Notebook: Rutgers true freshmen shine against Morgan State
Saturday's game against Morgan State University offered the Rutgers football team its best opportunity to test its depth and get its young players on the field for their first extended collegiate experience.
Without question, the star of the first-year players was quarterback Johnathan Lewis, who set an impressive Knights quarterback record with 4 rushing touchdowns while also throwing a touchdown on his first snap of the game.
"I guess I did good," Lewis said.
That is one way of putting it, as he accounted for 3 touchdowns on his first five plays of the game. He was clearly a matchup nightmare in the red zone with his size (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) and running ability, but also gives offensive coordinator Jerry Kill a lot more flexibility when calling plays.
But on offense, it wasn't just Lewis. Wide receiver Bo Melton caught a 48-yard bomb for his first career catch.
Rutgers has mightily struggled to stretch the field in the passing game so seeing that from Melton was very encouraging for head coach Chris Ash.
"We need to get (Melton) continuing to improve and get going and hopefully add value like that to our offense too because that's what's been missing in the first couple of games," Ash said.
Running back Raheem Blackshear had a huge second half to help him run for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns.
A small, shifty and fast back, Blackshear ran hard between the tackles and maintained a low pad level all day.
"I was really excited about Blackshear going out there and running the way he ran. He's not a very big guy, but he ran hard. He's physical," Ash said. "He's obviously got great feet. He's got good speed, where he's got a chance to make some plays in the open field and take it down the field."
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Tyshon Fogg, a highly-touted recruit, grabbed his first career interception.
Melton, also a big-time recruit, was very excited for Fogg and also noted the strong relationship the players in the freshmen class have.
"We're very tight as a freshman class. Me and Fogg are roommates so we talk about going out there and grinding everyday," Melton said. "To see him get a pick, to see him get a touch was very exciting."
As the lone quarterback in the class, Lewis is looked at by many as the most important piece of all the true freshmen.
But he knows his role on the team right now is to just score touchdowns in the red zone, and he acknowledged doing that is easy when guys like graduate transfer quarterback Kyle Bolin get the offense into that position.
Lewis also took note of his classmates' performance and knows that the future is bright for the Knights.
"As a group, we've been practicing every week together and together we improve every week and it showed that we have a bright future," he said.
Ash was cautious though, noting that it gave the team a good measuring stick to see where they were, but not to expect all the freshmen to play at that level every week.
Rutgers hits the road to take on Nebraska on Saturday, an environment that is certainly not friendly to players in their first year at the collegiate level.
With that being said, he is still optimistic about his first-years and expects big things in the future.
"They have potential to help us if needed. I mean, they're like anyone else. They've just got to keep grinding every single day to get better," Ash said. "It is good to get the game experience, though, because that's a true measuring stick of where you're at."