The spike in production from the Rutgers offense was instantly obvious.
After a month of three-and-outs, a switch to sophomore Giovanni Rescigno at quarterback did the trick.
Despite the 34-32 loss at Minnesota (6-2, 3-2), the Scarlet Knights (2-6, 0-5) showed tangible progress with Rescigno as its leader. The 6-foot-3, 224-pounder’s numbers — 220 yards and three touchdowns — tell part of the story, but the difference came on the unnoticed parts of certain plays, according to Andre Patton.
“There was a lot of plays that could’ve been over,” the senior wide receiver said. “But (Rescigno) kept it alive with his feet and his mobility on the field to be able to keep plays open, to give time for the receivers, to actually take your time and win on your route, that’s a lot right there. That means a lot for us receivers knowing that we actually do have that time.”
Rescigno connected with Patton on a 37-yard touchdown grab on a deep ball in the second half. It was Patton’s first score since Sept. 14 in the 14-7 loss to Iowa.
Patton credited the offensive line for the protection before he commended Rescigno for his awareness.
“(Rescigno) had the biggest pocket ever, and that’s from the O-line,” Patton said. “They had to be able to give Gio enough time and space for him to be able to throw the ball.”
Offensive line coach AJ Blazek echoed those sentiments when he emphasized the need to buy Rescigno time in the pocket.
Even when Rescigno doesn’t have the time, Blazek said the sophomore quarterback’s dual-threat ability can save some of the offensive line’s hiccups.
“When we need to, let’s protect (Rescigno) and let Gio go to work,” Blazek said, “because he’s shown — we give him time, he’ll take care of it with his feet or he’ll find the open guys and that’s on our shoulders to let him stay cool and calm.”
When the offense is in sync, more opportunities arise naturally.
With offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer’s objective to evenly distribute the ball into the hands of playmakers and control a high tempo, Rutgers had a season-high eight different receivers record a catch at Minnesota.
Redshirt freshman Jawuan Harris was one of them, with five catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.
“His throws definitely were on point that game, and that’s the reasons why we had some of those touchdowns,” Harris said of Rescigno. “He had some good reads — great reads, actually.”
As Rescigno gains experience, Harris said the receivers know their roles.
“We talk about going out and make sure we make the plays for him to build his confidence,” Harris said. “So that’s what we’ve been trying to do, and he’s been going out there and allowing us to make plays.”
The emergence of senior running back Justin Goodwin added to Rescigno’s ability to keep defenses honest as a dual-threat quarterback.
Goodwin nearly scraped the century mark at Minnesota with 97 yards on 19 carries, and he hauled in a game-high six catches for 52 yards. Rescigno added 63 yards on the ground before his four sacks.
The result was an overall revival in a balanced power-spread attack.
“I think (Rescigno’s dual-threat ability) definitely was able to keep us on the field longer, and it was also able to keep the defense on their toes if we can’t run it or throw on the run,” Harris said. “So that definitely helps with this week as well.”
Blazek underlined that point when he reflected on the improvements against base defenses.
“Teams have taken advantage of things at different times this year,” Blazek said. “When teams play base, we’ve struggled but we’ve done really well depending on who we’re playing. When teams are moving, we’ve picked it up well because you rep it and it’s how focused are our guys, and they’re starting to get the confidence because you have now the challenge to them was back-to-back-to-back weeks was you go out and run the ball efficiently, and they’ve done that.”
As Rutgers plans for Indiana (4-4, 2-3) and an aggressive base defense, the Hoosiers’ scheme presents the latest challenge.
But with the progress from Rescigno’s first start two weeks ago, Patton sees glimpses of the offense’s potential.
“It just shows us all what we can do, what we’re capable of,” Patton said. “… I think that we could’ve done that all year. There was other components into why we couldn’t do that, but just to finally see that come around and the last few weeks and we’re moving the ball down the field, scoring, putting points on the board, it feels good and we just got to keep moving on with that.”