Those worried about Jerry Kill’s playcalling abilities can all breathe a sigh of relief.
The newly named offensive coordinator of the Rutgers football team hasn’t been an offensive coordinator since 1993, when he led Pittsburg State to the Division II football playoffs for the fourth consecutive season before taking his first head coaching job at the same level with Saginaw Valley State, but that didn’t mark the end of him commanding offenses.
While his title changed in the move, his responsibilities in running the offense did not. Kill continued to call plays for the Cardinals as well as in his next three stops at Emporia State and both Southern and Northern Illinois.
“I was head coach and I called them all,” Kill said of the offensive plays. “We had an offensive coordinator but I was on the field and I called them all … I feel like calling plays, that’s been my gift, to be honest with you.”
Kill surrendered the offensive play calling duties to his offensive coordinator when he took his first head coaching job at a Power Five program with Minnesota in 2011. Though he continued to attend all the offensive meetings, he didn’t have enough time to dedicate towards playcalling, so he let his offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover take over.
“(My) last two or three years at Minnesota, because of our situation with our athletic directors, having 3 different ones and raising money for a new project, i spread myself out way way way too far,” he said. “I was in offensive meetings every day … but as far as calling it, I didn’t call it because i couldn’t manage the time as well as I could’ve, but I didn’t really have a choice … if you’re going to call plays, you gotta spend time, 24 hours in preparing.”
He may be wishing there were more hours in a day than that as he attempts reversing the situation he’s walking into in Piscataway.
Rutgers finished in dead last among all FBS programs in total offense last season, garnering just 283.2 yards per game. The Knights were held scoreless four times, the most shutouts suffered in a single season since 1936. Between the fourth quarter of a 14-7 loss to Iowa, through two shutout losses to No. 2 Ohio State and then-No. 3 Michigan and the first half of a 24-7 loss to Illinois, Rutgers went 11 quarters without scoring, the longest scoring drought in FBS football in over a decade, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
The loneliest man in sports?
Rutgers just completed its 11th straight quarter without scoring, the longest drought in FBS in 10 years. pic.twitter.com/JaKTNT8uPA
— ESPN (@espn) October 15, 2016
Operating in a run-first power spread offense for the first time after decades of running traditional pro-style sets, most recently under previous head coaches Greg Schiano and Kyle Flood, the Knights visibly struggled with the adaptation.
The offensive line often appeared to completely miss assignments, resulting in the unit surrendering an average of 2.83 sacks per game, tied for the 108th worst rate in the nation.
As a result, the running back corps that featured experienced tailbacks in senior Justin Goodwin and juniors Robert Martin and Josh Hicks rarely were able to have high production, mustering an average of just 144.5 yards per game, including just 34 total in the 78-0 shellacking against the Wolverines.
And when the run game couldn’t get going, the pass game never had a chance, regardless of whether it was junior Chris Laviano, sophomore Giovanni Rescigno or true freshman Tylin Oden lined up in the shotgun.
None were helped by a wide receiving group that, upon the season-ending ankle injury to senior Janarion Grant, had a hard time finding separation and getting open. Coupled with the protection issues, it’s easy to see why Rutgers ranked 122nd in passing offense with 138.5 yards per game, an average brought down significantly by a five (5) yard performance in that same game against Michigan — October 8 was not the greatest day in program history.
The results in year one haven’t discouraged Ash, though, who hired Kill with the expectations he continues to build on the foundation left by Drew Mehringer, who left his post as Ash’s first offensive coordinator to reunite with mentor Tom Herman at Texas, the flagship University of his home state.
Known as a coach who adapts his system to the personnel at his disposal, Kill is expected to do the same for the Knights.
“I didn’t want to go completely away from what we’ve done and what our players know,” Ash said of Kill. “I think what he’s going to be able to do is some similar things but also enhance it, make it better and do an outstanding job in tailoring the offensive to skill sets of players that we have.”
Kill said he’ll sit down with the offensive staff and evaluate the good and the bad from last season, tweaking things as he sees fit. Owning the same responsibilities that Mehringer had last season, Kill also holds the title of quarterbacks coach.
He is tasked with sorting through the numerous unknowns of a relatively young room that saw Laviano, fellow senior Hayden Rettig and rising sophomore Michael Dare all transfer this offseason.
At his disposal will be a group of athletic, dual-threat quarterbacks in Rescigno, Oden and highly-touted recruit Johnathan Lewis of St. Peters Prep (Jersey City, N.J.) — assuming he maintains his verbal commitment through National Signing Day in January.
Though Rescigno started the last five games of the season, the slate has been wiped clean as Ash announced an open quarterback battle in his season-ending teleconference. Regardless of who comes out on top, Kill will be certain to try to bring the best out of them.
“We wanna spread the field and we wanna be able to get people out of the box,” Kill said. “We won’t go very far away from what Rutgers has been doing but we will add some stuff that i think will be critical to the success of the quarterbacks that we have. It’s going to be a quarterback friendly offense, I could tell you that.”
Lewis, like many of his fellow verbal commits within Ash’s first full recruiting class at Rutgers, is filled with plenty of potential that Kill, a noted player developer, is expected to bring out.
Those within the group who put pen to paper on NSD and officially become Scarlet Knights will join Michigan transfer wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell and junior college transfer tight end Jerome Washington as welcome additions to the often stagnant offense of last season.
But even if all the new pieces live up to the hype surrounding them right from the beginning, the job Kill is undertaking remains massive.
He joins Ash and the remaining staff — one the head coach said he doesn’t anticipate changing from now until the start of next season — in attempting to scale the Everest-esque mountain in front of them that is the Big Ten.
To Kill, it's just another obstacle in his career he’s anxious to begin overcoming.
“If you look at my background, all the jobs I’ve ever taken are big challenges,” Kill said. “I’m kind of a program builder, that’s what I’ve done my whole life in the last 22 years as a college coach and even in high school so that’s what I’m used to and I love challenges … I’m a competitive dude now and I feel like with the staff that he has and with Chris’ leadership and me being a part of the staff, there’s no question we could get it done. But none of those things are easy and it takes time to do it the right way and he’s going to do it the right way and that’s why I wanna be a part of it.”
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