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Rutgers Q&A with On the Banks

Gearing up for this Saturday’s game with the Scarlet Knights.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

For this week’s Q&A, we are joined by On the Banks’ managing editor Aaron Breitman.

BSD: “First and foremost, the Greg Schiano Era 2.0 seems to be doing pretty well? I’m sure Rutgers fans eventually expected him to have success, but are even Scarlet Knight fans impressed with how quickly turned Rutgers back into a (possible) bowl team?”

Breitman: “Last season raised expectations for this fall that were unrealistic by some. The Covid season created some fortunate luck for Rutgers that wasn’t repeatable. Ending a 21 game Big Ten losing streak and going 3-6 immediately had fans thinking this season would be even better. Most fans did expect a 5-7 season and the fact that Rutgers is guaranteed that record as a worst case scenario with two games to go is pretty amazing. However, the reality is living through a typical season this fall has led to many ups and downs. It has created pretty big emotional swings week to week within the fan base.

The 3-0 start followed by a close loss at Michigan had people raise their expectations even more. Blowout losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, followed by their worst performance of the season at Northwestern was a major letdown. The case to the panic button was lifted. To this team’s credit, they’ve now won two of their last three games following the bye week and are one win away from clinching the program’s first bowl game since 2014.

This is a flawed team in many ways and the 52-3 loss to Wisconsin seemed to signal a rough end to the season. And then they go to Indiana and deliver their largest margin of victory over a Big Ten opponent since joining the league. Rutgers is pretty hard to figure out, but that is natural thing with a team rebuilding and working in so many younger players.

All of that being said, yes, the fans are happy with Greg Schiano. It took an unprecedented campaign for Rutgers fans to push for his return and he has certainly delivered so far. The 2022 recruiting class is ranked in the top 25 and the highest rated quarterback prospect in program history skipped his senior season to come early. The roster is being turned over and player development is occurring. We don’t know what the ceiling is for Schiano 2.0, but we know the floor is a lot higher than the Flood and Ash eras.”

BSD: “To kind of go off the previous questions, where has Rutgers made the biggest strides in the last two seasons? Where does Rutgers still have work to do?”

Breitman: “When Rutgers plays clean football, they have a chance to win. They now have had five games with zero turnovers, the most since the 2009 season. They are 5-0 in those games. They also have been much improved limiting penalties, as they are 21st nationally just under 5 per game.

The defense has taken a step forward this season and when they can stop teams from running the ball, they are much more competitive. They are second in the Big Ten in limiting opponents to just 29.0% on third down conversions.

Adam Korsak is the best punter in college football and is a real weapon when it comes to winning the field position battle.

Beating teams that they either should or have a reasonable chance to has been a steady theme, as they are 5-1 against non-ranked foes.

As for what needs improvement, the offense is not dynamic and when the offensive line struggles, they are unable to sustain drives. I’m very concerned they could be in for a long day against the Penn State defensive line like it was last season.

The defense has laid some eggs against teams that are physical and have speed. Allowing big plays has been an issue prior to the bye week.

Going up against blue bloods and deep teams have caused mismatches in certain key spots. When Rutgers has to make big plays on offense to keep up, mistakes happen.

The depth of the roster is being tested due to many injuries to key players on the two deep. A lot of younger players have stepped up, but it’s obvious the coaching staff needs another two cycles before upgrading the roster to a talent and depth level needed to move up the Big Ten ladder.”

BSD: “As for the game this Saturday, most in Happy Valley are expecting a low scoring affair, akin to mid-2000s Big Ten football. Is it safe to say that Rutgers will stick with a conservative game plan — running the ball and ball control — or do you think offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson opens things up a bit?”

Breitman: “I do think Rutgers will open conservatively but how the game progresses will determine if they stay that way. Against Indiana, they took an early lead due to turnovers by the Hoosiers and went ultra conservative. Against Illinois, they needed to make plays in the second half to win and the playbook opened up some. Rutgers is not a good come from behind team, especially against a team like Penn State that is much deeper.”

BSD: “If Rutgers loses on Saturday, how do you think it happens? If Rutgers wins on Saturday, how do you think it happens?”

Breitman: “The key for Rutgers is limiting turnovers and penalties, stopping the run and limiting big plays by Clifford, as well as sustaining drives and finishing red zone opportunities. Pretty basic but that is how Rutgers can win and why when they don’t do those things the wheels fall off pretty quickly.

I think if it’s a close game in the fourth quarter, you will see Rutgers pull out all the stops and be aggressive. Beating Penn State would clinch a bowl bid, help mute Franklin’s negative recruiting against them and give the program its signature win since joining the Big Ten.

A wild card factor to watch for in this game is if Rutgers gives Gavin Wimsatt an opportunity. He is the Top 100 QB prospect who made his debut converting on a fourth down against Illinois that turned out to be the game winning drive. He played at the end of the Indiana game. I suspect they’ll have a package ready for him and if the right situation presents itself, he could be a game changer.”