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Rutgers offense stagnant as Team Scarlet narrowly takes spring game

Sure, Michael Cintron may have broken the Big Ten and Rutgers football records for number of punts last season. But him and Jared Smolar collectively showed they were up to the task to do the same on Saturday.

With eight punts and 284 yards between the two at halftime — resulting in three muffed punts by sophomore wide receiver Dacoven Bailey — it is fair to say neither Team Scarlet nor Team White got off to the starts they wanted.

It was not until sophomore kicker Gavin Haggerty drilled a 40-yard field goal for Team Scarlet with 30 seconds to go in the second quarter that a team got on the board, notwithstanding the 13 handicap points awarded to Team White at the start of the game.

And then on the opposite end of the halftime break, Haggerty took to the field again, this time to deliver a 37-yarder through the uprights.

Through three quarters, it was 13-6 in favor of White, with just six of those points happened on the field.

“There’s still a gap that exists between our offense and defense right now and we knew that was going to be the case,” said head coach Chris Ash. “The experience is there that we didn’t necessarily have on the offensive side of the ball.”

But for junior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno — who had found himself mired in criticism last season after failing to deliver offensive consistency after usurping Chris Laviano at the position — he hoped to close that gap through his wideouts. Though running backs Josh Hicks and Robert Martin had taken the burden of the yardage from then on out, Rescigno started to get a lot more out of the shotgun.

What started with a 19-yard find of sophomore wide receiver Bailey — who had struggled mightily up to that point — ended with a 28-yarder to fifth-year senior wide receiver Damon "Duwop" Mitchell at the back of the endzone.

The final scoreline came to be with yet another three points off the foot of Haggerty, placing it between the posts from 41 yards out to give Team Scarlet the 16-13 win over Team White.

"There's always a little bit of pressure, but I think the bottom line just comes down to you gotta go out there and do your job,” Haggerty said. “Every kick's the same. I'm just a smaller part of a bigger operation."

Saturday’s spring game came to characterize the majority of spring camp for the Scarlet Knights. A lack of virtually any offensive production through 40 minutes on Saturday represented a considerably deep problem for this year’s Rutgers squad — one with a lot of question marks surrounding its receiving core between both the wide receivers and the tight ends.

“Wide receiver and tight end are really the two spots that are the unknowns right now that we need to continue to develop,” Ash said.

And as Ash detailed Saturday, the significant disparity in talent and progress between the offense and defense started following the Knights’ first live scrimmage a few weeks back. At that point in the spring, as the team stands now, the defense was significantly ahead of the offense in terms of preparation and skill.

Of course, the offensive unit has been debilitated by an assortment of injuries and absences throughout spring and remains a much different team than the Rutgers faithful will get come the fall.

One constant — barring any movement due to incoming freshman quarterback Johnathan Lewis — is Rescigno.

Rescigno threw for 193 yards on an 18-for-30 line Saturday with 122 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter alone. Despite a glacier-like start for the clear-cut number one, his reliance on a question-filled wide receiver unit late on proved fruitful. And he felt good about it.

“I worked with coach (Jerry) Kill more and everything kind of came together and I think as each practice went on, I got better and better and even up until today,” Rescigno said. “I think today was a good day. Going into camp, I hold my high.”

However slow the offense was, Ash’s central concern was put to rest following Saturday’s game, as his players came away healthy due to the "thud tempo" him and his coaching staff implemented.

To boot, Ash insisted that Saturday’s spring game was a major enhancement from last year’s. If not because of on-field performance, it’s the collective mentality — the camaraderie — that carried the team through 14 practices this spring. In that respect, the Knights are in much better shape than they were in this time last year.

"The chemistry, the brotherhood of the football team,” Ash said. “I really like the chemistry of our team.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @jon_spilletti and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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