My posting has been light this week as I have been social distancing on a beach in Dauphin Island, Alabama, but I did hear back from our wonderfull Rutgers site, On the Banks. Here is what Aaron Breitman had to say about the Scarlet Knights:
T-Mill: Schiano is back! He undoubtedly had a great run at Rutgers before, but has a bit hole to climb out of this year. What are the expectations for year 1?
Aaron: Fans are obviously very excited that Schiano is back and even played a significant role in helping this become a reality. After it was reported he was no longer being considered by Rutgers, the fan base revolted like we’ve never seen before. The Governor got involved after he was flooded with complaints and there was even a grassroots campaign that raised over $300K in just a couple of days that was donated once he was hired.
While there is a lot of excitement, fans understand Schiano is inheriting a team that was historically bad the past two seasons. Not having any practices or workouts this spring certainly makes the task next season even more daunting. However, he has added 10 transfer players from power five programs and depending on how many are eligible to play right away will certainly help. He also hired arguably the best coaching staff in program history, many of whom have worked together and for Schiano previously.
While anything more than 3 wins, assuming they play a full schedule, is unrealistic, fans are mostly hoping to see a much more competitive and tough minded team this season. That was the calling card for Schiano’s teams in his first tenure. In his second season on the job in 2002, Rutgers went just 1-11 but held a fourth quarter lead over the then no. 1 team in the country Miami that ultimately lost the national championship game. Being more competitive against the conference blue bloods would make real progress. The hope should also be to break the second longest losing streak in Big Ten history this season.
T-Mill: The Rutgers offense was historically bad last season. There are some new pieces in places like Noah Vedral, however. Is he the answer?
Aaron: I fully expect grad transfer Noah Vedral to get every opportunity to lead the offense at quarterback next season. He has two years of eligibility remaining and has a good understanding of the type of offense Gleeson wants to run after playing for Scott Frost the previous three seasons, both at UCF and Nebraska. Vedral also has legitimate Big Ten experience and versatility as a dual threat signal caller. Artur Sitkowski returns after redshirting last season once former head coach Chris Ash was fired, but he is more of a traditional drop back passer and not a great fit for the new offensive system that Gleeson is implementing. Vedral should be the guy and I expect him to be capable as long as he can stay healthy. It’s unfair to expect miracles, but I think he will have the best season a Rutgers QB has had since Gary Nova in 2014. Again, the bar is set low after the past few seasons, but I do think his understanding of the offense and experience give him a chance to provide a significant boost this season.
T-Mill: What has changed with the offense and can they stay on the field to give the defense a break?
I think the Rutgers offense will be improved this upcoming season, it’s just a matter by how much. It’s hard to be much worse than last season, but at the same time there is hope that new offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson can inject new life into this unit. He is implementing an up tempo spread offense and is looking to tailor it to the personnel he has to work with. He has shown the ability to adapt to his unit’s strengths at his previous two OC gigs at Princeton and Oklahoma State, where he had a lot of success. There is also some talent at the skill positions that return after not being utilized properly by the previous coaching regime. If Rutgers can be close to an average offense next season, it would mark significant improvement.
Isaih Pacheco is the clear no. 1 who is a beast who has run behind some poor offensive lines in his career. Even so, he as averaged 4.6 yards per carry through two seasons and had the longest run of the season, a 80 yard TD, against the vaunted Michigan defense two years ago. He has been a north-south type runner in the past, but I expect the new offense to give him more opportunities in space that could really help his production. If he can develop as a pass catcher out of the backfield, watch out. Kay’Ron Adams and Aaron Young were both freshman who showed potential in limited action last season. I think Young could really breakout this season with the new offense due to his speed and athleticism.
The offensive line is a major problem, as the unit lacks the talent and depth that is needed at the Big Ten level. Multi-year starting center Mike Maietti transferred to Missouri. Two other starters from last season graduated in Kamaal Seymour and Zach Venesky. They were capable but overall the line underperformed. While someone like Raiqwon O’Neal could develop into a top tier left tackle in the conference down the road, he was thrust into a starting role as a redshirt freshman last season and had mixed results. Mike Lonsdorf and Nick Krimin have experience entering their redshirt senior seasons, but both have been inconsistent in the past. I do think new offensive line coach Andrew Aurich will be able to get more out of this group and he previously coached with Gleeson at Princeton, which should help this unit adjust quicker than expected to the new system. C.J. Hanson is a name to watch out for that could see a lot of action this season, possibly as the starting center, and has a lot of potential.
Bo Melton is a former 4-star recruit who has underperformed throughout his career. However, he hasn’t had a lot of help and wasn’t properly utilized either. He could really benefit from the new offense and have a great senior campaign. Isaiah Washington is a big target who had decent production as as a true freshman and should fill a bigger role this season. If Wisconsin transfer Aron Cruickshank is ruled eligible this season, he should have an opportunity to be a factor this season on offense and on special teams as a returner. Paul Woods could develop into a steady role after being the third receiver last season. At tight end, West Virginia grad transfer Jovani Haskins will have a chance for a big season. After making Third Team All-Big 12 two seasons ago, he was plagued by injuries last season. If he can stay healthy, I think he will quickly become a favorite target of Vedral or whoever else plays QB for Rutgers. Matt Alamo showed some potential as a true freshman but needs to bulk up, while former QB Jonathan Lewis is intriguing at the tight end spot as well but is coming back from a season ending injury.
T-Mill: Overall, Rutgers has struggled since joining the Big Ten. Is it due to the tougher division or something more?
The ironic thing about Schiano returning is his departure indirectly led to the program’s current state. He took all of the capable assistants with him to the NFL less than a week before signing day and Rutgers hired the one of the few he left behind in Kyle Flood in order to save the recruiting class. After leading Rutgers to a 8-5 campaign in the first season in the Big Ten behind a roster mostly full of Schiano recruits, things went downhill fast. Multiple off the field scandals and a significant drop in recruiting led to his departure and sharp decline on the field at the beginning of the Chris Ash era in 2016.
Despite Ash having a lot of success as a defensive coordinator, including winning a national championship at Ohio State, he was a terrible head coach. Recruiting suffered even more and his inability to hire enough veteran coaches resulted in major issues. There wasn’t enough talent or depth on the roster and the coaches weren’t able to develop enough players able to contribute at level needed in the Big Ten. Thus a combined 3-21 record the past two seasons with no conference wins. The division certainly doesn’t help, but Rutgers lost to Kansas by 41 points in 2018, so I don’t consider that a factor in the recent futility much at all.
T-Mill: How is the defense shaping up under Schiano?
It’s hard to say how personnel will be utilized after not having any practices at all yet, but I do expect some players will shift positions. One thing that is for sure is that the defense will be much more aggressive and multi-faceted than in recent seasons. Ash ran a very conservative and vanilla defense. Schiano made his bones at Rutgers by game planning well each week and throwing different looks at opposing offenses. He was very successful at developing under recruited players on the defensive side of the ball who became big time contributors. Devin McCourty was a 2-star recruit and great example of this, but in reality there are too many other examples to list. I expect rearranging the depth chart by moving guys around will help with fit and scheme. Mixing up looks and being creative in generating pressure on the opposing QB will be a priority as well.
T-Mill: This is Rutgers’ first trip to West Lafayette and your final “first time” at a B1G venue. What are you most looking forward to for your visit?
Aaron: Being competitive is what the hope should be. The win over Purdue in 2017 was one of the best wins in recent memory, but hard to expect that this season. Aside from that, I always thought Purdue looked like a fun place to play and respect the fan base a lot. Just don’t blame us for Darrell Hazell, who is a New Jersey native and was an assistant under Schiano his first three seasons at Rutgers. We do have some history with Jeff Brohm as well, as he was the QB coach for Louisville when his brother led them to no. 3 in the country in 2006 before Rutgers upset them to move to 9-0 and no. 7 in the country, marking the high water mark of the first go around for Schiano on the banks. Best of luck to Purdue this season and hope we can make you uncomfortable watching the game for four quarters.