Sunday afternoon, the entire NATION had the luxury of watching Rutgers Football dominate the Northwestern Wildcats.
Hearing the CBS intro music with a panning camera angle of beautiful SHI Stadium in lovely Piscataway, NJ sent shivers down the spines of spectators across the country. Shortly after setting the stage, viewers were welcomed by Jason McCourty smiling in the booth, who truly did a tremendous job calling his first nationally televised game!
The most important part of Sunday was Rutgers ending the day with win. Additionally, the performance on the field by the Scarlet Knights helped answer some questions the team faced entering the 2023 season. Now, these answers can certainly change as the season progresses, even after the Week 2 night game against Temple on Saturday (GET TICKETS HERE), but the results from Sunday provided a brief look at what fans should expect in 2023.
Before we get into some of the answers, we MUST address the obvious — Northwestern is not a good football team. Fans, including myself, should view the outcomes of this game keeping that notion in mind. Regardless, Rutgers did its job on Sunday and demonstrated to fans that they were in control of the game from start to finish.
Answers to Questions after Week 1
Will Gavin improve as a QB?
Yes. Wimsatt did not play a perfect game and made some ill-advised throws (sometimes because of bad routes by WRs), however his performance on Sunday proved he can play in the Big Ten. His poise in the pocket and control of the offense were extremely encouraging, but the most impressive part of his game was not turning over the ball. The opening drive TD pass to Ian Strong electrified SHI Stadium, but Gavin’s fourth down completion just a few plays earlier was his best play of the game. Demonstrating his ability to extend plays behind the line of scrimmage, Wimsatt’s crossbody throw should give fans plenty to be excited about this season. He also scored his first rushing TD, so using his legs more throughout the season can become a real X factor for the offense. Simply put, Gavin played competently and showed confidence from the very start of the game.
Gavin Wimsatt’s Top 5 Plays vs. Northwestern pic.twitter.com/TJH3bQYbZ1— Aaron Breitman (@aaron_breitman) September 5, 2023
Will 5 starters emerge for the offensive line?
As of right now, no. Pierce and Dunlap anchor the left side, but, with Gus Zilinski starting at center in place of Ireland Brown, the question marks around the offensive line remain a lingering issue. The high temperatures on Sunday definitely lead to rotating in different lineman throughout the game, but the team is yet to solidify five starters on the line. This needs to be addressed ASAP.
Will the offensive line improve?
Undetermined as of now, but trending slightly towards yes. The offensive line protected Wimsatt very well and there were times he had plenty of time in the pocket to go through his progressions. Wimsatt was rarely pressured and did not get sacked, so we must credit the offensive line’s pass blocking. However, they need to improve as a run blocking unit. Monangai and Benjamin did a great job picking up crucial third and fourth downs, but there were plenty of times when they were stuffed at the line scrimmage on first and second downs. Let’s trust coach Flaherty can help lead the charge improving the offensive line!
Will the passing game improve? Will there be a No. 1 WR?
I know it’s early, but for the former I’m going with yes. Coach Cirarocca trusted Wimsatt on the very first play of the game to complete a pass, and that is exactly what he did. The silver lining of that completion was Isaiah Washington being the WR targeted. His involvement in the passing game is greatly needed, so Washington finishing the day as the leading WR is a great sign. Wimsatt targeted EIGHT different options in the passing game. With Aaron Young, the team’s best pass catching running back, out for this game, it was encouraging to see Monangai make an impressive catch and run in the second half.
The passing game was not perfect. Wimsatt made some errant throws and the WRs made some mistakes as well. However, all together the passing game showed definite signs of improvement. It doesn’t appear there is a bonafide #1 WR on this team just yet, but operating by committee might not be the worst thing for the offense!
Again, credit to the offensive line for protecting Wimsatt.
Are the running backs the strongest unit on offense?
Yes. Aaron young is still out while recovering from an injury. Greg Schiano mentioned in his post game press conference that Sam Brown was questionable and available in an emergency situation. Additionally, Al-Shadee Salaam is also recovering from a minor injury and was utilized in only a few plays. Thats THREE experienced running backs that did not contribute during a crucial week 1 in-conference game.
So who did Rutgers turn to in the running game? Veteran Kyle Monangai and TRUE freshmen Ja’shon Benjamin. The talk of the offseason was the return of Sam Brown and lots of fans, mainly myself, really overlooked the great job Monangai has done for Rutgers during his time on the banks. His veteran presence was felt on Sunday, leading the team in rushing and scoring on a ankle breaking run that made fans jump out their seats. He also nearly de-cleated a blitzing linebacker on pass play that ultimately went for a first down. This is the definition of CHOP!
Ja’shon Benjamin also played a valuable role in his first game as a true freshmen from Florida. After picking up a fourth down conversion, Monangai ran over to the sideline and Benjamin entered the game. From that point on, the offense did not skip a beat. Benjamin finished the game with three more carries than Monangai. Fans should remain optimistic for the running back unit as the season progresses.
Will the defense live up to the preseason hype?
YES. Northwestern’s offense is bad, but the Rutgers defense never allowed the Wildcats to establish any type of rhythm. Forcing two turnovers, two sacks, and allowing only TWELVE rushing yards, Joe Harasymiak led an elite Big Ten defense on Sunday. The defensive line, linebackers, and secondary all played tremendously. Whether it was Kenny Fletcher’s strip sack fumble or Shaquan Loyal’s bone crunching hit that forced an incomplete pass, the Rutgers defenses made highlights at each level!
Will Kirk Ciarrocca install an offense that works?
Yes. I know it was one game but Ciarrocca checked all the boxes for me. Balanced, time consuming, and zero turnovers. That is exactly the kind of offense Rutgers needs to run to wins the games on the schedule that will help them get to the magic number of six (wins). I honestly felt bad that the offense was on the field for FIFTEEN more minutes than NW. I know we need to keep the defense on the sideline, but sheeeeesh hopefully the offensive line took a nice ice bath after this one!
Will fans show up to games?
Yes. Keep winning and fans will pack the stands of SHI Stadium. There will still be struggles getting fans into the stadium for the minutes leading up to kickoff. However, SHI stadium looked great on Sunday despite the sun beaming down from above. A dominating Week 1 win is the best advertisement for a hopefully sold out BLACKOUT game against Temple this Saturday night! Another HUGE shoutout to to students for showing up in FORCE!