football Edit

Slew of young players got experience in the Gator Bowl for Rutgers

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Thanks to about a week's notice, hot weather, and players being out for NFL Draft prep, senior all-star games, or injuries and surgeries, pretty much everybody else was available for Rutgers to play in the TaxSlayer Gator against Wake Forest at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

In turn, a bevvy of younger players including freshmen saw serious snaps.

Overall, I thought this was great for our university. It was really, really good for our program. The fact that we can get this experience and build upon it really good," Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said after the game.

"We had some young players that stepped up today for many different reasons. A lot of our guys didn't play and the young guys stepped up and I'm really proud of them. Proud of the way they attack things."

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On offense, second-year freshman Bryan Felter (49 snaps) started his second-straight contest at left guard as did true freshman Gus Zilinskas (46), who earned the start at center. Wide receiver Joshua Youngblood (31), a third-year sophomore, got his first start while Hollin Pierce (31), another second-year rookie, started the final 12 games at right tackle.

Freshman Troy Rainey (26) also saw plenty of time at right guard, freshman Jamier Wright-Collins (24) played at running back, early-enrollee rookie signal caller, Gavin Wimsatt, took 24 snaps, and freshman Victor Konopka rounded out the double-digit snap counts at tight end with 13.

Second-year freshman Ahmirr Robinson (seven) also played briefly at wide receiver as did freshman offensive lineman Tyler Needham (five). It was Needham's first and only game of the year. Evan Simon, who is in his second year, played one snap at quarterback.

On defense, the usual suspects who are younger played such as cornerbacks Max Melton (69) and Robert Longerbeam (55) and defensive end Mohamed Toure (48), but many others saw plenty of run like second-year linebacker Tyreem Powell (48), true freshman nose tackle Kyonte Hamilton (37), second-year defensive end Wesley Bailey (34), true freshman defensive end Cam'Ron Stewart (32), true freshman safety Desmond Igbinosun (31), first-year rookie cornerback Shaquan Loyal (27), and first-year freshman safety Max Patterson (10).

"It definitely was all hands on deck," Schiano said. "We knew the temperature and the opponent were gonna wear us down especially with their style of play on offense. I think that for a while there we played really good complimentary football, and then it got away a little bit. They're a good football team. They won 11 games this year. Proud of those young players that stepped up. It was something to see them go out and play with confidence. That's what I wanted to see. There's some really young talented players in our program. You never know how they're gonna play until you put them in, and they stepped up."

Powell started while Stewart, Loyal, Bailey Igbinosun, and Patterson played the most snaps they have all season long. Igbinosun made an impact with a sack, two tackles-for-loss, and a forced fumble as did Stewart, who recorded four total tops with half a sack.

Melton posted six tackles, Toure also had six tackles with 1.5 sacks, Longerbeam made three tackles with a pass deflection in the end zone, Bailey, Loyal, Igbinosun, and Hamilton were all in on three stops and Powell contributed with two.

Joe Lusardi also notched two tackles at safety.

Wimsatt threw for 30 yards on 7-of-16 attempts while running for 34 yards. Wright-Collins made three catches and saw two carries, and Youngblood made two grabs for 25 yards. Youngblood also returned five kickoffs for 110 yards total.

"We actually got to see it against live competition against a really good football team, so that gives me a nice game to study and watch some of our younger players and as a player, it's always nice to watch someone on tape do the technique, but it's really cool when you get to watch yourself do it," Schiano said. "And I know that you should learn from other people and they do, but when you watch yourself on the tape, that gives you another step in the learning. Some of these guys got quite a few plays on tape today."

The rebuild is going to take a while to fully shift. That's just the nature of playing in the Big Ten. But recruiting is up and so is the culture.

Heading into the 2022 campaign, the roster will be almost all "Schiano guys".

"I am encouraged that our culture is growing and the foundation has been laid in our program," Schiano said. "As I always tell our team it means nothing if we unless we learn from it and get better from it. I don't believe there's such thing as failing unless you stop, unless you quit. You just keep failing forward until you are successful. And that's that's what we're going to do. We're building something here and I thought this week was a very big, good step in our building process."

Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisNalwasky.

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