You may have already realized that I skipped “answers to question after Week 5”. Well...
Anything that happened against Wagner should be forgotten and truly doesn’t matter (besides Ajani Sheppard playing the final drive and covering the spread). With that being said, let’s shift our focus to answers we got after the Wisconsin loss. To refresh your mind on answer we got after Michigan, click here.
So the Wisconsin loss...
Before the season started, I had this game circled as a loss as soon as the schedule came out. With so many questions facing the team, I immediately considered this a loss because of the way the Badgers have beat down on Rutgers in previous years. Then something CRAZY happened...Rutgers started the season with three dominant wins. The devil on my shoulder began whispering louder and louder after each win.
“Wisconsin struggled (in the first half) against Buffalo. Cole Synder! Remember him?!”
*GASP* “Did the Luke Fickell and the Badgers just lose to Washington State?! One of the forgotten sons of the PAC 12?! Wow Fickell isn’t ready for the Power 5!!”
I let the devil get the best of me. I predicted a Rutgers win. I was wrong. Credit to me for acknowledging this. That takes a lot of courage. Good for me.
Before we answer some questions, let’s make something clear: This Rutgers team is “not there yet”. Those are Coach Schiano’s words. He’s right. A loss like this gave fans (me) a necessary wake up call. We needed to be reminded of a couple of things:
1. The team is still a work in progress and immediate Big Ten success this season was unrealistic.
2. The team is improved but simply is “not there yet”, so taper expectations for this season.
3. Remain patient, there is still plenty to be excited about.
I needed this game as a reality check, like so many other fans. The goal of the season was to get to six wins. That is very much alive and fans should continue to focus on that goal. Now, let’s talk about what we learned from our trip to Madison!
Answers to Questions after Week 6
Will Gavin improve as a QB? (Week 4 answer: Yes, we’re witnessing it)
Sticking with yes, but it’s complicated. Gavin made an extremely ill-advised throw that ultimately cost Rutgers the game. His completion percentage is not good and the games ahead of us will only become more challenging. Leading up to this game, I was curious how Gavin and this team would respond to the first gut punch of the season. Obviously something similar happened against Michigan, but in my opinion this pick six was much different and way more costly.
Why do I think he will improve? Gavin responded to this adversity by continuing to play tough the rest of the game and found a way to throw a touchdown. Offensively there were not many positives, but Gavin remained poised in the pocket and continued to make plays with his legs. The next two games will show us if his improvement is significant enough to get this team to a bowl game.
Will 5 starters emerge for the offensive line? (Week 4 answer: Yes, the unit is taking form)
Tough to say, still a lot of shuffling. Hollin Pierce and Gus Zilinskas were the only two previous starters the remained locked into their positions. Curtis Dunlap moved to right guard, Brian Felter started in his place on the left side, and Kamar Missouri replaced Kobe Asamoah at right tackle. As the game progressed, Reggie Sutton came in at right tackle which I was very excited about. I want to see more of Sutton.
Will the offensive line improve? (Week 4 answer: Yes, especially in pass protection)
It’s split right now. Run vs pass blocking. Most of our running plays are designed to run up the interior of the line. So many of those plays are blown up immediately and our running backs are lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage. The weakness of the line is certainly along the interior. Rutgers needs to run the ball EFFECTIVELY to win games. They don’t need to bust off big runs. They need to consistently get a push up front and convert on short down plays to move the chains. The line needs to step up in the running game.
Conversely, pass protection this season has been quite impressive in my opinion. Despite giving up just their third sack of the season against the Badgers, the offensive line has performed well on passing plays. Hollin Pierce has done a really great job protecting the blindside. Hopefully that continues because he is yet to face an elite pass rush. That will come soon.
Will the passing game improve? Will there be a No. 1 WR? (Week 4 answer: Yes, this game was a perfect example. Not yet, but we’re getting close!)
The passing game will not improve if Rutgers cannot run the ball. We all want to see Gavin pass the ball more, but we are yet to see his arm be the reason Rutgers wins games. Without much of run game on Saturday, Rutgers was not able to consistently sustain offensive drives and that contributed mightily to why they lost the game. The passing game is reliant on a number of factors, but none is greater than Gavin protecting the ball and he unfortunately failed with that against Wisconsin.
Is there a No. 1 WR on this team? Yes, either JaQuae Jackson or Ian Strong. I think they are both complimentary WR. JaQuae is capable of running all the routes and can be a great option on first and second down, while Ian Strong is a big body WR that can make explosive plays against smaller DBs. Jackson can also really stretch the field with his speed and ability to generate separation at the line of scrimmage. It was encouraging to see Strong much more involved in this offense this week and I hope it continues. Both WRs can be successful in this offense...if Gavin accurately gets them ball!
Are the running backs the strongest unit on offense? (Week 4 answer: Yes, especially when you factor in Gavin’s ability to run the ball)
Yes, but it doesn’t matter if the run game is nonexistent. Rarely is it the running backs fault for getting hit at the line of scrimmage, and unfortunately, we saw a lot of that on Saturday. Gavin was yet again the team’s leading rusher. I love Monangai and Benjamin, but it’s time we get Aaron Young some more touches in the back field. He is the team’s most experienced running back and has looked good in limited action this season. Sam Brown does not sound to be fully healthy, so let’s get Young the ball!
Will the defense live up to the preseason hype? (Week 4 answer: Yes, but this game helped tamper expectations)
Yes. The defense is very very good and there are statistics and advanced metrics that support this (look it up on your own, I don’t have time to do nerd stuff right now). The defense forced two fumbles, one of which happened late in the game that allowed Rutgers to cover the spread (massive W for the boys). In all seriousness, the defense has done a good job limiting offenses and continues to battle for the full 60 minutes. Can the unit improve? Sure. What’s the easiest way to improve? Having a freaking offense that controls the freaking ball!!
Ready to go for Week 7. The #Rutgers defense still ranks top 25 in several statistics including passing yards allowed (10th), red zone D (7th), scoring D (13th) and total D (14th) pic.twitter.com/OS9tJc7jW5— Pat Lanni (@PatLanniNJ) October 9, 2023
Will Kirk Ciarrocca install an offense that works? (Week 4 answer: Yes, but.....)
Only if the script goes as planned it appears. With virtually no run game, the offense against Wisconsin’s middle of the pack defense reminded fans of the offensive woes of past seasons. We are not going to have offensive fireworks each game, but asking for less three and outs is certainly a fair expectation.
In another crucial, momentum shifting moment, Kirk Ciarrocca made the wrong play call that resulted in ANOTHER pick six. Everything went wrong on that play and everyone needs to be better. Criticizing Ciarrocca is fair, but he has shown that his offense works under the correct circumstances. He needs to be more adaptive when the script it flipped upside down.
Will fans show up to games? (Week 4 answer: Yes (please))
I hope so, it’s HOMECOMING WEEK! The Wagner crowd was pretty disappointing, but I would not have wanted to watch that game either. A win on Saturday changes everything. Let’s show up in force and make this game a true home field advantage!
You are the home field advantage. See you Saturday pic.twitter.com/LK7atDboHo— Rutgers Football (@RFootball) October 10, 2023
Did I post a youtube video breaking down the Wisconsin loss and midseason results?