Facts: Simon played well enough for Rutgers to win: he did not turn the ball over or ever really put the ball in harm’s way. Despite an insanely conservative game plan and no real run game threat, he did complete 60% of his passes including a critical 4th down conversion. Simon also protected himself physically as the only healthy scholarship quarterback available for the final three quarters of the game. He did take a bad sack which we still have no idea what the playcall was on his final snap. Again, he’s the co-starting quarterback on a team that is 3-0.
My personal opinion is that Simon did exactly what Greg Schiano asked him to do coming into the game against Temple and surely re-iterated once Wimsatt went down due to injury, nothing more, but nothing less. To say Simon is “not the guy” is extremely premature under the circumstances. This could probably go in the facts column but the garbage some people (including some journalists) are spewing about how Simon was “inaccurate” is completely false or at the very least, a re-definition of the word.
Evan was 7-7 on throws less than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, plus 2-2 on throws 10-20 yards in the middle of the field. That won’t stretch a defense but traditionally “inaccurate” is Christian Hackenberg chucking a bubble screen 5 short of his intended receiver, Art Sitkowski throwing two pick sixes against Kansas, or beloved Gary Nova earlier in his career overthrowing NFL quality receivers like Mohammed Sanu, Mark Harrison, and Brandon Coleman (again early in his career) even when they had 10 yards of separation from a defensive back. Throwing a ball along the sidelines that is a non-catchable for a defensive player and ONLY possibly for your receiver if he jumps perfectly when playing with the lead and you are coached to not stand in the pocket waiting for someone to get open to risk injury is what they told him to do. The most off target ball Simon threw all day was possibly the out route along the sideline when Chris Long was open and yet somehow Long made an incredible one-handed catch for the second week in a row. Other than that, Evan probably could have given Sean Ryan a better chance on the fade route in the end zone, but it’s not like receivers in the progression generally speaking were running around wide open on time that were even targeted, nevermind completely missed. I think Schiano and/or Gleeson are still a little shell shocked from the Illinois game two years ago when an “inaccurate” Noah Vedral throw was picked off and ended up costing Rutgers a game they were about to win. Also when Vedral was intercepted at the goal line in the Gator Bowl last year with Rutgers on the brink of a game tying touchdown at the end of the first half.
All that said, we have really only seen Simon in extended action three times, the Maryland game last year when the offense needed to try and throw the ball downfield when he went 7-14 for 86 yards, the BC game when he went 8-13 for 63 yards, and this game. None of that confirms he will definitely be even an above average Big Ten backup (though what I have seen of QB play the last two years in the conference, he’s better than most backups) in the long run so the jury is still out as more tape gets out there. Whomever wants to speculate about the future of Evan Simon, the Rutgers quarterback room, and the team as a whole is totally welcome to do so, we have nine more games to find out if there’s more we haven’t seen yet.
The first of those nine games is against Iowa. Their starting QB Spencer Petras has been under fire for his 48% completion, 376 yard performance over the first three games. He led the Hawkeyes to a division title a season ago, but could be benched. Does he count as “the guy” for Iowa despite winning a division title? Has he regressed or it it at least partially coaching? We will get more data on that parallel scenario this weekend.
Do I agree Gavin Wimsatt has a higher ceiling than Simon? Absolutely! But right now Gavin has completed just 19 of his 44 career passes with four interceptions, and just a single touchdown (that required an insanely athletic catch from Chris Long despite being wide open). Until Wimsatt (or Simon) definitively shows he can move the ball downfield through the air, we need to side with the coaching staff and what they see in practice. “Giving the keys” to one of them like the former coaching staff did with Sitkowski is probably a bad idea at this point.
You don’t need to take my word for any of this though. The most telling action from Schiano / Gleeson though is that last year against Maryland, with bowl eligibility on the line, down 26-9, when Rutgers had no choice but to throw the ball since the run game was non-existent, who did they call upon? It wasn’t Vedral (a guy who threw for 381 yards against Michigan in 2020), Wimsatt, Johnny Langan, or even Cole Snyder; it was Evan Simon. So even with a fully healthy 2022 QB room, IF the team needs to pass the ball and IF the coaching staff is willing to accept that like they did against the Terps last season, they probably go with Evan Simon. If he can’t come through, so be it. And even if he doesn’t the first time, he’s still technically just a redshirt freshman.
The big if is whether they turn him loose or not. I agree 100% with TrollsDestroyedNJCom’s comment that “a good college QB should be able to take 3-5 step drops and make reads while dropping back and then deliver a strike to a split second open WR or TE.” Definitely yes. Funny enough I saw Cole Snyder do this for Buffalo last weekend when he threw for 264 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT. Was he ever allowed to let it rip like that at Rutgers? No. Should he or any other QB been allowed to? Maybe. So that has to be taken into serious consideration by fans and the coaching staff. Can Simon do that right now? We will find out over the next few weeks.
If Simon is the only healthy scholarship quarterback against Iowa with Gavin Wimsatt and Noah Vedral officially considered game-time decisions, the game plan will probably start out just as conservative as last week. (one reason being as one commenter put it, he might be running for his life) Iowa has a stout defense that is better at forcing turnovers than Rutgers is plus the best special teams unit in the conference alongside a Hawkeye offense that through three games has proven equally anemic. The Rutgers offensive line (which will be covered in the upcoming reasons for optimism / reasons for pessimism article) has been inconsistent in pass protection to put it lightly. As much as we’d love a Cinderella story of a walk-on or even Johnny Langan quarterbacking a win over defending Big Ten West Division Champion Iowa, that would be a longshot at best, borderline miracle.
Will Rutgers beat Iowa, even if Simon plays the whole game behind center? Maybe. 43.3% likelihood per ESPN FPI which seems about right at this point in time. The simple fact that we don’t have to lie ourselves into thinking Rutgers even has a chance to beat a middle of the pack Big Ten team is a quantum leap forward when put in context. Take a guess at this trivia question: Since Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014, how many times have they beaten a team that ended up finishing with a winning record in Big Ten play?
The answer is ZERO. The best Rutgers did was beating a Maryland team in the 2014 season finale which dropped the Terps to 4-4 in conference play. Next best is a 4-5 Purdue team in 2017 and a 4-5 Illinois team last year which also would have been over .500 had they beaten the Knights. You have to go back to 1988 when Rutgers beat a Michigan State team in the season opener to the last time they beat a Big Ten team who finished with a winning conference record. That Spartans team started out 0-4-1 before rattling off six straight wins to earn a bowl trip to Jacksonville ... oh yes, the Gator Bowl ironically enough. Iowa may not finish with a winning conference record either with how terrible their offense has been so far, but they usually find their way to eight wins overall. And rarely do they get beaten by a team that can only run the ball.
Do I hope Evan Simon and Gavin Wimsatt both improve enough to play in the NFL one day? Of course I do. Do I think even one of them will? No, plus statistics and history don’t think so either. Does that mean one or both of them can’t win a big conference game in their careers? Of course not. Could that be as soon as this year? Possibly, though I don’t expect either of them to be the driver of a major win with a 300 yard, 4 TD type performance. I hope Simon can lead the team to victory this week, and for the first time in a long time, there is reasonable hope for a big time win in a big time game. And even if Rutgers doesn’t pull this one out, they have another reasonable chance in two weeks against Nebraska in a similar night game environment.
Feel free to leave comments below and we won’t keep receipt quite like Robert Saleh.