Rutgers entered the 2023 season opener with many questions but none were bigger regarding how quarterback Gavin Wimsatt would play after being named the starter before training camp began. While head coach Greg Schiano spoke of his progress and development in mostly positive terms throughout the preseason, it was fair to wonder how Wimsatt would respond once the national spotlight was on him.
On Sunday, Wimsatt delivered his most complete performance in his career so far at Rutgers. He led the Scarlet Knights to a dominant 24-7 win over Northwestern. This is technically his third season, but the start against Northwestern was only his thirteenth game with the program. It was also his third offensive coordinator after initially playing under Sean Gleeson before starting five games last season under interim offensive coordinator Nunzio Campanile.
With new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca taking Wimsatt under his wing since his arrival, there was legitimate hope he could take a real step forward or even two this season. Sunday showed this is very possible, as Wimsatt played with the most poise he has in any game so far at Rutgers. He did this despite missing several offensive playmakers including running backs Sam Brown, Aaron Young, Al Shadee-Salaam and wide receiver Naseim Brantley.
“He played a really clean game. I think he played relaxed, confident, because of his preparation,” Schiano declared. “Thought he was very decisive. The other thing he did that stood out to me is he let the bad plays die. Saw him throw a few away. Saw him tucking and run. That to me is a sign of maturation.”
Wimsatt completed 17 of 29 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 33 yards on nine carries and a touchdown. The key was no turnovers. While he did make a couple of dangerous throws, for the most part Wimsatt made good decisions. He had a pocket presence and was in command of the offense. Despite a more experienced and accomplished quarterback on the other side for Northwestern in Ben Bryant, it was Wimsatt who was the better signal caller on Sunday.
What was most satisfying in how Wimsatt’s played was how he helped set the tone of the game in the first two drives. You could sense the confidence of the offense grow with each play that Wimsatt made. He completed passes to eight different receivers.
While his accuracy wasn’t great in completing 11 of his 21 passes in those two drives, he did make some important plays. On the initial drive of the game, Wimsatt connected with receiver Christian Dremel for a 17 yard completion on a 4th and 5 from the Northwestern 39 yard line. And then from 2nd and 10 from the NU 11 yard line, Wimsatt made a perfect pass to true freshman Ian Strong for a touchdown.
On the second drive, Wimsatt converted first downs on a 19 yard pass to Chris Long, a 13 yard throw to Strong and a 12 yard completion to Isaiah Washington. Rutgers scored another touchdown with Wimsatt rushing hard for six yards and the score.
The two drives combined for 34 plays, 155 yards and 15:08 of the game clock. Rutgers led 14-0 early in the second quarter and Northwestern never got off the mat.
“Like I said, I thought Gavin played a clean game; I thought our team played a clean game, and that’s attributable to those leaders,” Schiano said.
Another positive was Wimsatt’s willingness to run when plays broke down. This happened several times in the second half. Northwestern had several experienced veterans in the middle of its defense, but Wimsatt was able to keep his composure and not try to do too much. It certainly seemed like Ciarrocca’s influence helped slow down the game for him. The longtime offensive coordinator has developed successful quarterbacks like Joe Flacco, Zach Terrell and Tanner Morgan in the past. His impact on Wimsatt’s game was apparent on Sunday. He finished the game completing 6 of 8 passes.
“I think the system without a doubt, what Kirk brought here and how we are doing it, but it’s the people,” explained Schiano. “You know, anybody can have a system. It’s the people and it’s the commitment. Gavin has worked tremendously hard to learn what Kirk wants him to do. He still has a ton of work to do. But I just felt like there was a different level of focus that I have not seen out of him today and a different level of composure that I have not seen. So that was a step we needed to take. But I was confident. He did it all camp, so I was confident he would do it today, but again, you never know until the lights come on.”
To Schiano and Ciarrocca’s credit, they didn’t hold back with Wimsatt in the win over Northwestern. They didn’t play it as conservative as expected and gave him opportunities to make an impact on the game. In the first two drives, it was a 50/50 split on pass and run play calls. You could see Wimatt’s confidence grow, a day after his teammates voted him a captain, especially after he made the touchdown pass to Strong. For him to maximize his development this season, Rutgers has to believe in him and be all in. Sunday proved that’s the case and Wimsatt responded with his best performance yet.
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