The Rutgers football team’s 24-7 loss to Illinois marked the sixth straight game in which head coach Chris Ash pulled junior quarterback Chris Laviano off the field, whether it be for a couple of drives midway through a tight game against Iowa or throughout the entirety of the final three quarters of a historic blowout against No. 4 Michigan.
But after watching sophomore Giovanni Rescigno build on his one drive against Howard in the second week of the season by providing a spark for the Scarlet Knights’ as they looked to comeback against the Fighting Illini, Ash was finally convinced to do what fans have been begging for throughout the first half of the season.
“It's completely open,” Ash said when asked about a quarterback competition following Saturday's loss. “We haven't had enough production at the quarterback position in the first half of the season, and we've got to open it up … it is absolutely an open competition. We've got to figure out who can give us the best chance to consistently move the ball.”
Laviano threw for 62 yards on 7-for-12 passing in the first half against Illinois, an improvement over the combined 39 yards on four completions he had against the Wolverines and No. 2 Ohio State in the previous two weeks, but he also turned the ball over twice — once on a fumble and a second time on a botched snap on fourth down.
Rescigno, meanwhile, went 10-for-18 on the day, throwing for 120 yards and the Knights’ first touchdown in 11 quarters, ending the longest such streak in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in a decade.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 15, 2016
But he also committed Rutgers’ eighth turnover of the day, tossing an interception returned 78 yards to the house by Darius Mosely that ended any hopes of the Knights’ pulling off a comeback win on Homecoming.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 15, 2016
"He made the right read and he was going to the right place,” said offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer of the play moments after an emotional opening statement. “I don't know if you guys saw, but the ball was tipped by the defensive end. Credit to the kid who picked it off. … Is that one a little out of his control? Yes and no. In terms of his read, I give him a break on his read. He made the right read and right throw. But we'll never accept turnovers from anyone, ever."
Ash wouldn’t commit to a number when pressed on how many quarterbacks on the roster were in the midst of the competition, but if first seven games are to be taken as a sample size, the reality is any of the four used quarterbacks have a shot at starting against Minnesota next weekend.
Though he has yet to be listed on the two-deep depth charts released by the team every Monday, true freshman quarterback Tylin Oden has had the most appearances of anyone aside from Laviano, participating in 3 of Rutgers’ 7 games this season.
Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 186 pounds, Oden is still far from reaching an ideal size to handle getting knocked around by Big Ten level defenders, but he has flashed his potential in his limited opportunities.
Though he has yet to complete a pass, missing on all four of his attempts against the Buckeyes, the Spring Hill, Tennessee, native has picked up solid yardage on many of his 22 rushing attempts, demonstrating his ability to thrive in the spread offense Ash and Mehringer are running.
There were questions of whether Oden’s redshirt was burned when he came on against the Hawkeyes in the fourth week of the season, but those doubts were shattered when he trotted out at the Shoe against Ohio State.
"Coach Ash has a great policy that he will never burn a kid's redshirt without asking him. Sitting him down and making him sure that he understands everything that goes into that. We spoke with Tylin and told him that we thought there were some things that you can do in this game that can help us. Do you understand the consequences that go along with that? And he did.”
Mehringer went on to say that while Oden is getting better, he still has some issues to iron out, one of the reason’s him taking the reigns is unlikely.
Oden taking the starting role would indicate the Knights were beginning preparation for the future, a notion Ash vehemently denied, which essentially shuts the door on him starting.
Rescigno and junior graduate transfer Zach Allen are the other two options Ash and Mehringer have at their disposal that have seen game time this season.
While Rescigno’s action has been less, playing two quarters against the Illini and two snaps against the Bison, he has been far more productive.
Allen played in three quarters against the Wolverines alone, as well as the final half of the fourth quarter against New Mexico, and has gone 1-for-12 for negative-1 yards through the air and negative-5 yards on 13 attempts with his feet.
“I don't know if Zach Allen's game reps were a solid assessment of his abilities,” Mehringer said, but they’re the sample size Rutgers’ coaching staff has to work with in making the decision on who is playing behind center next week.
But despite the competition being as open as its been since Ash and co. arrived in Piscataway last December, the coaching staff shouldn’t expect to see anything different from Rescigno in practice Monday.
“I’ve been preparing the whole season for when my name would be called. I’ve taken care of my reps in practice and waited for my chance so when coach called my name, I was more than prepared to go in," Rescigno said. “No matter what, I’ve always treated every week of practice like I’m the starter … so I’m going to do that going into the next week and the rest of the season to be prepared when my name’s called.”