For the first time in 18 games, the Rutgers football team will have a quarterback not named Chris Laviano behind senior center Derrick Nelson on its first offensive drive of a game.
Head coach Chris Ash announced sophomore quarterback Giovanni Rescigno is the Scarlet Knights’ starter “moving forward,” starting this Saturday against Minnesota (4-2, 1-2) in Minneapolis, in his press conference previewing the matchup Monday.
The change comes after Rutgers was outscored 174-14 in four losses to open its Big Ten schedule and ranks penultimate among 128 FBS teams in total offense with junior signal caller Laviano as the starter.
In the limited action Rescigno has seen — two snaps against Howard Sept. 10 and the entire second half against Illinois last Saturday — he’s provided a spark, going 10-for-18 and scoring the Knights’ first touchdown in 11 quarters against the Fighting Illini in a performance which ultimately earned him the nod.
“Saturday in the second half, it was different. It just felt different,” Ash said. “Didn't necessarily mean that we went out and scored a bunch of points, but we moved the ball. He made some exciting plays with his feet. Threw the ball well at times. There was just a different energy on offense. There was different energy on the sideline, different energy in the stadium when Gio was in there, especially after he did some of the things he did, and once he got comfortable and got moving a little bit. So we're hoping that we can build on that.”
Ash said the decision was made Sunday in order to give Rescigno and the rest of the offense the opportunity to prepare for the Golden Gophers without any uncertainty surrounding the game.
The sophomore entered the Illinois game having impressed the coaching staff during the week after being demoted to the scout team to emulate the Illini’s mobile quarterback Chayce Crouch. Ash said Gio looked comfortable and didn’t hesitate for the first time he can remember, showing positive signs entering the game.
With the offense’s struggles continuing throughout the first half, Ash and offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer approached Rescigno about coming into the game, and despite only having two snaps of in-game experience, he was able to “rally off answers” to questions posed to him about the playbook.
Upon entering, he impressed with his ability to improvise when the pocket collapsed around him, with Mehringer pointing to a scramble he had on a 3rd-and-9 where he gained 10 yards and a first down with his feet.
His performance and the subsequent starting nod is a culmination of his unwavering effort and work in both the offseason and during the season despite his competition seemingly having an edge over him, according to Mehringer.
“Gio is an extremely conscientious kid, cares a lot about his performance,” Mehringer said. “Coming out of spring, I was like ‘I think you have a lot of room for improvement, we thought you would’ve improved more in spring.’ And so he had a heck of a summer in his own personal improvement and that’s continued up until this point. He’s a kid that never wavered despite some of those other guys coming in and he’s kept working. This past week, he went out there and did some things that we hadn’t seen some guys do yet.”
Ash was adamant that the decision was made not because of anything Laviano did, but it was due to the energy Rescigno provided to the offense when he came on Saturday.
“Chris has done everything that he's been asked to do,” Ash said. “He's changed his attitude. He's changed his work ethic, his commitment level to the football team has been sky high. He's provided tremendous leadership for the other members of the offense. ... He'll continue to provide leadership for not only the offense but for the quarterback room and for Gio as he prepares to go starting the game on Saturday.”
Rescigno was the third different quarterback to relieve Laviano midway through a start in three weeks.
Before Rescigno came graduate transfer Zach Allen, who played the final three quarters of a 78-0 loss to No. 4 Michigan a week prior, and true freshman Tylin Oden, who played the final quarter and a half against No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus.
Ash said he hopes Rescigno can end the “revolving door” the quarterback position has become this season.
Whether he will stop the trend is yet to be seen, but as senior offensive lineman Dorian Miller said, Rescigno doesn’t have to reach the level of Johnny Manziel or Cam Newton in his first start — the fact that he provides something different is enough.
“Just play within himself. Don’t try to be a superhero and don’t try to do things,” Miller said when asked what Rescigno has to do to be successful. “Don’t play outside of himself, that’s the main thing. Make the right plays, make the right reads, play within himself. … In life, if you get a new shirt or you get a new video game, it’s just something that’s new and different so I think he provided something a little different on (Saturday) … it was just momentum, just the classic case of momentum.”