haskins, the duo can provide steady production from the tight end spot next season.
Konopka spoke about his development after the game, saying “I feel very comfortable. We put in so much work in the spring, all year. Coach Nunzio, Coach Weber, all of the tight ends. I have been learning so much coming from a basketball background - Toughness, physically and mentally, learning new techniques. The coaches do a great job implementing all of that and then I have great teammates surrounding me to help me learn.”
The former soccer player won the starting place kicker job midway through last season and ended up making 9 of 11 field goals for 81.8%. It seemed like a gamble at the time to move away from incumbent starter Justin Davidovicz, but Ambrosio rewarded the coaching staff with a solid debut season. He represented well again on Thursday, going 3-for-3 on field goals from 22 yards, 26 yards and what was the game winning kick for the Scarlet team from 38 yards in the closing seconds. While he wasn’t tested from deep, he was consistent and converted in a pressure situation. Backup Guy Fava missed both of his attempts from long range of 48 and 50 yards. Ambrosio is the guy for now and could be a key factor in the fall.
With starter Isaiah Pacheco yielding opportunities to Aaron Young and Jamier Wright-Collins in the spring game, both running backs took advantage by running the ball well. Young rushed for 84 yards on 13 carries, while Wright-Collins had six carries for 61 yards, including a 33 yard scamper late in the game. Even Kyle Monangai had some flashes in running for 36 yards on 11 carries after a 40 yard dash was called back due to a penalty.
While getting carries behind Pacheco next season might be hard to come by, I think Wright-Collins could compliment him the best. Pacheco runs hard on every carry and is a beast. Wright-Collins runs with a physical, tough style as well and if can continue to develop, he could provide a steady presence backing up Pacheco that could help to wear down defenses late in the game.
Play of the Game
While Washington’s 65 yard one handed catch was the physical highlight of the game, Rutgers welcoming health care workers on the field to score a touchdown on the last play of the night was a heartwarming and class touch.