For Rutgers Scarlet Knights quarterback Artur Sitkowski, the training wheels are being taken off in a hurry. After starting the Week 1 contest against Texas State, the freshman will have to lead his program against the Ohio State Buckeyes—a team that just hung 77 points on Oregon State.
Sitkowski has tall orders as the No. 1 signal-caller in New Brunswick, N.J., but if he can just score some points—any amount of points—this weekend, then he’ll already be making progress for the Scarlet Knights.
In the last two meetings versus Ohio State, Rutgers has been outscored 114-0. That’s right, in the last two meet-ups (one in Columbus, and one in Piscataway) the Scarlet Knights have found a way to not score any points. Make it the last three meetings, and they’ve been outscored 163-7.
Ohio State’s defense in Week 1 left more to be desired; long touchdown plays of the rushing and passing variety rocked the Buckeye defense on Saturday. If those miscues aren’t solved, or if safety Jordan Fuller is still out this week with a hamstring injury, then I’d imagine that Pass D is still not going to be up to “Defensive Back University” standards. This bodes well for Rutgers’ freshman QB, who made decent throws (and decisions) in his first career start last Saturday.
Breaking down some of his good passes against Texas State, Sitkowski is able to make tight throws. On a curl route in the redzone, he hit his target with three defenders collapsing in on the receiver. In another instance, Sitkowski stood in the pocket, and hit an open man crossing the field for a first down. Granted, these are just two plays against a team that comes nowhere close to what the Buckeye defense will bring this weekend, but if he’s able to make good throws—and make those throws to the right receiver—then it’s a huge step in the right direction for Rutgers.
The passing game will need to be a priority for the Scarlet Knights. You won’t be able to beat Ohio State with just the pass, but in order for a running game to get any resemblance of production, the aerial attack has to be established.
Now, a problem that Rutgers will be running up against is the fact that the Buckeyes’ pass rush is one of the best in the country. Between Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones and Chase Young, there are three guys up front that will likely regularly bust through the offensive line. Sitkowski will not have a lot of time to make a decision on where to throw, so deep plays are going to be out of the question. Mid-range passes and screens are going to be how they move the ball via the pass on Saturday.
If Fuller is still out for OSU, then targeting the receiver that has Jahsen Wint in coverage would be a logical place to go for Sitkowski. However, you have to figure that coach Greg Schiano, the defensive guru who used to be head coach of Rutgers, will work this week on ironing out the issues on the defense, along with new cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson, who’s now seen his position group in action for the first time. If Fuller is in the game, it make sense to test him coming off of a hamstring injury. But if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t do that at all.
But, if the offensive line can’t protect Artur, and if he rushes/forces throws, then the visitors are going to be playing catch up all afternoon against the Buckeyes. Oregon State lost two fumbles last week, and that amounted to 14 points for the Scarlet and Gray. Bosa was responsible for both fumble recoveries—and one of them was scooped up in the endzone for a touchdown. Watching Bosa will keep the Rutgers line on their toes, but when Young is there too, it’ll be all they that can do to allow Sitkowski a few seconds of freedom before the pocket collapses.
Young burst onto the scene last week with nine QB pressures. That’s a staggering amount out of context, but when you put it into the context that he only rushed 18 times in the whole game, it’s even more eye-opening. On half his pass rushes, Young was pressuring the QB. Scary stuff if you’re anyone on an offensive line, and even more frightening if you’re a QB.
Any chance of Rutgers having a potent offense will come via the arm and brain of Artur Sitkowski. Good decisions and good throws will be what keeps the offense afloat, instead of falling victim to the dreaded three-and-out. Rutgers will probably get run out of The Horseshoe, but if Sitkowski can move the ball, they’ll at least be able to leave with some points—something they haven’t done against Ohio State since 2015.