Going into the bye week a month ago, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights stood at a mediocre 1-4 record. What was thought to be a season of growth looked stunningly bleak. Should new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill be replaced? Has Chris Ash quickly relinquished his time as the Scarlet Knights head coach?
All this loomed as the bye week went on.
Now, here we are, a month later, and Rutgers has won three out of its last four games. Its lone loss came at the hands of a talented Michigan team, whom the Scarlet Knights still managed to play tough. Recruiting is even on the upswing, as Ash and co. have scored a big 2018 commitment in four-star quarterback and New Jersey native Artur Sitkowski of IMG Academy. Jaaron Hayek of Wayne Hills also committed to the 2019 recruiting class, joining his brothers Tyler and Hunter who already play under Ash.
So, what’s been the difference between the team now and a month ago? Ash spoke to the media Monday morning and insisted that nothing has changed. “You know, did this team change in the bye week?” No, it didn’t. This team changed after last season,” spoke Ash. Well, Mr. Ash, I happen to disagree. Let’s take a look at the three biggest differences that have propelled Rutgers after their bye week.
I’ll be the first one to say that I believed Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin was the guy this year for the Scarlet Knights. As you can probably tell, I was wrong. Bolin proved to be somewhat efficient if you don’t count the six interceptions to a mere three touchdown passes. Ash made the change back to Giovanni Rescigno, who started for Rutgers in the second half of last season. Rescigno may lack a bit in terms of throwing compared to Bolin, but he offers the mobility that the latter lacks. He’s thrown just one interception to two touchdowns (one being the game winner vs Maryland) while also rushing for a score. Rescigno’s ability to not turn the ball over has been crucial to this Scarlet Knight offense.
Towards the beginning of the season the play calling by Kill was questionable at best. He didn’t stick to the true bread and butter of what he’s been doing dating back to his time as head coach at Minnesota. Well, hats off to Kill, as he’s gotten right back to pounding the rock. He’s left the ball in the hands of Gus Edwards, Raheem Blackshear, and sprinkled in some Robert Martin to push Rutgers to sixth in the Big Ten in rushing. Edwards specifically has looked like a future feature back by bullying opposing defenders with his punishing style of running. The Miami graduate transfer has rushed for at least 90 yards in all three of Rutgers wins after the bye while finding the end zone five times over that span. Also give credit to the offensive line, who’s been performing at a top-notch level, even without starter Jonah Jackson who’s been out with injury.
Just Enough Defense
The Rutgers defense has been far from perfect, and we can look at injuries that have played a factor. However, the Scarlet Knights have had the bend but don’t break mentality. We saw it against Purdue when they held the Boilermakers down to the very last play deep in Rutgers territory. We saw the very same thing against Maryland, although they did get bailed out by an offensive holding call. Nonetheless, it hasn’t been pretty but this defense has found ways to do just enough to keep the offense ahead. The secondary has been brilliant too in wake of injuries. Kiy Hester, K.J. Gray, and Jawaun Harris have all looked good. This unit will get a boost when starting safety Saquan Hampton returns from injury before seasons end.
The Scarlet Knights will look to carry the momentum as they travel to Beaver Stadium to face an ailing Penn State team who’s lost two straight.