Ahead of Saturday’s matchup between the Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-3) and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-3), we were able to connect with Greg Patuto, managing editor of On The Banks, and he was kind enough to field our questions.
The Daily Gopher: Rutgers parted ways with their offensive coordinator six games into the season. What were the issues on offense that led to his firing?
Greg Patuto: The offense became extremely predictable. Sean Gleeson was not using weapons the way they needed to and it was a very vanilla style, which was not the case over the previous two years.
Rutgers has not been lighting up the scoreboard in recent years but there have been times when the offense would open up the playbook a bit. This season, there were few jet sweeps, for example. The speed of Aron Cruickshank and Joshua Youngblood within the offense was not being used. Johnny Langan is used in many ways but Rutgers fell in love with using him as a wildcat quarterback — and it was a run almost every time.
I hate to use the word scapegoat but at this point, a change needed to be made within the program. The loss to Nebraska prior to the bye week was inexcusable and that is the type of loss that causes a shakeup. When looking at Rutgers, the defense has been strong, so the offensive side of the ball made sense.
TDG: You’re only one game into Nunzio Campanile’s tenure as interim offensive coordinator, but were there any noticeable changes in that one game?
GP: Campanile is coaching for this position. There are many who believe that the offense would be in good hands if he takes over as the full-time offensive coordinator next season. That has yet to be seen but there were some positive changes against Indiana.
Rutgers is not going to be a team that puts up 30 points per game no matter who the coordinator is. What we saw against the Hoosiers though was involvement from different players. I mentioned Cruickshank above. Campanile incorporated those jet sweeps and gave Cruickshank a chance to get on the edge. He rushed five times for 64 yards.
The biggest change was the quarterback situation. For the first time this season, all three quarterbacks were healthy and available. Noah Vedral played the entire game and there was no change drive-to-drive. Vedral did not light it up but he did not turn the ball over and that will be the key for Rutgers moving forward.
TDG: Gopher fans are familiar with defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak from his time at Minnesota. We know Greg Schiano is always going to be in the room when it comes to how the Scarlet Knights run their defense, but what have been the hallmarks of Harasymiak’s defense so far and are they all that different from Schiano defenses in years past?
GP: Rutgers has turned into a good defense. And not just good for Rutgers good, but good nationally. It is currently seventh in the nation in total defense allowing 283.9 yards per game.
The Scarlet Knights have stopped the run from the opening week of the season. Against Minnesota, that will obviously be a point of emphasis with Mo Ibrahim in the backfield. Harasymiak leads a unit that has been extremely physical and playing well around the line of scrimmage.
TDG: Rutgers ranks in the Top 10 in the country in run defense after finishing last season ranked 81st in that category. What has been the key to the turnaround?
GP: The depth up front was highlighted coming into the season. Rutgers has depth along the defensive line and this has been huge in the run game. They struggle getting to the quarterback but have controlled the line of scrimmage well and that is important in the Big Ten. This week will be a huge test against one of the best backs in the conference.
Also, the linebackers have overachieved to this point. What I mean by that is not a negative connotation. After losing some key players at the position from 2021, the linebackers for Rutgers were a huge question mark. That has been squashed.
Both Deion Jennings and Tyreem Powell have stepped up and taken over as leaders. They were part of the plan last year but did not have a ton of experience coming into the year.
TDG: Is there a vulnerability in the Scarlet Knights’ defense that you could see the Gophers exploiting?
GP: The secondary is the most experienced unit for Rutgers. Minnesota has plenty of explosive talent offensively. It will come down to the run game.
Minnesota is a big favorite and the game will be one-sided if the Gophers establish the run early. That will open up all parts of their offense. For Rutgers, if it can stop Ibrahim, it takes one huge aspect away from the game.
This is not a vulnerability but I think the rushing attack is a point of emphasis on both sides.
TDG: What is your score prediction for the game?
GP: The spread is a high number but I understand why. Minnesota is home and despite not lighting it up recently themselves, remains more talented and experienced than Rutgers.
The quarterback situation remains a problem for the Scarlet Knights and that is not going to change in 2022. Ibrahim might be slowed down a bit but he is still going to get his. Rutgers is going to try and make this a defensive, slow-paced game but the Gophers should still be able to get comfortable on their home field.
Minnesota 28, Rutgers 17.