So normally we at Off Tackle Empire take the week around the 4th of July off for America week because who wants to read about Big Ten teams while grilling, drinking, beaching, and/or recovering? However this year we said NAY to that. Rutgers being during America Week is perfect actually because, what better way to celebrate America week and the Fourth of July than dedicating it to a team from a school that is named for a Revolutionary War Hero Colonel and is the only Big Ten school to have existed for the Revolutionary War and America’s Independence? Yeah, totally doing it for that reason and not at all because the actual planned Rutgers week completely snuck up on me a few weeks ago and I was not prepared.
Anyway, grab your 4th of July-ified cocktail party hors d'oveures and drinks I'm previewing Rutgers Football 2021.
Schiano returns for year two of his rebooted tenure as Rutgers’ head football coach. His first year of course was navigating COVID and most would agree that Rutgers performed well and was competitive in the weird 2020 season. Schiano never seemed to let the stress of COVID outwardly affect him or the team and I would say Rutgers is coming from a good place into a better one.
With Schiano returns the entire coaching staff which is a big deal for Rutgers a team usually marred by coaching turnovers and inconsistency especially with major assistant coaching positions. The key assistant coach to pay attention to is Sean Gleeson, our wunderkind offensive coordinator who helped Rutgers Football score at least 20 points in 8 games last season (which we only did 12 times in 52 Big Ten games previously). According to Athlon Sports, Rutgers was the fourth-most improved team in the nation offensively, averaging 13.4 more points per game than in 2019. The 2020 season saw Rutgers have more offensive life than I’ve seen since probably 2014, and Rutgers fans are excited to see what he brings in 2021. Hopefully more of this:
Rutgers gives up a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half. That's a gut punch that makes them fold one, two, three years ago.— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) November 22, 2020
Instead, Rutgers punches right back. Noah Vedral finds Bo Melton for the 61-yard touchdown.
Rutgers 24, Michigan 14. pic.twitter.com/6kPFhlwXNt
Rutgers has genuinely outstanding playmakers returning on offense including Bo Melton (WR) (638 receiving yards in 2020), Isaih Pacheco (RB) (515 rushing yards in 2020), Aaron Young (RB), and for the first time in recent memory, Rutgers has no summer camp “who’s it gonna be?” quarterback drama, it’s Noah Vedral 100% for the Scarlet Knights. Refreshing and Noah is an absolute tank, a great leader, and a genuinely consistent quarterback who meshes well with Melton in particular. In 2020 Vedral completed 61.5% of his passes. I expect that to be even better this year. Quarterback Art Sitkowski transferred to Illinois. Also worth noting on offense is that Rutgers is returning its entire offensive line, including seasoned players Nick Krimin (C), Reggie Sutton, and Raiqwon O’Neal (LT). I would say the Offensive Line was a point that could have been improved last season and hopefully the seniority helps with that.
After getting a break on 4th-and-5, Noah Vedral finds Bo Melton for the game's opening touchdown: pic.twitter.com/eon3qhuJgt— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) October 31, 2020
Most of you reading probably know Greg Schiano is a defensive guy at heart (I mean so was Ash, but Greg is actually good), so a pretty decently shining point for Rutgers in 2020 was the defense, at least certain elements of it, one of those being turnovers. Rutgers did so well in turnovers in fact, that Scarlet Knights were ranked 18th nationally with 19 turnovers in the 2020 season. Additionally, Rutgers was ranked 11th in the nation with 7.9 tackles for a loss per game. Rutgers has some absolutely formidable defensive players returning in linebackers Olakunle Fatukasi (101 tackles!!), Tyshon Fogg (70 tackles), Mohamed Toure (4.5 sacks), defensive linemen Mike Tverdov (4 sacks), transfer Ifeanyi Maijeh, and Julius Turner, and a deep secondary with Avery Young, Tre Avery, Max Melton, Christian Izien, with UNC transfer Patrice Rene and grad transfer Christian Braswell who had a very solid career at Temple.
2022 NFL Draft Prospect: Another CB to keep an eye on is Avery Young from Rutgers. Here he does a nice job of stripping the ball and causing a turnover. Rutgers got a good one! Look for him to have a standout season! @Azy_02 pic.twitter.com/GgmqaYYHji— Robert Cardona (@CARDONAFAM29) July 4, 2021
Aron Cruickshank. Need I say more?
Aron Cruickshank goes 100 yards to the endzone for his first kickoff return touchdown as a Scarlet Knight.— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) November 28, 2020
Rutgers punches right back and makes it 30-27. pic.twitter.com/18ugG5hwN6
Rutgers also landed a great transfer in Joshua Youngblood previously of Kansas State where he was the Big 12’s top special teams player . A lovely complement to Cruickshank. Also we here at Off Tackle Empire love punting so you all should be excited about the return of Adam Korsak, one of the best punters in the conference and country. Also, our star formerly soccer team walk on kicker Valentino Ambrosio returns whose name I cannot help but say with this face.
I would call our schedule... moderately favorable. If all cogs of Rutgers work together, I think we could start our season 3-0, achieving our 2020 record before we even get into Big Ten play. Certainly eager to play Illinois and see if BERT Bielema was able to better develop Art Sitkowski. Also, Rutgers is due for a big upset, is this the year we finally have one? Will save predictions for the end of the week.
Rutgers returns 19/22 starters, has a bunch of players on the PFF Preseason All-Big Ten Team, has some really solid transfers, a good distribution of seniority, a returning and this consistent coaching staff, and a fully realized “Rutgers is where I belong” Greg Schiano. This may not yet be our Bowl Game season, but hey Big Ten... we comin’.
Rutgers Week Schedule
Monday: Cocktail Party Preview & Potluck
Tuesday: Probably a coaching piece & Potluck
Wednesday: I have no idea, but definitely a Potluck
Thursday: Something & a Potluck
Friday: Some attempt at Rutgers Hatred. Oh and a Potluck