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Rutgers cannot give up on quarterback Sitkowski

Three starts, seven interceptions, 290 yards, 1 touchdown. No, the numbers have not been pretty thus far for true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski — last week’s showing against Kansas, if anything, locked the door and threw away the key on that debate. 

It’s no secret that the Rutgers football team has underperformed this season. Year three under head coach Chris Ash, the pieces were starting to come together, there were signs of life the year before — even the fans were starting to get excited. 

But a fourth of the way through the season, the Scarlet Knights (1-2, 0-1) have more questions than answers, more injuries than touchdowns and an 18 year old expected to find the cure.

That’s right, 18 years old. 

Lost in the shuffle, Sitkowski — who turned 18 in May — is barely old enough to vote, let alone ready to lead a recently added Big Ten school back to relevancy. He needs time to learn, grow and mature as both a quarterback and as a young man. 

But coming out of training camp, with Sitkowski beating out fifth-year senior and captain Giovanni Rescigno, that’s where Rutgers is at with all of the extra stuff that surrounds it — the questions, the expectations, the hype and the inevitable overreactions.

A four-star recruit coming out of IMG Academy, Sitkowski always looked the part. He had poise, confidence and, of course, the talent.

“He obviously has the ability to play the position,” said offensive coordinator John McNulty.

But college is a different animal than high school. It takes practice, reps and in-game experience to truly develop a skill set. The success reached in high school doesn’t always translate right away in college.

So, what happens when a young player with so much attention surrounding him on a team starving for a glimmer of hope doesn’t succeed right away? The light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t look as bright and the wheels begin to fall off.

But now more than ever, the Knights cannot give up on their starting quarterback. They have to pick him up when he’s down and find that spark that once shined so bright.

“Obviously, we have to do a better job coaching him,” McNulty said. “We gotta give him more things that he’s comfortable with but we just gotta keep repping things.”

Within all of this, though, there’s no doubt Rutgers just needs to play better. After all of that preparation and rehearsing, the final production cannot continue to fall flat.

That starts with the guy at the top. 

"We’ve got to do a better job of getting our practice and preparation to show up on game day …" Ash said. "... We’ve gotta get some of our young players developed and improved as fast as we can so we can start playing better football."

Of the players who have stepped onto the field this season for the Knights, 21 of them are in their first or second year. Some of that has to do with injuries to other players, some of it has to do with a lack of depth, but whatever the reason, that is the team’s reality.

Clearly void of a leader at the moment, it’s up to not only the coaching staff to lead these young players, but the veterans who have been in that position before. 

“We have to coach better, we have to play better and we’ve gotta make sure we put our players in position to have success,” Ash said. “If we can do that and we put all of those things together here soon, than we still have a chance to reach our goals.”

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the offense does run through the quarterback and Rutgers hopes Sitkowski can be the player it envisions he can be and sooner rather than later.

So, three games in the Knights and Sitkowski are at a crossroads. In an early 1-2 hole and taking serious blows the last two weeks, either pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and get better or simply hope for the best. I think Rutgers will choose the former.

“There’s no other way around true game experience, guys coming at you, the consequences of a mistake and how quickly that changes the game and the fortunes of your team,” McNulty said. “All of those things are obviously things he has to go through.”

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