Rutgers football: Time to give Art Sitkowski another shot at quarterback?
As Noah Vedral struggles, it's fair to wonder what the Old Bridge native can do with a new regime and better tools.
Mike Teel was booed by Rutgers football fans and written off by message-board posters and some media members.
Greg Schiano stuck with him, and Teel became the best quarterback in modern program history.
Gary Nova got booed, too, and Kyle Flood ignored the pressure to move on from him. Nova turned in a superb senior season as the Scarlet Knights went 8-5 and won a bowl game. The team hasn't been good since Nova graduated six years ago.
Those episodes are important reminders that coaches see things others don’t. The question hanging over Rutgers football now, after Saturday’s 23-20 giveaway against winless Illinois and before next weekend’s meeting with Michigan, is this: What does Schiano see in starter Noah Vedral, and in his backup Art Sitkowski?
“I’ve often said to the guys: I don’t make the changes; I just facilitate it on the depth chart,” Schiano said Saturday. “Your performance is what moves you up and down relative to the people at your position.”
Through four games Vedral has thrown seven interceptions, including three against Illinois. The last came with 1:17 left in the fourth quarter as Rutgers was moving into position for a game-winning field goal attempt with the score 20-20. It was a deal-breaker.
“The guy was open and we just didn’t make the throw,” Schiano said. “You know, we missed the throw.”
Why did his offensive coordinator call that play?
“The reality is the route was there,” Schiano said. “We’ve got to be able to throw the route and complete the play.”
Vedral said his performance was “not good enough.”
“I have to be more accurate,” he said.
As a graduate transfer from Nebraska in his fourth year of college football, Vedral is probably close to a finished product. Sitkowski, a big-armed redshirt sophomore from Old Bridge, is closer to a blank canvass. It’s hard to judge his prior work because the Chris Ash coaching tenure was a train wreck.
It would be interesting to see Sitkowski operate under this improved offensive line, with a big-time, field-stretching weapon in receiver Bo Melton and a capable running back in Isiah Pacheco. And quality coaching.
After Illinois, Schiano was asked what he will do to boost Vedral’s confidence. This is the guy who stuck with Teel after a two-touchdown, 10-interception rookie season.
“There’s no magicians out there,” Schiano said. “Confidence is earned. Confidence, to me, is earned through preparation and then performance. When you don’t perform the way you want, you’ve got to go back and hit the preparation harder. I’m not saying he didn’t prepare hard, because I’m sure he did, I believe he did.
“He made some plays that really gave us the lead, and we didn’t make some others. That’s reality. I don’t think that coaches have this wand that can give people confidence. I’ll point out what he did well, but you’ve got to learn; this one, you can’t throw it late there, that’s dangerous.”
It’s interesting, hearing Schiano speak after games this second time around on the banks. He’s noticeably more forthcoming and detailed in his comments. You could see the wheels turning in his mind after Saturday’s game.
“To me, playing quarterback is about managing risk and managing opportunity,” he said. “We talk about it all the time. You’ve got to let bad plays die. There’s plenty of them. Let the bad ones go. It’s hard, though, because every one of those kids is an intense competitor and they’re trying to make it work on that play."
He added, “On every level it’s always been a challenge to get the quarterback to do that. The great ones know. They can sense when it’s time to manage the risk and when it’s time to go for the jugular and take advantage of the opportunity.”
Rutgers has a massive opportunity coming up against a reeling Michigan team and embattled coach Jim Harbaugh. In his first tour at Rutgers, Schiano stood by Mike Teel, but he also handed a freshman Gary Nova the keys. On Saturday he sounded like a coach who knows there is a major decision to be made — a coach who saw what everyone else did, too.
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at email@example.com.