Date: Saturday, September 1st, 11 a.m. CST
Location: HighPoint Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, New Jersey
TV: Big Ten Network
Betting Line: Rutgers -18 1/2, Over/Under 48.5
Series History: First Meeting
There is that treacherous area between fall camp and the opening game where guesses are thrown at depth chart mock ups and questions about scrimmages are volleyed at coaches.
Texas State, who themselves are one of the newest members of the FBS, travel to play Rutgers, who in turn are one of the oldest teams in college football. In fact, Rutgers plays at a stadium whose foundation was literally built on top of the stadium where the first college football game was played.
Both teams are looking to start off 2018 in the right direction and escape the doldrums as their respective conferences’ proverbial punching bags and field competitive and successful squads.
Big Willie Style
Monday Everett Withers announced that Willie Jones III would be the starter going into Saturday’s game versus Rutgers. This is no shock seeing as the sophomore is currently the only signal caller on the team with any collegiate snaps under center.
In terms of play calling offensive coordinator Zak Kuhr should cater to WJIII’s speed and let him run loose at the start of the game. Jones can run and a quarterback that can gash out some yards on the ground can scare even the most experienced defensive coordinators. If Rutgers takes into account the quarterbacks’ running ability and force the ‘Cats to use the conventional ground game or even play some soft coverage to dare Texas State to throw, the Bobcats at least have them thinking in the back of their mind that Jones can break the defense'd back. But Rutgers has a veteran defense and that may be easier said then done.
Coach Withers has been high on the progress of the defense during fall camp and feels they can be competitive against Rutgers.
“We gotta be really simple on defense and be sound” Withers said at recent presser, “and not give up the home run ball”.
The secondary has been the talk of the off season because of the competitive nature the players have been harboring during camp.
Safeties A.J. Krawczyk and the recently converted cornerback JaShon Waddy will be the head pieces of a section of defense in dire need of a jolt.
“Feel good about those first four guys”, Withers referring to the starting safeties and corners, “We’re more athletic in the secondary at any point in time since I’ve been here. We’re more football smart in the secondary at any point in time.”
Our fellow SB Nation writer Aaron Breitman, who is one of many who cover Rutgers athletics for their site On The Banks, was kind enough to answer a few questions for some insight on the Scarlet Knights:
Chris Ash has yet to name a starter against Texas State but who do you think has the best chance of starting, Rescigno or Sitkowski?
Former 4-star recruit and true freshman Artur Sitkowski was named the starting quarterback last week, which was expected. New offensive coordinator John McNulty has raved about his potential and after making some highlight worthy plays in the spring game, it seemed Sitkowski was the guy. McNulty has spoken about how backups Gio Rescigno and Johnathan Lewis are both improved and had strong camps as well. Ultimately, it makes sense to go with the quarterback with the highest ceiling and upside, which is clearly Sitkowski. He will make mistakes, especially in his first collegiate game, but he can make all the throws and will look to make plays down the field.
Do you think Bo Melton will step up to become the go-to guy in the receiving corps?
Bo Melton was another former 4-star recruit who was also a high school track star that is the best deep threat on the roster. He and Sitkowski connected for two long touchdowns in the spring game and all signs point to Melton being poised for a big season. He played a lot of freshman but had little success, in large part to an ineffective passing game and conservative game plan each week. Rutgers will look to get him involved early on Saturday and establish a rhythm with Melton and Sitkowski.
Overall, the receiving core is extremely young, but promising as well. Shameen Jones, Hunter Hayek, Everett Wormley, Mo Jabbie, and Eddie Lewis are all capable of making a big play on Saturday. Consistency will be the key this group’s success this season.
As tragic as the situation is, will this credit card fraud scandal mean any significant changes to the starting lineup?
Rutgers actually made out pretty well in terms of the impact the players involved will have on this team. Of the eight players that have been charged, there was only one starter in safety K.J. Gray. The rest were entering training camp looking to fight on their way to the two deep, but none of them were allowed to participate once the investigation was announced.
Gray and alleged ring leader Brendan DeVera were dismissed and two other players have voluntarily left the program. The other four remain away from the program and their fate won’t be decided until the appear in court per head coach Chris Ash. The biggest issue, besides these young men jeopardizing their futures, is that all eight are defensive players. It hurts depth for this season, but even more so for next season, when many seniors from this team will be gone. Regardless, AD Pat Hobbs and Ash have handled this embarrassing situation pretty well by Carly swiftly and decisively.
Are there any defensive standouts Bobcat fans are to look out for?
The Rutgers defense has a chance to be very good this season, featureing seven senior starters, many of whom have held their role since they were a freshman and or sophomore. The back seven is extremely strong.
The defensive line lacks proven depth but feature two talented interior lineman in seniors Kevin’s Wilkins and Jon Bateky. Younger guys who Rutgers needs to step up include Elorm Lumor, Julius Turner, Will Previlon and Mike Tverdov, to name a few.
The two top tacklers from last season, Trevor Morris and captain Deonte Roberts lead the linebacking core. They are joined by Tyreek Maddox-Williams who impressed as a true freshman in 2016 but missed all of last season after tearing an ACL during training camp. Former 4-Star recruit Tyshon Fogg should see time as well, backing up Morris.
The secondary is arguably even better and led by two senior corners who have started their entire careers at Rutgers, Blessuan Austin and captain Isaiah Wharton. Austin tore his ACL during the fourth game of last season but has looked strong and healthy during training camp. Former Ohio State commit Tre Avery will back them up. In the back, another senior captain, free safety Saquan Hampton, and converted corner, now strong safety Damon Hayes should be a reliable last line of defense. Hayes beat out former starter Kiy Hester who was set to be a grad transfer for FIU but ended up staying after Ash approached him once the credit card fraud investigation began. These six mentioned gives Rutgers a very strong group to defend the pass this season.
Predictions/Outcome/things you’d like to see Rutgers do versus State?
I’d like to see Rutgers start fast and gain some separation from Texas State early on in this game. It will be exciting for Rutgers fans to see a brand new offense coupled with a veteran defense. Obviously, Sitkowski’s first career start will garner a lot of attention, but I want to see the younger skill position players make plays. I also expect the two tight ends, Jerome Washington and Travis Vokolek, to cause Texas State problems in the middle of the field on intermediate passes.
All in all, I hope to see Rutgers put together a clean game with limited mistakes while generating some big yardage plays on offense and stifling defense on the other side of the ball. I think Rutgers wins fairly easily 38-10.
Fun question: Can you recommended any good places to eat in the area for fellow Bobcat fans traveling to the game?
There are so many, but your best bet on campus is on Easton Avenue and George Street. Stuff Yer Face is an iconic place that serves many different kinds of overstuffed stromboli’s and is a fun environment. For a more formal meal, Steakhouse 85 is excellent. Nearby is Clydz, a longtime favorite that is known for its martinis and good food.
A famous Rutgers tradition are the grease trucks which serve fat sandwiches filled with all kinds of combinations. They were all removed from their College Avenue location and many have storefronts now on Easton and Hamilton streets. Another great place is Hansel ‘n Griddle which serves a variety of crisps (think quesadilla) and I recommend the potato wedges as well.
For the bar scene, Easton Ave features the college bars while the restaurants mentioned already have a more relaxed environment. I think Texas State fans will find plenty of good places to visit. Also don’t be afraid to go up to Rutgers fans who are tailgating, we are pretty friendly and likely to offer you an adult beverage. For those who are traveling to the game, have a great time.
Aaron also did a Q&A with me and that story is here.
Withers You Know It or Not
Everett Withers and Rutgers head coach Chris Ash have a few things in common. Both are in their third years at up and coming programs that were dismantled at the beginning of their regimes and both coaches were defensive backs in college (Withers at Appalachian State and Ash at Drake).
Ash also took over as co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State when Withers left to go be the head ball coach at James Madison.
Texas State offensive coordinator Zak Kuhr was also the running backs coach under Ash at Rutgers in 2016.
*Everett Withers is undefeated as a head coach and assistant against Rutgers including a 24-22 win as head coach at North Carolina in 2011.
*Texas State is 1-20 all time against teams from major conferences/BCS/P5 schools. Their only win was in 1986 when the Bobcats defeated Rice from the Southwest Conference, 31-6.
*The trip the Bobcats are making to Piscataway marks the furthest east Texas State have ever played a game.
*Since 2003 Texas State is 12-3 in the first game of the season.
*Texas State is 0-2 versus Big Ten schools (42-0 vs. Minnesota in 2002, 42-35 vs. Illinois in 2014)
*The TXST equipment managers released what unis the ‘Cats will don this weekend.
Going into this game the Bobcats have an opportunity to steer the season in the right direction. Rutgers is a nice opponent for Texas State to make a name for itself. Whether or not Texas State leaves New Jersey with a win in this game will prove to be a watermark for 2018. Not that the rest of the season doesn’t hold bigger and better things but a good performance by the Bobcats could inevitably do wonders for a program whose fans have been by the side of the team.
Four wins in two seasons has reasonably put off a lot of long time fans, not only due to a lack of victories but also a lack of an enticing gameday atmosphere. The players have always put out their best effort year in and year out regardless if a conference championship is on the line or a 40-point deficit allows the third and fourth stringers some playing time. This year the coaching staff and the marketing department are full of confidence and have displayed the vigor and enthusiasm that the program hasn’t seen in a long time.
Withers and co. have full assurance in a young and talented team and their teamwork and cohesiveness have compelled the coaching staff into singing the players’ praises.
The confidence oozing from San Marcos has me hopeful as well. Give me a 35-31 hard fought upset win for Texas State.