Many outside of the Rutgers world worried about the commitment and competitiveness of Rutgers Scarlet Knights football. That worry was put front and center as the Scarlet Knights struggled through the 2015 season on and off the field.
However, a change in leadership was on the horizon for the athletic department and hope has sprung anew for the Rutgers athletic department in general.
While it is important to continue to look forward, one must always remember that moment when you hit rock bottom. Such is the case for the Scarlet Knights as we relive the highs (were there any?) and the lows of the season that was before we move forward to the season ahead.
Winning a game in Big Ten play was something, right? Doing so against a team that wound up making a bowl game appearance certainly didn’t hurt at all and neither did putting on an offensive showcase like no other in Power 5 conference football.
Rutgers crazy 55-52 victory over the Indiana Hoosiers in mid-October was a sight to behold. On the one hand, offensive firepower at its pinnacle is fun to watch. On the other hand, this was about as brutal a game as there was for defensive football. In fact, some might have said it was an affront to the game of football.
We weren’t in that camp totally, as this game literally came down to the final second before Kyle Federico knocked home a 26-yard field goal as time expired to give the Scarlet Knights a second year in a row with its biggest comeback in school history.
Things looked like a lock for the Hoosiers, up 52-27 with most of the third quarter gone, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the Hoosiers defense remembered how bad it was and Rutgers’ offense found a spark.
RU went on to score four touchdowns in just a shade over 10 minutes and the defense came up when its back was against the ultimate wall in this game. Somehow that group produced two key interceptions in the final five minutes to help set up the game-winning field goal effort.
In a season with many issues on and off the field, this was a huge bright spot.
A crazy win like Rutgers had against Indiana often times has a way of defining a season. It didn’t happen for the Scarlet Knights and head coach Kyle Flood’s tenure at the university was clearly over during the next four weeks.
Rutgers faced Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska and never put up more than 16 points in a single game against those four teams. Talk about momentum crushing? Try four straight weeks with score lines of 49-7, 48-10, 49-16 and 31-14.
At no point in any of those games against the Big Ten’s marquee names did Rutgers appear to be competitive. Not even after that rousing and dramatic victory on the road against Indiana.
That kind of failure, even against the top of the conference was the signal that it was time for a change at the top of the football program. Rutgers didn’t make the jump to the Big Ten to just lay down and be doormats. Yet, over the course of four weeks against some of the best the conference had to offer it got downright ugly.
Why didn’t we put that four-week stretch here? Well, we sort of are going to, and that is because Rutgers’ horrific defense showed its ugly head in all four of those games.
Simply put, Rutgers’ defense wasn’t just bad, it was U-G-L-Y.
Just how bad? Try rankings like these:
Scoring Defense: 34.9 (12th in B1G)
Rushing Defense: 186.1 (12th)
Passing Defense: 275.9 (12th)
Total Defense: 462.0 (13th)
The only thing keeping Rutgers’ defense from the bottom of the barrel in the conference last season was the awfulness that was defense in the state of Indiana. Only Purdue and Indiana were worse overall on defense than the Scarlet Knights were in 2015.
What It Means for 2016
The bad marriage is over, and everyone associated with Rutgers athletics, especially the football program is happy to have a fresh start. With a new administration coming in at the end of the season it was a perfect time to clean house and start with what AD Patrick Hobbs believes to be the right direct for the Scarlet Knights main program — football.
As far as the 2015 season teaching us anything for the future, it really was a blueprint of exactly what you don’t want to have happen. A coach embroiled in an academic scandal, players arrested on drug and domestic assault charges and a team that mustered up just one win in Big Ten play was pretty much a recipe for what not to do to succeed.
Tearing the program down to the studs and starting over was the theme of this offseason with the hire of Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash and a staff of exciting coaches. Now it is about getting the old to forget about the past and begin anew themselves, while getting their players in to the program as fast as humanly possible.