Maryland football’s first Big Ten road game is tomorrow, and it will face a Rutgers squad that fired its head coach early this week and has only won one game this season. The matchup may serve as the perfect opportunity for the Terps to get back on track after a 59-0 beating they took to No. 12 Penn State last week.
We talked with Aaron Breitman of Rutger’s SB Nation site On the Banks to get some inside info on the team ahead of Saturday’s contest. We also answered a few of his questions too, and that will be up shortly on the site.
Did the Chris Ash firing surprise you? What was your reaction to the news?
It didn’t surprise me based on the fact that all hope was lost for significant improvement to occur this season, which was the metric that athletic director Pat Hobbs set after last year’s 1-11 campaign. I called for Ash’s firing, as did most, after the 30-16 loss to Boston College, which was a game Rutgers had control of but committed 11 penalties and 2 turnovers, costing them the outcome. It was very typical occurrence during Ash’s tenure and enough was enough. I honestly thought they might fire him after losing this week to Maryland, but the administration made the call after the 52-0 embarrassment at Michigan instead. The decision was absolutely the right one, as Rutgers has lost 16 straight games to power five opponents and the recruiting class is currently ranked 89th in the country. Hope was dead with Ash in charge.
Do you see interim coach Nunzio Campinale as a long term solution/coach of the future?
Yes and no. He was signed to a two year extension in the offseason and athletic director Pat Hobbs certainly sees the value in Campanile. He is the program’s best recruiter and won a high school state title at Bergen Catholic a couple of years ago, so he is deeply respected in New Jersey, as his entire family has coached in the state for a long time. It makes sense for Hobbs to turn the team over to Campanile, as the offense has been awful and he is considered an innovator on that side of the ball and will be the OC calling the plays as well.
Despite only being an assistant in the college level for 1+ seasons, he is more experienced than the usual coach making the jump from high school, as Bergen Catholic was a nationally ranked program that played top teams from around the country. On the face of it, he doesn’t have much of a chance to be the long term choice to lead Rutgers. However, I’ve made the argument this week that if he can go 3-2 in the next five games against a solid but not daunting schedule (Maryland, at Indiana, Minnesota, Liberty, at Illinois), I believe he should warrant consideration. Seven of the 10 current commits in the 2020 class were brought in by Nunzio and his brother Anthony, who also used to coach at Rutgers, was the former DC at Boston College and is currently the linebackers coach at Michigan. My point is he is well equipped to build a staff that has strong New Jersey ties and could recruit far better than former coach Chris Ash did. It’s a long shot he will be the next head coach at Rutgers, but I think it’s possible if things break the right way for him these next two months.
What’s the general vibe around the team right now. Are they mourning the firing or is there a renewed energy?
They’ve taken it hard and despite suffering big losses this season, Ash was respected by everyone on the team. He didn’t fail for a lack of effort and worked extremely hard. One player who has been affected is starting quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who on Thursday surprisingly asked to not play this weekend as he is considering taking a redshirt season. Campanile handled it with class and the program is giving him time to decide. That means Boston College transfer Johnny Langan will get the start. He began the season as the third string quarterback but Texas Tech grad transfer McLane Carter is still out after suffering a concussion the second game of the season. What’s interesting is Langan won a state title with Campanile as his head coach at Bergen Catholic in 2017, so if any coach and QB could pull this out on two days notice, it’s probably them due to their experience with one another. How Sitkowski voluntarily sitting out will affect the rest of the team’s mindset remains to be seen. However, I do think this team is tired of losing and will play spirited football on Saturday.
Sometimes teams are galvanized by a firing and play very well under the interim. Do you see that happening here?
I do for a few reasons. For one, it’s hard for Rutgers to play any worse than they have the past three games. Another is Nunzio Campanile is much more of an emotional coach than Ash and I expect him to have them ready to play. As you said, adversity like this can sometimes bring a team together and I think that will happen. Former 4-star recruit and team captain Tyshon Fogg, who is from Baltimore, has rallied the team all week in trying to keep things together. He’ll obviously be plenty motivated to play well against his home state school this weekend.
Another is expect Rutgers to be more aggressive on offense and in special teams under Campanile. Although the defense still has Andy Buh as coordinator, I’m hoping Campanile orders him to be more aggressive as well. Ash was very passive, infamously punted often in opponents territory and never brought pressure on special teams and defense. Players were less than inspired I believe in part due to that fact, so hopefully they will be fired up by the more aggressive approach this weekend.
Who’s a player that Terp fans should know about ahead of the matchup?
The two best offensive players are in the backfield, Isaih Pachecho and Raheem Blackshear. If Rutgers stands any chance to even be competitive tomorrow, both of them will need to have big games. Pacheco is a power runner who averages 4.7 yards per carry and Blackshear is a speedy back who is most dangerous catching the football with space to run. He averages 78 yards receiving per contest and is the biggest threat in the Rutgers passing game. I can’t call it a passing attack due to lack of production from the receivers.
What have been the biggest problems on the field for Rutgers so far this season?
Penalties have been an huge issue, as Rutgers averages 78 yards on 8.5 per game. And they’ve come at the worst times, killing promising drives or extending drives of their opponents that leads to scores. Another has been turnover margin, as Rutgers is -6 with only Purdue worse in the Big Ten. The rush defense has been abysmal and the offense is only averaging just over 13 first downs per game, which is just awful.
What has the team stressed so far in practice this week?
Campanile preached discipline and cleaning up the mistakes, particularly the penalties. A team like Rutgers that lacks depth and talent that most Big Ten teams have simply can’t afford to shoot themselves in the foot with as many mistakes as they’ve been making. I think preaching fundamentals and a renewed focus there is something that was harped on this week.
Prediction time: Who wins this one and how? (plus a final score)
These two teams have produced some pretty entertaining games over the past few years (not counting last season) and I expect that to be the case once again on Saturday. I think there is no question that Maryland has more talent, especially on offense. However, due to their Jekyll and Hyde persona so far this season, as well as Rutgers likely to play with a lot of emotion, I think it will be a close, hard fought battle. Ultimately, I think Maryland is more efficient and the drain of this week takes its toll late on Rutgers. Maryland wins it 34-21
Thanks again to Aaron for taking the time here. Be sure to check out On the Banks for everything Rutgers, and follow the site on Twitter too.