Rutgers played its first game in 11 months on Saturday.
It has been even longer since NJ.com produced a Rutgers film review.
The Scarlet Knights’ infamous passing performance at Indiana last fall – one yard! – was a bridge too far. We have chronicled plenty of bad football with this feature, but there are limits. Thankfully, things have changed. The hiatus is over and, like Greg Schiano, we’re back with a grand re-opening.
Rutgers 38, Michigan State 27. A tremendous win for the Scarlet Knights that was chock full of intriguing developments. So let’s get to the key takeaways from Rutgers’ season opener. Onto the film review:
Three plays that show why Noah Vedral won the job: We’ll start with Vedral’s 25-yard third-down completion to Bo Melton on the opening drive. It was a microcosm of what the quarterback brings to Rutgers’ offense.
The receivers initially fail to get open, the protection begins to break down a bit and Vedral dances around in the pocket as it begins to collapse before making a just-strong-enough throw to the sideline where Melton can improvise, make a play and keep the chains moving. While the Scarlet Knights’ offensive line had a better-than-expected outing on Saturday, this is still a unit that is going to have its struggles as it encounters better defensive fronts. Rutgers needs a quarterback who can help the cause by evading pressure and keeping plays alive.
Vedral’s 24-yard touchdown run was more of the same. Good play design, great athleticism and the offensive line was able to allow some penetration knowing he could side step it in the backfield and then accelerate downfield. Great stalk blocking by Melton downfield as well.
Last play: Look at this brilliant mesh point between Vedral and Isaih Pacheco on Pacheco’s 26-yard run late in the first half to set up his second score. Rutgers is going to need some misdirection to generate run production this fall given its offensive line deficiencies. Vedral is tremendous at concealing handoff decisions and it will make the Scarlet Knights that much more potent. Pacheco and Vedral have the potential to be a tremendous duo running the read option.
Keeping perspective with the offense: You can’t really complain, given what the Scarlet Knights have put on the field in recent seasons, but this was a pedestrian offensive effort that can credit most of its scoring output to short fields secured by the defense.
Rutgers was outgained by 103 yards, had 11 negative plays and turned the ball over twice. The Scarlet Knights averaged 3.88 yards per play, but it was only 3.29 after the opening touchdown drive. And only 2.55 yards per when you remove their four big plays of 24-plus yards. The second touchdown drive was bailed out by a Michigan State pass interference call (and it’s questionable if the pass would have been caught if not for the interference) and I counted five drops by the receivers. The jury remains out on the offensive line pending a more competent opponent.
Again, you cannot harp too much. Rutgers was historically abysmal on offense during the Chris Ash era, and new offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson clearly has the unit’s arrow pointing up. But the group is unlikely to benefit from seven takeaways again this fall, and it is fair to wonder how effective it will be when asked to sustain drives on a consistent basis.
Julius Turner: I thought he was the best player on the field Saturday, a 6-foot, 265-pound wrecking ball. Michigan State was unable to handle him at the tilted nose. He only had three tackles (one for a loss) but his performance went far beyond the stat sheet. If Turner was not in on the play, he was forcing it toward teammates by splitting a double team or creating a pile-up that forced Michigan State to go elsewhere.
There were plenty of clips to choose from, but we’ll go with this textbook double-team split, fighting across the center’s face before making a great shoestring tackle. Turner could be the surprise star of the unit.
Tackling! Rutgers was much better on the whole than the fundamental disaster it was under Ash. But it whiffed on two of the Spartans’ touchdown plays, which revived another bugaboo – explosive plays. The Scarlet Knights need to shore up both areas.
The first Michigan State touchdown: Christian Izien misses in space, Brendon White wasn’t able to make the save and the Spartans were off (this was a good play design though).
Later in the game to make it 28-20: White overcommits to try to make a play, gets out of position, can’t recover and it’s six points the other way.
Keeping perspective with the defense: You can’t argue with seven takeaways, 12 tackles-for-loss and a heroic stand that saved the game spearheaded by Michael Dwumfour’s fourth-down tackle.
That being said … Michigan State did have several sustained drives, even if they did not end in points. There was sloppy play. Linebacker Drew Singleton picked up a bad personal foul and Rutgers squandered a questionable block in the back call on the Spartans, still yielding a touchdown later in the drive. Rutgers also seemed to be struggling with its defensive substitution, getting caught unprepared several times and picking up an illegal substitution penalty with seemingly half the roster on the field.
This and that: Not a great debut for West Virginia transfer Jovani Haskins as the starting tight end. He had a drop, whiffed on a block that led to Vedral’s strip sack and appeared to run the wrong route on Vedral’s interception. … I counted five snaps for Johnny Langan as the change-of-pace quarterback in short-yardage situations. … Adam Korsak quietly pinned three punts inside the 20 (and one on the 21) with a muff and only one true return.
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