The ugly score of a 48-13 loss where the pass defense allowed 289 yards and four touchdowns spelled how overmatched the Rutgers secondary was against the Washington’s playmakers, but Hester provided a bright spos when he entered for the Scarlet Knights.
The sophomore safety had a team-high eight tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
“I felt good,” Hester said. “I was a little banged up in camp. Just going out there, I just have to be ready for anything. And I was starting on special teams, so we had a little rotation going on with me, (Anthony) Cioffi and Saquan. So I would just have to be ready at any point, and Saquan went down and that’s when I came in and just had execute the game plan.”
Injury slowed Hester in training camp, but he stayed ready with mental reps and a daily approach as the starter.
“Every game you’ve got to go in like that because I know I’m going to get a lot of plays, a lot of snaps,” he said. “So I go in there and just play hard and just strain. That’s the main thing (the coaches) tell us — you got to go in there and any chance you get, you just strain, get to the ball. So that’s my main mindset now.”
Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann came away impressed with the versatility and readiness of Hester, who bounced between free safety and strong safety dating back to the spring.
“I thought (Hester) played fabulous considering he had missed some training camp with an injury of his own and got back obviously in time to prepare for the game, but in a backup role,” Niemann said. “So for him to come in and play like he did, I was really proud of him. I thought he did a really nice job. So his role will remain the same and we expect — now that we’ve seen that quality of play from him — that he will continue along those lines and give us that each and every week.”
Hester took all the first-team defense reps at free safety with Hampton out. If it comes to the point where Hester is needed at either safety position, he said he learned the ins and outs of the responsibilities that come with both spots.
“With free, you’re in more space, so you have to cover more, you have to cover more ground — you have more space,” Hester said. “Strong, you’re in the run more, you have to come down. You have to make the backer, fit off the backer. So strong is maybe more difficult because you have to read more with backers because like who fits, who fills, who spills you. … We do the same things in both positions depending on the formation, but I would say strong is probably the harder one to learn.”
Hester said he felt as if Rutgers regrouped against the pass after a rough first half where it surrendered three touchdowns through the air in the first quarter.
If the secondary fixes mental errors and cleans up technique, Hester said the defense could turn production around quickly.
“Takeaways (from the film) mainly was I saw effort was good, we minimized the mental errors and just execute your job and we can play great defense,” he said. “I think we held them to 50-something yards or something like that in the second half. We just come out there and play hard and everyone executes their job in the defense and we can play well. If everyone does their job, this defense is a great defense.”