Non-conference football is over and so is apparently your chance to enjoy the Rutgers student tailgate complete with a beer-chugging AD. Alas, the good times could be over in the stadium as well.
Or will they be? With a positive record and a feeling that things are finally going to be different for the Scarlet Knights, it’s time to assess the state of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football program after non-conference play has ended.
The Good News:
Rutgers is 2-1 and it has won the two games it was supposed to. However, the real good news is that the offense is starting to come alive. After stalling out most of last season, Rutgers is averaging a touchdown better in offensive output (34 points per game in 2016 compared to 27.1 in 2015).
A lot of that is due to Rutgers finding a running game to speak of early on. Would you believe that the Scarlet Knights currently have the third-best running game in the Big Ten? They do, averaging 229.3 yards per game on the ground.
If you want to pull off an upset or two in the Big Ten East division, being able to control the ball and keep opposition offenses off the field is a great idea. Rutgers’ run game is certainly helping in that way early on.
The question is if it can keep that up with the increased level of competition they are about to face.
The Bad News:
This is a Rutgers team that digs itself a hole early and often this season. It has trailed in all three games so far, including a 14-0 deficit against might FCS opponent Howard. Of course, Rutgers ripped off 52 straight points in the 52-14 win, but still, how do you go down 14-0 to Howard?
Giving up early leads is not exactly good news heading in to Big Ten play and seeing the Iowa Hawkeyes up next on the schedule doesn’t make that news any better.
Most worrisome was seeing this team go in to a 21-0 deficit to New Mexico this past weekend. The Lobos are an improving team, but this was the third game of the season and at some point the slow starting thing has to get fixed.
While it is good news that Rutgers have figured out how to come back on opponents, it can’t seem to figure out how to get an early lead and not have to worry about playing from behind. At some point in Big Ten play, this pattern, if continued, will cost the Scarlet Knights a game or three.
Craziest Stat: 7
That is the number of average points allowed by Rutgers’ defense in the second half of its non-conference games this season. With Ash’s defensive prowess, that should be excellent news to build on as the young season turns in to the fall.
Even in the 48-13 loss to Washington, Rutgers gave up just 14 second-half points. I don’t know how you don’t see the adjustments and clamping down on defense as a good sign for the Scarlet Knights.
For a program looking to really clean house and change attitude as well as results, it is clear the attitude part has come a long way under Ash.
Player Who Has Stepped Up: Janorian Grant, WR
Strangely, the Big Ten is full of jack-of-all-trades kind of players, but few have been as good as Grant has been early on this season. He has been killer on punt returns, with a touchdown to his name already, and has been equally dangerous as a runner and a pass catcher in 2016.
Grant has 15 rushing attempts for 143 yards and three touchdowns, while catching 15 passes for another 112 yards. In total, Grant leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (563) and every time he touches the ball he is a threat to go for a big play. After all, he is also averaging a crazy 13.1 yards per play on the early season.
Player Who Still Needs to Step Up: Chris Laviano, QB
As much as the defense has been an issue, no issues has hindered the Scarlet Knights than quarterback play. Laviano has the experience to be a good quarterback, he just hasn’t produced like that early on.
To date, Laviano is last in the Big Ten (according to CFBStats.com) in quarterback rating (105.16) and has completed just 51.7 percent of his passes (also the worst of any starter in the Big Ten). His 457 yards are second-worst in the Big Ten, but only behind Michigan State’s Tyler O’Connor and he has played in just two games this season.
Simply put, Rutgers needs more out of Laviano if it is going to win in the Big Ten. It’s time for him to step up or get ready to see the bench by the end of the season.