Rutgers football completed spring camp on Saturday with the Scarlet-White Game. While spring games are difficult to get a true reading on certain aspects of a team due to multiple factors, there was plenty of things that did happen that warrant analysis. The day also helped point out what Rutgers needs to do as a team to be able to show major improvement this coming season. There were some encouraging signs as well as similar concerns in how this team moves forward. Here are five takeaways from the game as well as quotes and the full press conference from head coach Greg Schiano below.
QB’s a work in progress
If you were looking for a definitive statement from either Gavin Wimsatt or Evan Simon, Saturday was not the day. Obviously the weather didn’t help matters as it was wet and very windy. Certainly not ideal conditions and head coach Greg Schiano said, “tough day to judge quarterback play,”
That being said, the performances of both quarterbacks looked similar to what we saw last season.
Both struggled with accuracy at times and there were not many big plays through the air. Of course, new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca called a vanilla game plan as expected. Also fair to note that Chris Long and Naseim Brantley did not play and are arguably the best two receivers on the roster.
Wimsatt finished was 10 of 20 for 124 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. He rushed just twice for 5 yards. Evan Simon was 9 of 17 for 71 yards along with 26 yards rushing and a touchdown on six carries.
“All those factors, I thought they handled them well,” Schiano said. “They operated the offense. I don’t think we had any delay of games, which when you’re running a new offense, that could happen and they didn’t. They were on top of it. Made some nice runs. I think if you play in those conditions, the quarterback would carry it a little more but we’re not going to do that here. There’s no real great thing to look at and say ‘oh, that’s fantastic.’ It was a hard game to throw. But I thought they ran the offense and operated the offense efficiently.”
Obviously, learning a new offensive system was the focus during spring camp. Wimsatt and Simon got valuable reps and Ciarrocca has a much better idea of what he is working with now. Schiano said the two quarterbacks have “grown quite a bit” and that he is “confident” in them.
Wimsatt is the quarterback with the highest ceiling and for that reason, fans should hope he can ultimately be the guy this fall. Simon seems to be what he is at this point in his development and Rutgers needs him. That being said, it is concerning that the only depth behind them is true freshman Ajani Sheppard. Both Wimsatt and Simon can be helped by running out of the pocket, but if they do so with little depth behind them, fans will be as nervous as ever next season.
As for naming a starter, I wouldn’t hold your breath if you are expecting any decision publicly announced anytime soon. Schiano did say Ciarrocca and the offensive staff will meet with him “in the next couple of weeks” to evaluate where the position stands. He added they’ll “have a good idea of who is what pretty quickly.”
I did write this week that announcing publicly who the starting quarterback is at this juncture is meaningless. At the same time, the staff surely knows how both are projecting heading into next season. If all of training camp goes by and we are still waiting on an announcement just days out of the season opener against Northwestern, you have my blessing to scream.
Rutgers will have to run the ball well to win
On Saturday, Rutgers ran the ball 62 times and threw it 42 times. The conditions warranted that type of split. However, Ciarrocca ran it more than he threw it at Minnesota, so this is likely close to how his offensive approach will aim to be next season.
The good news is that both Aaron Young and Al-Shadee Salaam ran well in the spring game. Young ran for 77 yards on 16 carries for 4.8 yards per carry. Salaam had 55 yards on 11 rushes and a touchdown for 5.0 yards per carry. Samuel Brown and Kyle Monangai didn’t play. The depth and balance of this position group is a positive.
“I thought (Young) ran more violently (this spring),” Schiano said. “If you run violently, you finish off the run. It’s going to be the difference between a two yard run and a three or a three-yard run and a four-year run, and that changes the complexion two downs in that series later.”
Obviously, Young has battled injuries throughout his Rutgers career. Getting him healthy and keeping him that way is the key to unlocking his full potential.
“I’m not sure he was all the way back [then, and] I’m not sure he’s even all the way back now,” Schiano said. “But he keeps getting better and better.”
The speedy Salaam played like he wanted to prove he can be a playmaker next fall.
“[Salaam] has another gear,” Schiano said. “He’s a guy that has some, some special speed and explosion, and we have to find ways to utilize him.”
The concern is whether the offensive line can develop at a high enough level for Rutgers to be consistently effective in the run game.
“I don’t know. We’ll find out,” Schiano said. “The weather had something to do with it, but certainly we need to get better at running the football, and we have people that can run the football.”
Yes, Rutgers needs production out of the quarterback position to be an improved team in the fall. However, to win in the Big Ten and to do it the way Ciarrocca has done so at Minnesota, the offense will have to rely on the run game in a big way.
“We got to get better on the offensive line,” Schiano said. “We’re working at that. We’re making progress, but we do it every time we practice. It doesn’t matter if we’re in pads or not, we’re going to work on that.”
I really like the new offensive coaching staff and I think they know what they’re doing. They’re experienced, know how to utilize their personnel and will form a reasonable plan. I think the running backs might be the strongest position group on the team. That being said, I’m very concerned with so many unproven players in so many positions on offense that it’s going to be a struggle once again against Big Ten competition.
There is young talent on the roster
Kenny Fletcher had flashes last season as a true freshman. The staff is high on the talented defender from Delran. He made seven tackles including a tackle for loss and 0.5 sack on Saturday. He figures to be a more prominent figure on the defense this season.
Early enrollee and true freshman Bo Mascoe was aggressive in his first real action. He delivered a big hit on Salaam at the goal line, made open field tackles and grabbed an interception. Mascoe finished with 4 tackles in a memorable playing debut in front of Rutgers fans.
— Rutgers Football (@RFootball) April 29, 2023
Second year player Dantae Chin played extensively at right tackle and was a force in the run game for the White team. The 6’4″, 310 pounder showed promise and hopefully is one of a few younger offensive lineman that are developing under assistant Pat Flaherty.
Another early enrollee, true freshman Dylan Braithwaite was as fast as advertised. He was open on a deep play in the second half that Wimsatt underthrew him on. The Rutgers offense desperately needs players who can produce big plays and Braithwaite looked like he could develop into that role.
Stanley Dennis II is in his third year with the program but has only played one career game. However, on Saturday he was very visible. He finished with six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and forced fumble. Rutgers needs to develop depth on the defensive line in order to confidently play 8-10 players per game. Dennis II gave hope he could be in the mix next season.
The same can be said for Max Patterson, who has just two career receptions but caught that many touchdowns in the spring game. It was a positive sign for a receiving core that desperately needs playmakers.
There were several other youngsters that made plays on both sides of the ball. Certainly there is hope that the program’s depth and talent level can continue to improve as younger players develop.
Key Players have to stay healthy
No, my pen name isn’t captain obvious. It’s just that for a team like Rutgers that is in Schiano’s own words this spring, a “developmental program”, they simply can’t afford to lose too many key players to injuries next season. If they do, it will likely spell disaster. Getting Samuel Brown, Mo Toure, Moses Walker, Victor Konopka and Reggie Sutton back to practice this spring was huge. However, they need to keep progressing and any players who suffered injuries during camp need to as well.
Depth and talent is everything and for Rutgers. Getting stronger, eating right, training properly and coming into training camp in optimum shape for as many players as possible is a must. It doesn’t mean there won’t be injuries. There is no way to fully prevent them. However, health has to be a top priority for this team to move forward in the fall.
Transfer Portal help is needed
Bouncing off of the importance of health in regard to depth and talent, Rutgers has to turn to the transfer portal to plug some holes on offense before the summer begins. And the reality is that there are so many question marks and unproven players on offense outside of running back that a lot of help is needed. In taking until January to name Kirk Ciarrocca the offensive coordinator, RU missed out on pursuing offensive players during the first transfer portal cycle. Now they have its staff and offensive system in place. There is playing time and opportunity to sell.
I would include quarterback in that approach as well. Rutgers got burned last season when Noah Vedral and Gavin Wimsatt both missed significant time due to injuries. That left just one scholarship quarterback on the roster in Evan Simon. With just true freshman Ajani Sheppard behind Wimsatt and Simon, they’d really be rolling the dice if injuries came to be. At the same time, competition is the key throughout the roster in moving the program forward. Adding another signal caller to the QB room can only increase that aspect of the offseason development program while adding an insurance policy for injuries.
Always a classy and heart warming gesture when the program finishes the Scarlet-White Game with a coordinated effort with the Special Olympics. You can watch it here.
What a moment!
— Rutgers Scarlet Knights (@RUAthletics) April 29, 2023
The spring awards were given out on Saturday and it was three veterans who were selected.
Here is the full box score of the Scarlet-White Game.
You can also watch Schiano’s complete postgame press conference here.
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