Rutgers' defense dominates Scarlet, White spring game
The biggest story of the first spring game since Chris Ash became the head football coach at Rutgers continued to be the same as the final spring game of former head coach Kyle Flood’s tenure on the Banks — a quarterback competition between junior quarterbacks Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig.
Both players pleaded their cases to start behind center next Fall in the game, each showing flashes of brilliance and moments of inconsistency against the second and fourth string defense of the White team.
But the best performance of the night came on the other side of the ball for the Scarlet team with the first team defense, a unit led by a defensive line returning 4 of 5 starters from last season. The experience was evident in its performance as it held the White side to just 3 points during the 60 minutes of regulation after it was spotted 17 points to begin the contest.
After noting the improvement that must be made on the offensive side of the ball in his post-game press conference, Ash praised his first-team defense.
“I thought defensively, overall, our ones played a pretty clean football game,” he said. “We ran to the ball well, I thought we tackled pretty well for the most part and I’m excited to watch the film on them and continue to see the progress they’ve been making over the course of the spring.”
The numbers put up by the Scarlet defense were impressive regardless of the level of the opposition.
The offense led by sophomore Giovanni Rescigno and redshirt-freshman Michael Dare was only able to muster 82 yards of offense split straight down the middle in rushing and passing yards, reaching the first down marker just 3 times on the night.
The performance may not have changed Ash’s mind but it did help him confirm his decision on who tops the defensive depth chart heading into training camp in August.
“I’m really pleased with the D-Line right now. Our secondary, I think is starting to come together, at least the first unit. The linebackers, I think you saw who probably’s going to be our one unit tonight,” Ash said. “The depth chart, the reps they took with the Scarlet team, I think the starting 11 on defense is getting clearer every single day we go out.”
The leader of the defensive line on the night, just as he was throughout the spring, was senior Julian Pinnix-Odrick, who tallied a team-high six tackles, five of which were solo.
Knowing his unit was complimented by Ash multiple times — a bit of an anomaly thus far in his short tenure — Pinnix-Odrick takes pride in knowing where his room stands. But with great power comes great responsibility, so he and his fellow linemen are already looking ahead to how they could continue their development.
“We’re gonna take that and we’re gonna take all the responsibility that we need to take in terms of that being our room,” he said. “Me, (seniors) Darius (Hamilton), Quanzell (Lambert), (junior) Sebastian (Joseph), those guys, we’ve been talking about how we’re going to attack this summer, especially starting this Monday, regarding knowing the plays, knowing what we need to do, developing our bodies, developing our minds and being the position group we need to be for the team, because we can’t be 10 strong without the (defensive) line.”
Hamilton, who missed all but one game last season due to a knee injury, was left out of the spring game, which he claimed to be for “precautionary” reasons.
A participant in “above 80” percent of the spring season, the West Patterson, New Jersey, native believes are on the right path, but as Ash has said multiple times, including in his post-game press conference Saturday, the Knights are nowhere near where they need to be to find success.
“If you would have told me in January that I’d be out here in the spring tackling and doing live periods and stuff like that, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “I think we’re getting better and at this point, that’s all you can hope for is that we take the right steps forward every day. I think we’re on the right track. It’s going to be a process, and like Coach Ash tells us all the time, we’re not where we need to be yet, but we’re getting there."