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Sitkowski shows signs of maturation in loss to BC

Next man up. That's the mentality of any player thrust into the starters role going into game day.

For sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski, Saturday's matinee against Boston College meant a return to head coach Chris Ash's starting lineup, the 12th start of his two-year career.

The start was almost expected after Ash announced on Thursday that graduate student quarterback McLane Carter had not cleared concussion protocol after he was taken out during the final offensive drive of the first half of the Rutgers football team's 30-0 loss in Iowa, just a short two weeks ago.

Last season was one to forget for the former IMG Academy product. Sitkowski led the country with 18 interceptions, throwing a career-high four picks against Maryland.

But, when he stepped onto the turf at SHI Stadium, this week four game marked the first time the quarterback would lead a drive on offense. During the Scarlet Knights' (1-2, 0-1) win over UMass in the season opener, only Carter and even redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Langan saw time under center.

In the first quarter and throughout the game, Sitkowski demonstrated that his accuracy at finding wideouts had improved. The evidence? A 74-yard connection to junior running back Raheem Blackshear, who ran it in the end zone to knot the game at 7 apiece on the team's second drive of the game.

Sitkowski commanded a strong pocket presence, thanks in a large part to the aid of his offensive line, consisting of four upperclassmen and redshirt freshman Raiqwon O'Neal. The trenches battle was easily won by Rutgers' five-man front, not allowing any Eagles (3-1, 1-0) defensive linemen past the frontline.

The Knights' passing offense was forced to step up, facing continuous situations where Boston College's secondary and linebacking group swarmed running backs sophomore Isaih Pacheco and junior Raheem Blackshear. Rutgers' run game accounted for two-tenths of the offense's total yards. 

Resembling a true Big Ten quarterback, Sitkowski would finish the day with 304 passing yards, a career-best in his second year, with one interception. But, that pick in the fourth quarter was thrown when the pocket collapsed with Sitkowski aiming for the sideline.

Some may think that Sitkowski's confidence would have been shot given the results of last season, including only 4 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 49%. But, Ash's continued support for the former four-star recruit has helped Sitkowski get through the struggles of last season.

"Coach Ash stuck with me when stuff wasn't going good," Sitkowski said. "(He) kept saying, 'keep working.' It means a lot to me as a quarterback."

Sitkowski made an effort to connect with new true freshman receivers. He hit true freshman wide receiver Isaiah Washington on a 21-yarder in the second quarter while connecting with true freshman running back Aaron Young on a 15-yarder that set up a field goal for junior kicker Justin Davidovicz later on in that quarter.

"He seemed really calm today," Young said about Sitkowski's composure. "He (was) calm in the pocket." 

Following the game, Sitkowski earned praise from his counterpart on the Eagles and Cliffwood, New Jersey, native Anthony Brown. The two know each other since participated in Air Sports Group 7-on-7 during high school.

"He was a really good quarterback, and he still is," Brown said. "He’s learning some things. He’s getting better. He’s improving each year and he’ll be fine."

Sitkowski's dominant game against an ACC opponent just supports Ash's trust in his young quarterback. The Old Bridge, New Jersey, native had offers coming from six Big Ten schools aside from the Knights, including next week's opponent Michigan, and the team that Rutgers recently lost to, Boston College.

"He worked really, really hard to improve," Ash said. "We have talk a lot about that in these sessions. And hopefully he saw a lot of that improvement today. He had his best game that he's had since he's been here at Rutgers."

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

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