At the conclusion of a disappointing season, questions continue to surround the Rutgers football team. As answers elude the Scarlet Knights (4-8, 1-8) following their eighth consecutive losing season and second straight of eight losses, one-step solutions are in short supply.
On the heels of this unsuccessful season, difficult decisions loom at a multitude of positions for head coach Greg Schiano as he enters the fourth year of his second stint at Rutgers.
The spotlight was squarely on sophomore quarterback Gavin Wimsatt entering the 2022 season. The former four-star recruit out of Owensboro, Kentucky, was primed to earn the Knights’ starting job over senior quarterback Noah Vedral and fellow sophomore quarterback Evan Simon. In reality, Wimsatt and Simon fought for playing time in the early part of the season while Vedral was sidelined with an injury.
Rutgers won its first three games against non-conference opponents despite this revolving door at quarterback but quickly found itself outmatched against Big Ten competition. All three quarterbacks wound up playing meaningful roles for the Knights before Wimsatt took over full-time after the loss to Minnesota.
Other in-house options are slim for the time being. Over the past four recruiting classes, Rutgers has secured commitments from three quarterbacks: Simon in 2020, Wimsatt in 2021 and three-star Ajani Sheppard, who committed this week.
While the season was full of lows, the Knights had a bright spot in their ground game. Freshman running back Samuel Brown V and sophomore running back Kyle Monangai put up notable and strong performances. But, Brown was declared out for the season before Rutgers faced off against the Golden Gophers (8-4, 5-4), and Monangai stepped up in his place.
Next season, Brown is expected to be fully healthy. Along with Monangai, the two running backs could be a dominant one-two punch.
Meanwhile, at the receiver position, senior wide receivers Aron Cruickshank and Sean Ryan are graduating, meaning the Knights will be slimmer at the wideout position. Sophomore wide receiver Chris Long and junior wide receiver Joshua Youngblood figure to be in line for a much bigger role in the Rutgers offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Schiano has markedly improved upon a Knight defense that allowed nearly 36.7 points per game in 2019. Since his arrival, Rutgers has allowed 32.1 points per game in 2020 and 25.6 points per game in 2021, ranking 83rd and 56th, respectively.
This year, the program ultimately finished the season sporting the 93rd-ranked defense in the nation, surrendering 29.2 points per game to opponents. For the Knights' defense to continue improving, it will need a few big bodies and a steady stream of talented recruiting classes, something Schiano has proved to be adept at.
Schiano’s first recruiting class was ranked 57th in the nation in 2020 and jumped in the following two years. Rutgers enrolled multiple starters and sported the country’s 42nd in 2021 and 33rd in 2022, something that is promising for the future.
If the Knights hope to continue to improve their defense, they will need to be active and invested in their recruitment of talented prospects and transfer targets. If past success is any indicator, Schiano should have no trouble finding the keys to building Rutgers into a defensive-minded, competitive Big Ten program.
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