Youth has been the story for Rutgers to start the season. Over half of the roster is underclassmen and they’ve played a hugely important role in Rutgers's 3-0 start. Rutgers is starting underclassmen at 10 positions and plenty more are listed in the two-deep. Many of these freshmen and sophomores are playing key positions for Rutgers such as quarterback, running back, and many positions on the defensive side of the ball.
Gavin Wimsatt & Evan Simon
These two underclassmen have been handed the reins to the Rutgers offense over the first three games. With Noah Vedral out with an injury, Wimsatt and Simon have held down the fort at quarterback. The play hasn’t been spectacular, but both of shown flashes of potential and have played well enough to win football games. With the possibility of both Wimsatt and Vedral being out this week, the sophomore Simon will have to be on top of his game against Iowa.
Kyle Monangai & Al-Shadee Salaam
Monangai and Salaam have been a deadly one-two punch at running back to start the season. The two have combined to rush for 269 yards and 4 touchdowns through 3 games. They have largely been the driving force behind offensive production for Rutgers and the pair has been hard to bring down. Against Boston College, the two ran for 95 of the 96 total yards on Rutgers's game-winning touchdown drive. With Aaron Young out indefinitely, the two underclassmen need to keep producing at a high level for Rutgers’ offense to have any success.
Max Melton & Robert Longerbeam
These two defensive backs may end up being the latest pair of Schiano defenders to make it to the NFL. For now, they are a formidable duo of sophomores for any offense to line up against. Through three games this season, the twosome has three interceptions and Longerbeam has also forced a fumble. If they keep playing at the level they have as of late, both players have a chance to be All-Big Ten selections. Melton and Longerbeam are key to the success of a Rutgers defense that has looked like a major strength through the non-conference slate.
Tyreem Powell stepped into this season with some big shoes to fill. With star linebackers Olakunle Fatukasi and Tyshon Fogg graduating, and Mohamed Toure out for the season, Powell needed to step up big time. He’s done just that. He has 14 tackles which is good for 4th on the team, along with a sack and a pass defended. He has risen to the occasion for Rutgers at a very thin linebacker position. Without the play of Powell, Rutgers's defense would be in a very different situation.
Other Underclassmen That Have Shined
Plenty of other underclassmen have played well for Rutgers to start the season. Desmond Igbinosun, for one, has 16 tackles to start the year and has been a force in the secondary. Sophomore Wesley Bailey has 2.5 sacks to lead Rutgers through the first 3 weeks of the season. Chris Long has made some highlight real catches (albeit against Wagner) and shown flashes of talent at receiver, and the mix of underclassmen on the D-Line has impressed as well to start the season.
How these players perform over the rest of the long season remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: The better they play, the more games Rutgers is gonna win. With a lack of veteran starters on the team, it’s going to be up to the young guns on Rutgers roster to make impacts and help win football games. If they can, this could be a season to remember.