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Rutgers-Temple: Eight Storylines to Watch



Sep 3, 2023; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Northwestern Wildcats wide receiver A.J. Henning (8) is tackled by Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive lineman Rene Konga (90) during the second half at SHI Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers football opens the 2023 season against Northwestern on CBS at noon ET on Sunday. In what many consider a must win, here are eight storylines to watch for.

Gavin Wimsatt’s development

Can the Rutgers quarterback build off of a solid performance in the season opener? He played with poise, confidence and had command of the offense. And while he was better at throwing the ball away, he was fortunate that a couple passes weren’t picked off by the Northwestern defense. He also showed patience on the run, hitting holes and following lead blockers. Need more of the same to stack back to back positive games to start an important season for both himself and the program.

Offensive line rotations

Rutgers played ten different offensive lineman against Northwestern. Obviously, it was very hot and the first game but the rotation is likely to tighten to some degree against Temple. Gus Zilinskas starting over Ireland Brown at center and playing every snap but one was the biggest surprise. Bryan Felter playing 42 snaps to Curtis Dunlap’s 32 at left guard was unexpected as well. As expected, Hollin Pierce played the majority of snaps at left tackle (55) with Taj White getting 19. On the right side, tackle Tyler Needham (67) and guard Kobe Asamoah (57) got the majority of reps as well. It will be interesting to see how the line is both utilized and if the unit is more effective with run blocking in this game.

The play calling of new OC Kirk Ciarrocca

The Rutgers offense was more aggressive on the first two drives of the Northwestern game than expected. The second half saw more conservative play calling with the Scarlet Knights playing with a three score lead. How Ciarrocca approaches the start of the Temple game will certainly something worth tracking. I’d still expect RU to not open the entire playbook just yet. Ciarrocca could prioritize certain players that didn’t play big roles in the season opener. How he uses Wimsatt and how the QB responds will be telling as well. You would also hope this is a game that Rutgers can run the ball more effectively after averaging just 2.8 yards per carry in the season opener.

Defensive line dominance

For Rutgers to come close to their ceiling as a team this season, the defensive line needs to lead the way. They looked the part against a makeshift offensive line of Northwestern and were disruptive most of the game. The group was deep with contributions from many defensive linemen. The unit finished with five sacks, eight tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two quarterback hits. They also held the Wildcats to under just 12 rushing yards. It’s unrealistic for Rutgers to be that dominant against other Big Ten opponents, but doing so against Temple is possible. QB EJ Warner does tend to throw it quickly, so how frequently the defensive line can generate pressure on him will be something to watch for.

Specialists Part II

Flynn Appleby had a very good debut, pinning four of five punts inside the 20. Jude McAtamney was perfect 5 of 5 with touchbacks on kickoffs. Jai Patel connected on a 32 yard field goal but hit the post from 38 yards out, finishing 1 of 2 in his first game. All three specialists have the opportunity to make a big impact this season. Let’s hope they can all build off the season opener.

Weather Conditions

The forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms and a 50% chance of rain in Piscataway on Saturday night. It would be a confidence builder if Rutgers can deliver a second straight clean performance against an inferior opponent on paper. Limiting penalties and turnovers are obvious. But avoiding missed tackles and drops in the pass game are important as well. Mistakes are going to happen, but potentially messy weather conditions would provide another test for this team to pass.

Schiano’s Challenge

Last year, Rutgers struggled against Temple and Schiano said this week the Owls should have won the game. That’s true, but it’s also a challenge to his current team to make sure that isn’t close to being the case this weekend. You know this is being preached upon by the coaching staff this week. While Rutgers has no reason to panic if the game isn’t going their way in the first half, it would be reassuring to see them hit Temple early and often to establish control. It would also be positive to see Rutgers make plays in all three phases of the game. They obviously want to build off of its week one win and Saturday presents a golden opportunity to do so.

Blackout Crowd

It’s a night game at SHI Stadium and a blackout no less. The weather could be a bit messy, but hopefully there is a strong home crowd on Saturday night. It would be ideal for Rutgers to get off to a positive start in this game and the fans certainly can bring energy to this team early on.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Henry Rutgers

    September 8, 2023 at 4:17 pm

    Love the detailed analysis of the first game player by player. I had not realized we switched centers. Now I have to look to see if Ireland Brown played at all. He wasn’t on the injury report.

    If the weather turns ugly, I think it favors RU. In the spring game we did not get to see the full effect of Wimsatt running. Our line is bigger and stronger, our defense is stalwart, special teams solid and we’ve got experienced coaches. I’d rather not play in the mud for two reasons. First, the risk of injuries is greater and second, now my wife is out shopping for a lite weight black rain slicker which she actually believes she can have embroidered by the time we leave for our tailgate.

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