Rutgers beat Temple 16-14 in Philadelphia on Saturday. The victory leaves the Scarlet Knights 3-0 heading into Big Ten play which everyone associated with the program would have signed up for heading into the 2022 campaign. Even if Johnny Langan scored a touchdown in the final minute rather than sliding down at the one yard line (hint-hint Cleveland Browns) for a likely 23-14 victory which looks better on paper, the same group of people would have all the same questions about whether the Knights have enough of a threat in the pass game to win a 2022 Big Ten game, hopefully several games.
When Gavin Wimsatt left due to injury, all eyes were on Even Simon, the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the Rutgers roster. Since there have been so many hot takes and oversimplified opinions, we took the liberty of reviewing every play Simon dropped back to pass to make as comprehensive an assessment of his play as possible with publicly available resources (i.e, not having the All-22 film like the team does). Statistically, he finished 9-15 for 52 yards and was sacked twice in the victory. That is far from the whole story ...
(Some) Real-time thoughts
- Rutgers needs to pass the ball better. Period. No excuses.
- The offensive line could not get push in the run game and were the playcalls bad asking linemen to pull or was it the execution?
- The offensive line could not provide consistent pass protection, again.
Re-watch breakdown - 1st Half
One of the advantages to a two-quarterback system is that if one of them gets hurt, the other quarterback has prepped to play significant snaps and is already warm to get into the game. Rutgers clearly came in with a game plan to try and wear down an under-appreciated Temple defensive front you’d think with Wimsatt primarily, but Evan Simon got the start officially. (QUICK NOTE: With it being possibly the closest game to his hometown he will play at the college level, it was nice to see Simon start. Schiano seems to always be able to make these little human interest stories happen without making a huge deal publicly, whereas most coaches, including some former RU coaches always seem to miss.)
After Temple went three and out on the opening drive of the game (including a missed opportunity for a pick six by Robert Longerbeam), Rutgers took over at their own 28. Two runs set up a 3rd and 7 and as would be a theme throughout the entire game, an extremely conservative playcall from offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson appeared to have almost no chance of converting a first down. Simon didn’t wait to see if he would get pressure and got the ball out quickly to Johnny Langan (green box below) who caught the ball but was well short of a first down. Three Rutgers receivers look to be in the exact same area (red line) which an optimist would think was intended to confuse the defense, but probably was a missed route by somebody which is a bad sign on the first series of the game.
After an RU punt, Temple went on a log scoring drive of their own to go up 7-0. Freshman Quarterback Gavin Wimsatt took the next series for RU and the teams exchanged punts again. Wimsatt again took the reins on the 3rd RU drive which ended up in a field goal to cut the score to 7-3. The key play on the drive was a 29 yard run by Johnny Langan on a jet sweep (not lined up at quarterback), during which he actually fumbled downfield but was luckily recovered by Wide Receiver Sean Ryan. Unfortunately Wimsatt appeared to have injured his leg and would not return to the game again.
After a questionable Temple punt from the RU 43 yard line, Rutgers returned to the field with Simon calling the signals. A 3rd and 3 became a 3rd and 8 after center Ireland Brown (normally reliable) committed a false start. With the 3rd and 8 from their own 14 yard line, Rutgers likely would have played it safe, but Simon dropped back to pass and was sacked. (Someone can correct me, but I think a lineman completely whiffed on his block on this play).
After a Rutgers punt, Shaquan Loyal returned an interception for a touchdown and then Rutgers got the ball back up 10-7 at the Temple 34 yard line after the Owls failed to convert on a 4th down and 1. With good field position, Simon finally had his second pass attempt of the game on a 2nd down and 8 on the fringe of field goal range with 3:17 left in the half. With Rutgers picking up a blitz well enough, Simon fired quickly to the sideline before intended target Josh Youngblood was even looking for the ball and it landed just out of bounds.
In retrospect, the ball probably should have gone to the weak side receiver (teal box). However Simon did correctly identify man coverage to the strong side (green arrows) and so it was the correct read to stay on his strong side rather than progress down to his left especially with pressure coming. The top side receiver (red arrow) draws a corner and safety with the crossing route so Simon throws the ball to a spot along the sideline hoping Youngblood will get it. Personally I think this was a good play design and if Simon either A. had more confidence in the protection and/or B. was told my the coaching staff to hold the ball a bit longer, he waits for the speedster to get a step on his defender before throwing it.
Simon again dropped back on 3rd down and 8, and Rutgers blocks the four pass rushers quite well. In the screenshot below though you can see that Simon only has two quick options (yellow boxes), designed into this play as hot routes if Temple brought a blitz.
Since the Owls did not blitz, Simon does not go to Johnny Langan (top yellow box) or he would likely have been stopped short of the sticks like the first pass of the game previously discussed. Kyle Monangai also could remain an option (bottom yellow box) but it depends on the linebacker (red box). If the linebacker has help (potentially the corner yellow arrow), he could jump the out route for an easy pick six if the corner passes the bottom side receiver to the safety (off-screen).
After another second passes and no one is for sure open, Simon tucks the ball and runs up the middle for a gain of five, setting up 4th and 3.
On the ensuing play, knowing that it’s 4th down, the consequences of an interception are much lower so as Kyle Monangai does a great job in blitz pick up, Simon fires a ball into a medium sized window (yellow box) closing very quickly to move the sticks. This was a huge play to give the RU defense a rest and show Temple RU could fire the ball in when needed.
From the backside angle you can see how Sean Ryan had to secure the catch while taking a huge hit.
On 2nd and 15 Simon throw an incomplete curl route (yellow arrow) when Ryan decided to run a quick slant (green arrow). This was a miscommunication, but both routes were open so you can understand why each player saw things the way they did.
On the 3rd and 15, Simon throws the fade to Ryan but the ball has no real chance of being caught. As would be the theme later in the game, I think the attempt here was just to draw a penalty. Rutgers settles for a 38 yard field goal attempt, but they miss and the teams go to the locker room with the Knights clinging to a 10-7 lead.
Simon finished the half sacked once plus 2-5 passing for 14 yards, two of the incompletions appearing to be out of bounds by design. I must also mention that at some point (though I didn’t see it), Head Coach Greg Schiano was reported to have been yelling at Gleeson on the sideline. Nothing conclusive has come out of this but I have seen speculators fall into three camps: Schiano angry Gleeson was not risk-averse enough, Schiano wanting Gleeson to go up to the press box, and Schiano being upset by the pass-run ratio overall. What I haven’t seen is anyone say this was just Schiano pulling a Bill Walsh and yelling at a coach to motivate the players.
The second half began shockingly with three consecutive “passes” to Aron Cruickshank to try and get RU’s best playmaker the ball and jump start the offense.
The first was a jet sweep that went for a loss of seven, then a deep incompletion on 2nd and 17 where Cruickshank appeared to be held down the right sideline which surely would have been called in the NFL (also may have set up a flag later), and on the third and 17 Cruickshank slipped trying to make his break, but it’s unclear if that was before or after the ball was thrown (green arrow). To me it looked like a perfect comeback route 20 yards downfield that probably would have been caught if Cruickshank (green box) kept his footing. That said without the all-22 film it’s impossible to know if the throw was on target.
A perfect play design/ call by Gleeson and read from Simon to have converted a third and long, but Rutgers was forced to punt deep in their own territory again. Temple’s punter is not Adam Korsak though so after a three and out Rutgers was now at their own 47, effectively gaining 23 yards in the field position battle.
After two runs of just a yard each, Rutgers faced 3rd and 8 from their own 49. Temple ran a complicated zone blitz and Simon was hit as he threw down the left sideline to Cruickshank. The ball landed out of bounds, but with the defender making no attempt to look at or play the ball and playing Cruickshank, a flag was thrown for pass interference. Personally I think the call was questionable at the college level, but again in the NFL that gets flagged every time.
Rutgers moved quickly upfield on a 16 yard run by freshman running back Samuel Brown V then ran a read option jet sweep with Johnny Langan where Simon opted to keep the ball himself for a gain of six yards to the Temple 14. This was a typical play you’d see from Noah Vedral, but everyone held their breath with Simon (the only healthy scholarship QB) running into traffic and taking a hit.
Four plays later the Knights faced a 3rd and goal from the 7 yard line. Simon throws the fade to Cruickshank (yellow arrow) way out of bounds. It seemed like nothing was obviously open so just be safe and take the field goal attempt while hoping you might draw a penalty in the process for a fresh set of downs. Had Rutgers been down at this juncture I think the playcall is different AND Simon would have tried to scramble if required.
Jude McAtamney converted his second field goal of the game and the Knights led 13-7. Rutgers again forced a Temple turnover on downs in Owl territory, reclaiming the ball at the Temple 44. Despite a ridiculous one handed catch by Chris Long on a very safe quick out, Rutgers again faced 3rd and long. On 3rd and 8 from the 42, Simon hit perhaps his biggest play of the game, an 18 yard gain to Shameen Jones.
Temple again goes zone blitz as six men start at the line but only four rush. Rutgers picks it up much better than they had previously affording Simon the time to throw a strike to a wide open Jones (green box). No one was within 5 yards of him.
An 11 yard run by Simon was wiped out by a holding call, so Rutgers again faced a critical sequence from the Temple 25 just inside field goal range. A quickly thrown, on the money wide receiver screen was stopped for just a gain of three, but these are the type of plays where if the receiver has to wait or reach for the ball, the play goes for a loss of three rather than any sort of gain. This set up another 3rd and you guessed it, 8 yards to go.
Temple sent seven and Rutgers with only six blockers meant Simon had to scramble since his hot route was Aron Cruickshank hidden behind the wall of bodies. Simon did an awesome job sneaking through the left side setting up an awkward sequence. With Temple in cover zero, Sean Ryan was wide open down the middle of the field, but with Simon finally able to see Cruickshank and tons of space he threw what may be the shortest throw in an RU game all season.
Frankly I’m shocked Cruickshank not only didn’t beat one man on his way to the endzone, he failed to get the first down. Nine out of ten times, Aron beats one man in wide open space. It’s also worth noting that if presented the identical scenario Gavin Wimsatt probably just tucks the ball and runs with Cruickshank blocking the one defender and gets an easy touchdown himself. Still though, heckuva play by the Temple defender to force RU to settle for a field goal and 16-7 lead.
Temple did score a touchdown on a blown coverage and missed tackle, so RU took over up 16-14 with a little over 14 minutes left to play. On 2nd and 5, another wide receiver screen went for eight yards but Josh Youngblood missed on his block or it would have went for a lot more. Rutgers went right back to the pass game, but the nickel corner (red box) bit so badly on the fake jet sweep which made no sense when he never would have been able to chase the play down from behind from the other side of the field, Simon was forced to check down to Al-Shadee Salaam (teal box).
The play went for a gain of four to avoid Simon taking a hit and keep the ball moving forward. It’s worth noting that if Youngblood (yellow box) could have executed a block once he realized the ball wasn’t destined for him, this might have gone for a TD. As much as Youngblood is a downgrade as a blocker compared to some other RU receivers, he is getting too much criticism for this one since it was not a designed running back screen. Also if the defender does not crash Simon so quickly forcing a check down, Cruickshank (green box) was wide open in the middle of the field for what would probably have been an easy touchdown for him also.
Simon’s last drop back which also turned out to be his last snap I believe, came on a critical 3rd and you guessed it again, eight from the Temple 25. With Rutgers clinging to the two point lead on on the edge of field goal range, the idea is to get any sort of positive yards and avoid a negative play. Unfortunately for RU in the moment, that was a complete fail, though they did burn eight minutes off the clock in the process before being forced to punt.
The play itself is really confusing for me even after watching a dozen times.
Temple seems to be in a simple 4-2-5 alignment. Rutgers in their base 11 personnel with Langan an inline tight end to the top side and Kyle Monangai to Simon’s right. Cruickshank comes in motion.
Then I have no idea what was supposed to happen. Temple slants their defensive line to their right, Rutgers’s left. Hollin Pierce #72 at right tackle obliterates his man with a chip block from Curtis Dunlap while center Ireland Brown oversteps to his left. Willie Tyler and Johnny Langan control the top side edge defender.
But the first trouble is obvious in the red box below. Left guard J.D. DiRenzo ends up pulling way to the right to cut off the defensive end, but since the DE has such a free rush with Kyle Monangai not even chipping him, Cruickshank has to block him.
DiRenzo continues downfield seemingly to block for no one (unless this was a designed QB run). Simon seeing Cruickshank putting up a valiant effort attempts to step up in the pocket but Brown’s man even with help from Dunlap has now penetrated the center. Simon since he can’t throw the ball away from the pocket without incurring an intentional grounding penalty then has to try to go outside but Cruickshank is eventually overpowered by a guy outweighing him by 100 pounds and Simon is sacked for a loss of 15.
Honestly I have no idea what the play call was here. Perhaps 1. a fade to Shameen Jones if Youngblood wasn’t wide open in the middle or 2. a designed short throw to Monangai (which wouldn’t explain why DiRenzo was pulling) or 3. a toss to Cruickshank which explains DiRenzo but not why Monangai wouldn’t block the edge unless Pierce should have stayed with the edge rusher. Even if Wimsatt was in the game and the play was called, Cruickshank would never have motioned across to bring another defender to that side unless it was a designed QB run to the left which Simon showed no indication of. We may never know, but I’m sure this was the first thing discussed once the team was safely on the bus on the way back to Piscataway.
Luckily for Rutgers they got another turnover on downs during Temple’s final possession and ran out the clock inside the Temple five yard line with Johnny Langan running the ball from the quarterback spot.
Final Score: Rutgers 16, Temple 14.
Check back at onthebanks.com for the Part 2 final thoughts on Simon’s play and what this means for the offense moving forward.