Maietti impresses as offensive line looks to continue strong play against Purdue
The Rutgers offensive line turned heads in the first game of the season when it held its own and played a strong game against Washington, a team with one of the best defensive lines in the country.
But that success wasn't there when it lost against Eastern Michigan and especially in a loss to Nebraska, when the team only ran for 68 yards, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. A week after that, the Knights were held to 2.9 yards per carry against a stout Ohio State defensive line.
But the unit bounced back in a big way against Illinois last week, pushing around the Illini to the tune of 274 rushing yards, while the running backs averaged 6.4 yards per carry. More importantly, Rutgers came away with the win.
"It's fun as a coach (and) for them," said offensive line coach AJ Blazek of the team's performance against Illinois. "You only get 12 games. You're only guaranteed 12 days. That's 353 you have to work. The other 12 you get to have fun. It's fun to watch them go out and enjoy it. They were having fun, the feedback was good on the sidelines."
Sophomore Jonah Jackson entered the season as the starting center, but, due to a surgery after the team's game against Ohio State, will not play on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Michael Maietti assumed the starting role against Illinois but wasn't inexperienced by any stretch of the imagination.
Blazek shuffled around his unit, having Maietti start the team's game at Nebraska while moving Jackson to guard. Maietti has been the starter since, with Jackson suffering his injury as the starting right guard.
Blazek had nothing but high praise for Maietti after Tuesday's practice, citing his quick development after being a late addition to the 2016 recruiting class.
"He's cool and he's calm and he says nothing," Blazek said. "But our guys all trust him, they know he knows his stuff. Its gonna be fun to watch him play throughout his career."
Maietti was a 2-star recruit coming out of Don Bosco Prep and was ranked as the 62nd best player in New Jersey.
That didn't matter to Blazek, though. He only had a few weeks to recruit, as the staff was put together with just a month until National Signing Day. He said there are only three qualities he looks at in offensive linemen and Maietti met the criteria.
"Smart, tough, dependable. That's is all I care about," Blazek said. "Mike Maietti is all of those. ... If you have those three things, o-line's a position you can make yourself."
Purdue has seen its share of tough offensive lines, as it is coming off a game against No. 7 Wisconsin in which the Badgers — a team whose history is based on big, tough offensive linemen — ran for 295 yards.
In comparison, the Knights may not be at that level, but are playing with a ton more confidence than the group of players that they will line up against.
"We still got things we got to clean up and they were able to recognize that Sunday and started off with a good practice looking forward to this week," Blazek said.