We have reached the week of Big Ten Media Days when head coaches and representatives for all 14 programs will speak about the upcoming season.
Greg Schiano will be joined by Aaron Lewis, Johnny Langan, and Deion Jennings to preview the 2023 Rutgers Football team. The action will begin on Wednesday morning from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
For many teams, there will be some burning questions that fans want to hear the answers to. For the Scarlet Knights, this is no different. There will be many topics at hand but these five questions could be at the forefront of any conversation.
1. Will Scarlet Knights get more out of the quarterback position?
This seems to be the unanswerable question for the Scarlet Knights. We know how Schiano operates — close to the vest. Which is fine to an extent but it is time to name a quarterback. Let’s bring some stability to the offense.
It is assumed that Gavin Wimsatt will be under center full time this season. He was a highly-touted recruit for Rutgers and has gotten some time in each of the past two years. Now, it is time for Wimsatt to take over completely.
Last season, Rutgers jogged out three different players to take the first three snaps of the season against Boston College. That’s not a recipe for success. It would behoove the Scarlet Knights to put their most-talented option under center and led him get in a rhythm. Enter Wimsatt.
In 2022, Wimsatt still looked a bit raw. That could be chalked up to lack of consistency and playing time. He showed all the physical tools needed, including arm strength and physicality. Yes, he lacked accuracy and this led to completing just 44.8% of his passes (65-for-145). He finished 20 yards behind Evan Simon for the team lead with 757 passing yards to go with five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The quarterback position will be a hot topic once again for Rutgers during media days. Last year, it was answered by saying in many different ways that there would be a competition. Fans can expect a similar answer from Schiano this time around, with Wimsatt and Simon being at the forefront.
As training camp begins, Schiano and his staff will have to name a starter and finally bring some needed stability to the unit.
2. Can the offensive line find consistency?
The offense has a whole has been a work in progress for Rutgers but the offensive line tops the list.
The unit has been shaky since Schiano returned to the banks back in 2020. Year in and year out, the staff has attempted to find that consistency needed up front. Could this be the year?
Rutgers returns three starters along the offensive line from last season. It begins with former walk on turned anchor Hollin Pierce. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound behemoth has made 24 starts for Rutgers on the right side of the offensive line. With last year’s left tackle Willie Tyler entering the transfer portal, it will be interesting to see if Pierce is moved to the left side or keeps his spot at right tackle. It is likely that he takes the spot on the left side.
Curtis Dunlap Jr. started all 12 games at right guard last season for Rutgers while Ireland Brown returns after starting 11 games at center. Brown struggled against some top-tier competition in the Big Ten but has a chance to use his experience this season.
This leaves two open spots but returning three players is the overlap that programs need to build. Redshirt Sophomore Tyler Needham is an intriguing name to keep an eye on this season that could takeover a starting role. Rutgers also has options in the upper classes with senior Mike Ciaffoni and junior Bryan Felter.
A reliable unit up front will help in the run game but more importantly, will give Wimsatt the protection needed to get any semblance of a passing attack. It has been a mixture over the last three years. Rutgers has lacked a downfield passing attack because there was no time for routes to be run and there was no quarterback that could push it down the field. Rutgers is hoping that Wimsatt is the option under center and will have plenty of time behind this offensive line.
3. Return of Mohamed Toure, Aaron Lewis hype: Can the defense compete in the Big Ten?
Rutgers is expected to have a strong defensive unit and the return of Mohamed Toure is a reason why. This is something that Schiano discussed at length back in the spring.
“He was such a multi-dimensional player,” Schiano said during the first media session of the spring. “It wasn’t only on defense and on third down. He’s the best left guard in the country I think on punt team. This guy is a phenomenal player. He’s bigger, he’s stronger than he was. I’m really excited about getting Mo back. He was a huge loss.”
The Scarlet Knights struggled in getting to the quarterback last season. This is where they missed Toure, who finished with 4.5 sacks each in 2020 and 2021. Last season, Rutgers had just 20 as a team, which was 12th in the Big Ten.
During the spring, Schiano claimed that both Toure and Moses Walker were “full go” after suffering season-ending injuries last year. Along with the key returners is Aaron Lewis. The defensive end is expected to make a huge impact this year and be one of the elite in the Big Ten.
If Lewis can take that next step, along with the return of Toure, the Scarlet Knights should be able to get to the opposing quarterback at a higher rate than last season.
4. Just how good is Max Melton and the secondary?
Max Melton highlights key returners in the secondary for the Scarlet Knights. The fate of the defense will be played out on the field but entering 2023, this might be the strongest group for Rutgers.
Melton took a big step forward last season and is looking to continue his rise. He is a promising talent that has what it takes to be a No. 1 corner in the Big Ten on his way to playing on Sundays. Along with Melton, the Scarlet Knights return Robert Longerbeam in the secondary.
Along with its returners, Rutgers brought in Northern Illinois transfer Eric Rogers and Minnesota product Flip Dixon, who has played 30 games in the Big Ten during his career. Both are expected to play a major role right away for Rutgers.
The overall depth of Rutgers in the backfield is impressive but returning two starters from last year makes it an elite group.
5. What is Kirk Ciarrocca’s plan for the offense?
Of course, this is a question that is not going to be answered at media day but it has been in the minds of those around Rutgers since the hire was made.
Let’s look at the facts from last season. Rutgers Big Ten ranks from 2022:
- 17.3 points per game - 13th
- 25 touchdowns - T12th
- 128.2 rushing yards per game - 8th
- 11 rushing touchdowns - T-Last
- 153.9 passing yards per game - Last
- 11 passing touchdowns - 12th
- 282.1 yards per game - 13th
Aside from a decent rushing attack once Samuel Brown took over, Rutgers was near the bottom in many major offensive categories. The lack of success and underwhelming play calling led to Sean Gleeson being let go. Not to mention a putrid performance against Nebraska.
The hiring of Kirk Ciarrocca brings an experienced play caller in the Big Ten to Piscataway. He got a chance to work with his offense and get acquainted during the spring. Now, he will take it to the next level come training camp. The major question is, how can Rutgers improve offensively and what will Ciarrocca do immediately?
This will be answered over the first few games of the season. Rutgers has a chance to begin 3-0 with matchups against Northwestern, Temple, and Virginia Tech. For this to happen, the Scarlet Knights will have to score some points.