In the season opening win over Northwestern, true freshman wide receiver Ian Strong made as good a catch as you can make. It was an 11 yard leaping catch in the corner of the end zone and it came on the first drive of his collegiate career. Great expectations were born for the 6’3″ receiver from Coram, New York.
Strong has gone through the ups and downs that most true freshman go through in adjusting to college football. Playing in a run first offense also makes opportunities harder to come by. He finished the season opener with two catches for 24 yards and the score. His next two games, Strong was targeted just twice and didn’t make a catch. Against Michigan and Wagner, he he registered a catch against both on just one target per game. Against Wisconsin, Strong emerged again with a career high 4 catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. He followed that performance with 2 catches for 31 yards against Michigan State. However, he didn’t have a catch on just two targets in games against Indiana and Ohio State.
You could argue Strong was the only bright spot for the Rutgers offense in last Saturday’s loss to Iowa. He led the team with 3 catches and a career high 47 receiving yards. He had the highest grade of any Rutgers pass catcher in the loss to Iowa. It was also his second highest graded performance this season. With starting receiver JaQuae Jackson leaving with an injury, Strong took advantage of more snaps.
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano was asked about Strong’s performance against Iowa during his game week presser on Monday. He heaped praise on the freshman for persevering through the challenges of his first season.
“I think Ian has performed from the very beginning. The opening game, I believe he made that tremendous catch, right, opening game, was it? Top-10 on — or No. 1 on ESPN, right. So I think he’s a really fine athlete,” Schiano said. “You know, all of these freshmen guys, let’s be real now, it’s mid-November. They started training camp in August. Their bodies, minds, everything, are not prepared for that. Right. That’s not what high school is like. They are all at some point or another hitting the wall, and Ian is working his tail off because he’s hit the wall. He’s got things that are bothering him physically that he’s learning in college that you push through those things. But I was very pleased that he answered the bell when JaQuae went down and showed some great toughness because he wasn’t a hundred percent, either, out there. I knew he was going to play. But I knew he wasn’t a hundred percent.”
In his freshman campaign through ten games for Rutgers, Strong is fifth with 13 catches, fourth with 182 receiving yards and second with 14.0 yards per catch. His big play potential is a major reason for optimism with the offense both now and in the future. He surprised many by standing out so quickly in training camp. Strong has shown promise this fall and continues to be an important contributor in the pass game. With two regular season games remaining, Strong very well could have a bigger role. And then its a month to prepare for the bowl game. If there is one player on the Rutgers offense who could make the biggest jump down the stretch of the season, Strong seems primed to be the guy.
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