A Rutgers beat writer breaks down what to expect from the Scarlet Knights
Teammates celebrate linebacker Tre Watson's interception during Maryland football's 34-7 win over Rutgers at Maryland Stadium on Oct. 13, 2018. (Frances Moyonero/The Diamondback)
Maryland has a good chance to get back to their winning ways Saturday afternoon as they travel to Piscataway to play Rutgers. It’s been a lopsided affair in recent memory, as Maryland has won three of the last four meetings between the teams.
We talked with Jake Schmied of The Daily Targum about the must-win matchup for both teams in North Jersey. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Rutgers has been quite the crazy place recently with head coach Chris Ash getting the boot and Nunzio Campanile taking over as interim head coach. What does that say about the current state of the program and what can you tell us about Campanile?
Rutgers has undergone a multitude of changes since it last lost 52-0 to No. 19 Michigan. The firing of Ash and offensive coordinator John McNulty was a move that athletics director Pat Hobbs was thinking about for some time. The program went 1-11 last season and hasn’t won a Big Ten game since they beat Maryland in 2017. That being said, a coaching change was needed to usher in a new era.
Campanile has only been with the Scarlet Knights for two years now. He spent 2018 as the running backs coach, so he has some familiarity with Raheem Blackshear’s role. This season, he was slated to be the tight ends coach. Campanile has head coaching experience — he was the head coach at a powerhouse North Jersey program, Bergen Catholic, from 2010-2017. In his final season, he guided the team to a state title. Campanile mentioned in his first press conference on Monday that he would put out an offense similarly to McNulty’s.
Starting quarterback Artur Sitkowski is sitting out the Maryland game and might redshirt the rest of the season. Does this come as a shock and can you talk more about his replacement, Johnny Langan?
Going into this season, there was speculation that Sitkowski could potentially redshirt, especially with Texas Tech’s McLane Carter coming in. But since Carter was diagnosed with a concussion in week two, Sitkowski has stepped up. While he led the nation in interceptions last season with 18, he has only thrown two picks in three games played this season.
Sitkowski has been contemplating a redshirt; he has not confirmed it. Campanile said in his Thursday press conference that Sitkowski approached him that day to discuss him stepping out of the starter’s role against the Terrapins. They decided that it was best for Siktowski’s position to bench him for this weekend’s contest.
As for Langan, he was actually Carter’s backup against UMass in the home opener. After Carter was taken out in the fourth quarter, Langan came in for a few series and even had a completion on one play. Langan and Campanile have a connection that dates back to the two’s time at Bergen Catholic. Both guided the high school program to a state title in 2017. Langan is a dual-threat quarterback that can run and throw the ball.
Rutgers has given the bulk of their rushing attempts to Isaih Pacheco and Raheem Blackshear this season, with the majority going to Pacheco. How do you see them factoring into Friday’s game?
Pacheco has been getting the bulk of the carries recently. He had his first multi-career touchdown game against the Minutemen in the Knights’ season opener. But Pacheco has since faced top rushing defenses like Boston College, Iowa and Michigan where he was held without a touchdown. Pacheco is a guy that can run up the middle for a few yards and power his way in the end zone, but the problem has been the offensive line. The unit has been missing repeated assignments and let Sitkowski get banged around against the Wolverines.
As for Blackshear, he is a hybrid running back and slotback. He led all receivers last season with two touchdowns and 367 yards and has consistently played the same role this year. He is an elusive pass catcher who had a 74-yard receiving touchdown against Boston College, but he has struggled on the ground. Blackshear has been held to under 20 rushing yards the past two games.
The Rutgers defense has struggled, giving up over 33 points per game and 413 total yards allowed on defense through four games. What sort of impact do you expect them to have against the Terps?
The defense struggled mightily against a high-powered Michigan offense. Shea Patterson had a field day against the Knights, throwing for 276 yards and a touchdown while adding on three rushing scores. The Knights have repeatedly struggled against the run, allowing an average of about 198 rushing yards per game. Sacks have been hard to come by — Rutgers has only tallied four sacks the whole season. The linebacking core has consistently been a bright spot, led by junior team captains Tyreek Maddox-Williams and Baltimore native Tyshon Fogg.
The linebackers have consistently rotated every other play or so to include Michigan transfer Drew Singleton and Rashawn Battle, as well. The secondary lost three of its most important pieces last season in safety Saquan Hampton and cornerbacks Isaiah Wharton and Blessuan Austin. Damon Hayes played alongside Hampton at safety last season, but Jarett Paul has stepped up on the opposing side. Last season, the sophomore saw time on special teams in every game. He has been a consistent starter along with Hayes at safety. Against Michigan, Paul led the team with eight total tackles.
Maryland wins if…
Maryland wins if its run game powers through the Knights’ defensive line, which has not had success against the run this season. I look at a guy like Anthony McFarland Jr., last season’s Second Team All-Big Ten honoree, to break out against the defensive line. The Terrapins have three consistent backs who can throw Rutgers off with speed. On the defensive side, if the Terrapins can hold Pacheco and Blackshear to less than 50 rushing yards apiece, then they can stop the Knights’ run game.
Rutgers wins if…
Rutgers wins if the offensive line redeems themselves and steps up in a major way. That means making their blocking assignments and creating holes for Blackshear and Pacheco to power through for short gains that can translate into more yards after contact. Blackshear is one of the top backs in the country for yards after contact. Also, if Langan can improve his passing game and hit players like Bo Melton and Isaiah Washington, a true freshman who has emerged as a reliable option when Sitkowski was throwing, then the Knights’ receiving group should improve. As for the defense, Rutgers’ pass rush has to go after Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson. He has thrown four interceptions in four games and could see his pocket collapse if a lineman like Mike Tverdov or Wellington Previlon can break through for a sack.