Well, we did it for the offense, so we better do it for the defense and ‘teams. 9 reasons why the Rutgers Defense/Special Teams will do some things in 2022! This article might be a little bit more measured, as the Rutgers Defense doesn’t have quite as far to climb from 2021 and the special teams were by and large outstanding.
By most measures, Rutgers was middle of the pack nationally on defense, slightly better against the pass, slightly worse against the run. With improved recruiting and another year in Greg Schiano’s program, steady improvement should be the expectation, not a reach. On Special Teams, a historic punting year combined with steady kicking meant it was once again the strength of the team.
But we’re not interested in repeating 2021. We’re interest to know what it’s going to take for Rutgers to do some things on defense and special teams in 2022. Here’s my list:
1. The Best Punter in Football Plays in Jersey
The best player on the team and possibly the best player on the Eastern seaboard is Rutgers Punter Adam Korsak. Full stop.
Robbed a year ago for the Ray Guy award after setting records for Net punting, the Aussie is back and ready to continue his rugby-kicking ways. Unless the unspeakable happens (don’t worry I just sacrificed a football to avoid this fate), this one should be pretty much guaranteed to happen.
Let’s take a look at a few stats:
- NCAA Record 45.25 Net Yards
- 38 punts downed inside the 20
- 16 punts inside the 10
- 8 inside the 5
- 4 inside the 1
- 65 kicks with a zero or negative yard return
- 19 50 Yard+ punts
- No touchbacks since 2019
You can see the full list here and its ridiculous.
Ultimately, the best weapon on either the offense or the defense is the presumed 2022 Ray Guy favorite and if there is anything more Big Ten than your best player being your punter, I don’t know what it is.
2. Greg Schiano Brings Back the Block
Sticking with special teams, those who’ve followed Rutgers since Schiano’s initial stink will remember a special teams unit that was hyper aggressive in blocking kicks. Forget returns, forget field position, just focus on game changing blocks. He became famous for sending his starters out onto the punt and field goal block teams and the results were stellar.
Every game for about a decade, you could be guaranteed that the announcers at some point would reference that no team in college football blocked more kicks than Rutgers in the past however many years. The theory seemed to work too - Rutgers won games it shouldn’t have based on field-shifting or point-scoring blocks that often came bunched in single games.
In his second stint, his special teams units have been much more traditional, a trend I’m willing to predict changes this year. Greg has not appointed a Special Teams coach and will apparently be overseeing more if it himself.
Does this mean we’ll get back to the block as the focus of the special teams units?
Let’s be honest, we “writers” have no idea. But if this Rutgers special teams unit does something in 2022, there’s a good bet its going to be because of Schiano bringing back those old school, block party special teams units of the early 2000’s.
3. Coach Harasymiak Brings Some Minnesota Magic
In 2021, Coach Joe Harasymiak was co-coordinator for a Minnesota defense to the #3 ranking in all of college football. That’s pretty awesome. He comes to the Big Ten from Maine, which is exotic and different.
Harasymiak seems to be a rising star in the coaching world and he has some fantastic ties to the Jersey area (like a lot of the Minnesota staff). Bringing a Jersey boy back to the banks to help Greg Schiano’s defense take the next step forward is a pretty great narrative, but there’s plenty of intrigue as to what kind of scheme he’s going to run.
Whatever it turns into, if he can capture that magic and apply it to the talent aggregating on the banks, it’ll go a long way towards taking this defense from middle of the pack to upper echelon.
4. Max Melton Goes from Solid to Spectacular
This one is cheating, because Melton is already a big time playmaker and primed for another big year. Last year, Melton was a solid starter with occasional flashes of brilliance, outside of a short absence due to youthful indiscretion. Great in zone coverage, sticky in man coverage, incredible hands at the point of attack, with a nose for being in the right place at the right time during chaotic plays.
This year, if Melton can step up to be a true lockdown corner and follow the best receiver across the field, that will go a long way towards enabling the deep stable of defensive backs to cover the rest of the field.
5. The D-Line is B1G and Deep
For years, Rutgers relied on undersized, under-recruited D-Linemen using exotic schemes to get pressure in the backfield. While the exotic schemes remain, the past few years have seen Rutgers consistently bring in highly recruited linemen with the height, weight and athleticism to compete in the Big Ten.
Mayan Ahanotu, Ifeanyi Maijeh, Kyonte Hamilton and Aaron Lewis are all names to get familiar with, as they should form the core of the defense and roll 8-players deep with big time recruits like Kenny fletcher waiting in the wings. If this defense improves markedly, it’ll be because the line is getting pressure on the quarterback and stuffing the run, because...
6. The Young Linebackers Step Up
...the linebackers are real, real green.
Veteran leaders and proven playmakers Olakunle Fatukasi, Tyshon Fogg, Drew Singleton and Tyreek Maddox-Williams have all moved on, and both four-star freshman Moses Walker and uber-athletic Mohamed Toure both sustained serious injuries and are doubtful to contribute this year.
Deion Jennings and Tyreem Powell have played well in spots and Anthony Johnson and Austin Dean have both showed promise, but this is a scary inexperienced group. Further compounding the issue, the linebacker corps has formed the backbone of Special Teams in the past, further stretching the remaining LBs on the roster.
If the defense is going to do things this year, it’s not going to happen unless this linebacker group steps up to the plate or Schiano finds a difference maker in the transfer portal.
7. Kyonte Hamilton Cocks the Nose
Whenever I watch Rutgers football games, my favorite thing to do is focus on the opponent's interior offensive line absolutely panic for the first few drives when they see the nose tackle basically pointed towards what appears to be a different football game being played on an adjacent field.
Last year, Julius Turner was a human wrecking ball on the defensive line and this year Kyonte Hamilton takes over the role. While offenses have started to adjust to the strategy, it still provides an effective and entertaining strategy and should be a key thing to watch for in 2022.
8. I Regret Picking 9 Things...
I mean seriously...this is too many.
9. And the Kicker...
...is the Kicker. This Guy right here.
Val Ambrosio is out, Guy Fava is in. This Guy has so far made 100% of his kicks ever, so we can assume that he will continue to be perfect forever, right?
Regardless, there is talent on the roster in both Fava, and highly touted Freshman Jai Patel, as well as New Jersey native Michael O’Connor. If this team is going to make noise in 2022, a few big kicks are going to be a big part of it.