Random Thoughts - Indiana

Jim Myers- SOR Columnist

Oct 1, 2018

By: Jim Myers- SOR Columnist

 


Julio Cortez, Associated Press

Julio Cortez, Associated Press

Rutgers (1-4, 0-2 Big Ten) lost again last week, this time 24-17 in a game that was a lot closer than most of us thought it would be when Indiana (4-1, 2-1) led the Scarlet Knights by 17 points at halftime. Was the second half -- in which RU outscored the visiting Hoosiers 10-0 -- an anomaly, or a sign of a program taking strides?

 

Was going with Artur Sitkowski the right decision? Simply, yes. There are indeed growing pains for the true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski. His stat line of 18-for-35 with 154 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception is not all that impressive on its own, but it’s better than what it has been in the past. It turns out his second-quarter interception in the end zone could have been a decisive score against IU, but it’s better than a pick six.

 

So, what’s my point? It’s that Rutgers should stick with the plan at QB. We all knew Sitkowski, the lynchpin of this offense, would experience growing pains, but many of us became impatient. Eight interceptions against two touchdown throws as well as terrible losses to Kansas and Buffalo will do that.

 

Maybe he’ll turn it around. Former RU quarterback Mike Teel averaged around 130 yards per game his first two years with a terrible TD-INT ratio (14-23), but he blossomed for more than 6,500 yards passing and 45 TDs against 26 picks. Sitkowski faces the conference’s worst defense Oct. 6 (Illinois), so that is a perfect opportunity for him to get rolling.

 

Does the "improved" play moved Chris Ash from the hot seat? I don’t know, but my gut tells me yes. I do believe that whatever happens with the head coach, the offensive coordinator should remain to stop this insane carousel of offensive coordinators. Nebraska (0-4, 0-2) may have set a new program low with its eighth straight loss against Purdue (2-3 1-1), but Rutgers has lowered the bar on inconsistency with nine offensive coordinators in as many years. That simply can’t continue.

 

Will McNulty want to continue after this year? One could barely fault a man who would want to erase this stain on his potential resume, as Rutgers has more turnovers (13) than TDs (10) on offense. He is the best Rutgers OC since at least Ralph Friedgen in 2014 and is arguably the top Rutgers coordinator in the modern era. The aforementioned Teel’s best years were with McNulty at the helm of the offense in the 2007-08 seasons (yes, I know, Ray Rice helped).

 

What about the defense? After another lackluster defensive performance, any reasonable Rutgers fan would question the job status of the Rutgers defensive coordinator. RU’s defense is consistently outmatched, with poor tackling results and a horrid third-down conversion record. Opponents have converted 51.7 percent of their third down chances over the past four games (31-of-60), and Indiana made its first six third-down attempts against the host Knights. Maybe Rutgers started to figure it out defensively in the Indiana game, but that’s hard to believe considering this is Jay Niemann’s third year on the Banks. That is plenty of time to install a system. That’s not to let co-defensive coordinator Noah Joseph off the hook in first year at Rutgers. He could be viewed as a part of the issue (more on that in a bit).

 

The defensive stats speak for themselves. RU owns the 105th defense in college football, yielding 6.53 yards per play and allowing 434.3 yards per game.

 

Is having separate coaches for cornerbacks and safeties working?  The unit's performance would lead any reasonable Rutgers fan to say "No". The defensive backfield is in shambles, partly because of injuries but also because there appears to be no communication. The two positions should work in tandem, but they look lost while getting chunked constantly for big gains. Joseph is responsible for safeties while Cory Robinson handles cornerbacks. The defensive backfield has talented players who are put in compromising positions.

 

What does Ash have against red helmets? This experiment with white helmets and scarlet jerseys is not working out well for Rutgers. If the Scarlet Knights were hoping to emulate Nebraska, they’re doing a great job with the terrible. Don’t go back to the chrome helmets, but maybe scrap the white hats and start to create some kind of identity with the red domes that defined RU for longer than a decade. It’s not the worst idea in the world. Yes, yes, I know the players have a say, but it is part of RU’s identity.

 

Are there any great positives to pull from the first five games? Yes, and I’ll give you the shining example. With three blocked kicks, Rutgers is tied with the nation’s best in that category. A blocked kick resulted in half of RU’s point total in the Kansas debacle back on Sept. 15.

 

I think something defining will happen for Rutgers football in the next two weeks. I can’t tell you whether that’s good or bad. And no, I don’t think RU is going to announce Greg Schiano as Savior 2.0 (the second coming). It would be best to focus on the current staff and how they can salvage this season. Patrick Hobbs will need to contemplate the programs next steps later this year. For now, there is still a season to complete.