There are many reasons to be optimistic about this upcoming season notably amongst them a leap in both coaching and recruiting.
We were all overjoyed that the Big Ten got their act together and played a whole season in 2020. And while it was a weird season with a reduced schedule, football in many ways was a life preserver for us folks who live and die by the Scarlet Knights.
The defense stepped up which was not unexpected. But most surprising was the play on the offensive side of the ball. After the past several years of three yards and a cloud of dust and total ineptness moving the ball, fans were given a glimpse of the future in an imaginative and highly improved offense.
Much of this can be attributed to the hiring of Rutgers Offensive Coordinator Sean Gleeson. The native of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, prior to coming to the Banks, directed one of the most explosive offenses in college football in his lone season with Oklahoma State.
Gleeson was hired by Greg Schiano in January 2020 and was a key addition to the Scarlet Knights coaching staff. Prior to Oklahoma State, Gleeson coached at six seasons at Princeton, including the last two as offensive coordinator. In Gleeson’s time at Princeton, the Tigers won three Ivy League championships and averaged 36.9 points. He helped the Tigers to an undefeated 2018 season.
In his first season as an offensive coordinator at the FBS level, Oklahoma State’s offense averaged 32.5 points (36th nationally).
In Gleeson’s first season at Rutgers, Gleeson was named a candidate for the 2020 Broyles Award, which annually honors the top assistant coach in college football.
This was for good reason as Rutgers posted a program-best 26.7 points per game since joining the Big Ten. They scored at least 20 points in eight games after reaching the mark only five times the previous four seasons and 12 times in the first 52 Big Ten games. Rutgers finished as the fourth-most improved team in the nation by scoring offense (+13.4 points per game).
Most significantly, the Scarlet Knights scored 81 more points than in 2019 while playing three fewer games and recorded the sixth-best improvement in the nation in total points scored. In addition, RU was the most improved in the Big Ten total in touchdowns scored (+12) and offensive touchdowns (+9).
Fans saw a Rutgers offense average over 300 yards per game in a Big Ten season for the first time since 2015. One only had to look as far as Bo Melton to see what effect coaching can have on performance as the former 4-star prospect was a completely different player. He finally fulfilled his potential by ranking in the in the top six in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in the Big Ten.
Moving forward, fans can expect continued improvement as both experience and familiarity with Gleeson’s system should relate to improvement on the field. Asked about the offense midway through training camp during BTN’s visit, Gleeson said, “I feel like we had a nice stretch here where the guys have some retention and they are moving forward in the way that we want them to move.”
While Gleeson’s creativity will keep defenses on their heels, it will be the play of the offensive line and running game that will largely determine success on the field. The offensive line is prime to surprise a lot of fans and the running game consisting primarily of Isaih Pacheco and Aaron Young brings power, speed, and elusiveness to the offense.
Between the spring game and training camp, the wide receivers and tight end position appear to be taking it to the next level. Gleeson explained how big plays in the passing game can lead the offense to take another step forward this season.
“I think, in frequency, we are doing it at a regular rate,” said Gleeson. “I think some of the returns we get and managing the football and making sure doesn’t end up in someone else’s hands, I think that we could take a big step forward this year in the way that we complete the ball 15+ yards downfield. We know at Rutgers we are trying to get enough 25-yard plays in a game that impact winning percentage. We know that is a result of throwing it over 15 yards. So we got to get better in that area.”
It is going to be a lot of fun seeing what Gleeson does with a year under his belt and a second season with his system in place. Fans in attendance should have plenty to cheer about.