Rutgers' offense to remain similar under Campanile
In interim head coach Nunzio Campanile's press conference at his new position, he was asked if the offense would remain the same, given that offensive coordinator John Mcnulty was fired along with former head coach Chris Ash on Sunday.
"I don't think you can make major overhauls," Campanile said. "We have basically five days to get ready for a game. It's kind of a lot of it, just streamlining what we do ... Maybe some minor tweaks in the way that I see things and communication with our entire offensive staff."
Campanile knows first hand the struggles the Rutgers football team has had this season. The Scarlet Knights (1-3, 0-2) have not won a Big Ten game since they defeated their upcoming opponent for this weekend, Maryland, on Nov. 3 , 2017, in what was a narrow 31-24 win at home.
Rutgers is a year removed from finishing with its worst record at 1--1 in 17 years. The Knights' only win this season, like 2018, is against a lower-tiered FBS school, UMass.
The offense in 2019 was supposed to be an improvement with some new pieces in play, especially graduate student quarterback and Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter. Carter started against the Minutemen in the season opener at SHI Stadium, where he threw for 340 passing yards and two touchdowns
But, Carter's short career on the Banks was cut short after he suffered a concussion in the second game at Iowa, earlier in September. He has not had the all-clear to start practicing since the second week of action.
Campanile inherits an offense revolving around sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who has gradually shown signs of maturation in his second stint at the starter's spot. Through two starts and the second half against the Hawkeyes, Sitkowski has gone 44-for-68 with only two interceptions in that span. Four games into last season, when the then-freshman was announced as the starter, he had thrown seven picks.
Sitkowski has thrown to new targets, not just juniors running back Raheem Blackshear and Bo Melton, this season. True freshman wide receiver Isaiah Washington, who had his best game so far with 52 receiving yards against the Eagles, tallied several yards as a wideout at the Big House. Although he only tallied 2 yards, Washington has proven that he can be a speedy receiver and a viable option for Sitkowski.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Paul Woods also has gradually lined up alongside Melton and Washington. Against Michigan, he had 20 receiving yards, some coming on short yard passes from Sitkowski.
Campanile already indicated that Sitkowski would remain as the starter against the Terrapins (2-2, 0-1) this Saturday. Maryland has been one opponent who Rutgers has defeated in the past. The Knights' last victory against the Terrapins was in Piscataway, a game where alumnus Gus Edwards had the game-winning touchdown.
In 2014, Maryland and Rutgers' inaugural year in the Big Ten, a season where it won the Quick Lane Bowl with a 8-5 record, the Knights defeated the Terrapins on the road, 41-38.
This season's Rutgers' offense has revolved more so around passing than the running game. The Knights have gained 20 more first downs (34) with Sitkowski or Carter under center than if the two-headed attack of Blackshear and sophomore Isaih Pacheco.
Blackshear, who can be an elusive pass catcher, while maintaining his role as a speedy back, has had problems on the running back side of his position. Last weekend in the 52-0 loss to the Wolverines, Blackshear finished with 11 total rushing yards while Pacheco rushed for 23. Neither found the end zone.
Campanile brings in experience working with Pacheco and Blackshear — he was the running backs coach in 2018, when the running backs group, which also included current New York Giant and alumnus Jonathan Hilliman, compiled 12 rushing touchdowns. Pacheco and Blackshear each had three scores in 2018.
While this season has been a step back for Rutgers' running backs, Campanile's familiarity with the group's skillset could prove to be an asset. Maryland's rushing defense is one of the best in the nation, ranking 22nd in the nation. They have held opposing backs to an average of 104.8 yards per game.
The Knights' backs have averaged a mere 3.4 rushing yards per game with four scores. For the rushing yards per carry number to increase, Campanile will have to find new ways for Blackshear and Pacheco to break through open holes that the offensive line creates.
"Basically my thought process had always been that we are a multiple-I team that adds the elements that come with the spread offense, whether that's the RPO stuff or it's the quarterback reads or whatever," Campanile said at the Hale Center on Monday.
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