Maryland offers opportunity for Rutgers offense to break out
In the process of rebuilding the Rutgers football team, head coach Chris Ash has installed an identity within his team. The Scarlet Knights are not flashy on offense, not dominant on defense, but they are incredibly tough and have shown the ability to do whatever it takes to win in the Big Ten this season.
And while that mental and physical fortitude is a positive thing for the team, there is no hiding the offensive struggle of Rutgers in 2017.
Against both Washington and Nebraska, the Knights went down the field early in the first quarter to score a touchdown. After that, the offense went stagnant and put pressure on the defense to make plays.
And while the rushing offense broke out against Illinois and the offense in general did just enough to beat Purdue, the passing game has been non-existent for each of the first eight games of the season for the Knights.
Ash made the decision to switch from graduate transfer Kyle Bolin to junior Giovanni Rescigno leading into the team's game at Illinois and Rescigno has gone 2-1, including wins in his first two starts.
Despite the wins, Rescigno is averaging 92 passing yards per game and Rutgers ranks last in the Big Ten in passing offense.
But when Maryland visits New Jersey on Saturday, he will have the chance to go against the worst passing defense in the conference — one that is giving up nearly 280 yards per game.
"I think we can definitely take advantage of it," Rescigno said after Tuesday's practice. "I think we have a good opportunity this week to improve in the pass game area with the receivers and everyone else."
Another factor that could help improve the passing attack is the return of true freshman running back Raheem Blackshear, who missed the Michigan game a week ago due to injury. In the win against Purdue, he hauled in a 35-yard touchdown reception on wheel route from Rescigno.
The thought of a healthy Blackshear along with a healthy Janarion Grant is one that will have offensive coordinator Jerry Kill salivating. Both have big-play ability and have shown the ability to change the game with the ball in their hands.
Rescigno is one of the main benficiaries of their health, and noted that he is excited to see what the offense can look like with both of them on the field.
"It's really important just to have those guys out there," he said. "The factor of them being out there and the dynamic they give to the offense just in general is really big."
But when Kill was asked how the offense could improve, his focus shifted away from the passing game and to the offensive line. After giving up just six sacks in the first seven games, the unit surrendered five against the Wolverines.
It was easily the line's worst game of the year and led to Rescigno — who has been battling a lingering knee injury — taking many big hits.
"The bottom line is we gotta continue to protect the quarterback," Kill said. "... (Maryland has) a good defensive line and good linebackers that'll come after you."
If the offensive line can clean things up, it will put the Knights in a very good position to win, as the running backs have been a strong unit all season and Rescigno and the offense have not turned the ball over in the last two games.
Rutgers has a plus-1 turnover marking two thirds of the way through the season, making that an area that the team has shown improvement in.
Rescigno’s lone turnover was a fumble against Illinois when he took a helmet to the knee and left the game with an injury. Beisdes that, he has done an exceptional job taking care of the ball for the offense.
"I think any time you don't turn the ball over, at least you've got an opportunity to win," Kill said. "If we keep not turning the ball over we'll have a chance to do some things here down the stretch."