The Rutgers Scarlet Knights showed improvement during an up-and-down season in 2017, Chris Ash’s second year as the team’s head coach.
Rutgers finished fifth in the Big Ten East ahead of the likes of Indiana and Maryland, while improving their win total by two. Offensive Coordinator, Jerry Kill, who has since retired due to health concerns, instilled a smash-mouth mentality into the Rutgers ground game.
Defensively, the unit battled injuries but managed to keep the team in games that mattered despite not being put in the best position by the offense.
As much improvement as they showed, there are still major holes that need to be addressed to show progression in 2018. The most glaring weakness is at the quarterback position, which lead to an almost nonexistent passing game.
We could also address some of Ash’s coaching decisions too. Obviously, there’s a lot to talk about for a team that finished with three wins to six losses. We’ll address just three to start. To make us all feel young again, I’ll even call it a wish list.
If I started this list any other way I would probably be run out of the state of New Jersey. Rutgers’ by far most glaring weakness in 2017 was their inability to move the ball through the air. The combination of Kyle Bolin and Gio Rescigno was as ineffective as mosquito repellent in the summer. While true freshman Johnathan Lewis was used as a wrecking ball when thrust behind center.
Going into 2018, the Rutgers quarterback room has vastly improved. The additions of highly touted recruits Artur Sitkowski and Jalen Chatman add much-needed competition. Although a new system isn’t exactly what you want for a second-year quarterback, another spring and summer adjusting to the college game should do wonders for Lewis. Rescigno is still around too, but it’s time to hand the reigns off to one of the young guns, as they’re the future of the program.
Improved Secondary Play
This isn’t to say that the defensive backs played terribly, because they didn’t, especially dealing with all the injuries that they did. This, more so, goes to the amount of pass interference penalties they drew as the season went along.
There were plenty of times where Scarlet Knight defensive backs were in position to make a play on the ball but simply didn’t turn their head around to make a play. For a defense that needs to capitalize on every opportunity to get off the field, this killed some momentum for the unit.
You can expect this to get better as standout corner back, Blessaun Austin, returns from an ACL tear he suffered last season. Oft-injured safety, Saquan Hampton, also vastly improves the secondary if he can stay healthy.
This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that Rutgers finally figures out its quarterback woes with one of the young guns we talked about above. New offensive coordinator, John McNulty, returns to his second stint at Rutgers after spending time around the NFL.
McNulty has to find a way to complement the stout running game with an air attack. It’s been said that he’ll look to spread the offense out, while adding some pro-style aspects to the offense – something different but not too far off from what Kill implemented.
McNulty has a history of working with quarterbacks as well, as he coached the position in his first stint with the team. He also did so around the NFL, where he was able to coach players like Marcus Mariota. If he can capitalize on the potential of one of these quarterbacks enough to where opponents have to account for the passing game, even more, running lanes will open up on the ground.
Remember, in 2007, McNulty was able to orchestrate a 3,000-yard passer, 2,000-yard runner, and two 1,000-yard receivers with Rutgers – a first in FBS history. If he can manage to get three quarters of that production out of his players now, Rutgers will see a bowl game.