Rutgers football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Scarlet Knights, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Rutgers Offense
It’s not like the offense needs to undergo a total gut job – it wasn’t all that bad last season. It wasn’t consistent, and it couldn’t do much against the better defenses, but he did a fine job against the mediocre teams.
The goal under offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer – and with Chris Ash coming over from Ohio State – is to be the New Jersey version of the Buckeyes. Unfortunately, the Scarlet Knights don’t have the mobile quarterback to be another J.T. Barrett.
Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig are veteran passers – Laviano has more experience and Rettig has more raw talent – and either one can step in and produce. With the running back combination of Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, the ground game should be there to take the heat off the quarterback situation.
Losing star receiver Leonte Carroo is a killer, but the next seven pass catchers from last season are back to a passing attack that should be more efficient and more effective. This is a senior-laden crew with the upside to do far more.
Guard Chris Muller leads a line loaded with enough upperclassmen to not be a problem early on for the spread attack. As long as it can pound away a bit for the ground game, it’ll be doing its job.
Biggest Key To The Rutgers Offense
For this type of offense to work – being Ohio State without the running quarterback – the ground game has to establish itself early on in games. It was fine at times last season, and Martin and Hicks each averaged over five yards per pop – but it has to put up big yards. Rutgers was 4-0 when running for 200 yards or more, 0-8 when it didn’t.
What You Need To Know About The Rutgers Defense
And here’s the problem. The offense wasn’t anything special – especially over the second half of the season – but it was okay. The defense was a massive issue, and now it’s up to defensive coordinator Jay Niemann to try working miracles with a shaky returning group.
The secondary is Job One, even with a few decent parts to build around. It was trial by fire last year, and now four sophomores will work around senior safety Davon Jacobs to try improving a group that allowed 276 yards per game and was 118th in the nation in pass efficiency D.
The linebacking corps is a question mark, too, with more young players and little developed depth trying to beef up a run defense that rarely came up with the big stop or game-changing play. It’s going to be an active corps, but it needs to be a far more effective one.
On the plus side, Darius Hamilton is back up front to anchor the interior after missing almost all of last year hurt. This is a veteran front four with the potential to rise up and become one of the team’s biggest strength.
Biggest Key To The Rutgers Defense
It’s got to get off the field. The defense allowed long drive after long drive after long drive with opposing offenses converting a whopping 44.5% of the time on third downs. It all tied in together – the D couldn’t generate a stop, the time of possession tilted the wrong way, and the offense had to press and couldn’t pick up the slack. It was a bad mix. Rutgers hasn’t been under the 40% mark, though, since 2012.
Rutgers Will Be Far Better If …
It can score on a regular basis. Chris Ash might be a defensive coach by nature, but this isn’t going to work in his first year unless his offense can put points up on the board. Last year got ugly with a four-game stretch scoring a total of 47 points, and seven times the O scored 27 points of fewer while the D gave up 35 per game. Since the defense is going to be a problem, the offense has to be ready to get into its share of shootouts.
Best Rutgers Offensive Player
WR Janarion Grant, Sr. – One of the quarterbacks or running backs must step up and become a star, but Grant is the team’s best weapon, and not just because of his work as a receiver. Lightning quick, his real worth is as a returner, but he needs the ball in his hands more as a runner and receiver, too. The team’s second-leading receiver last year needs to be even more dangerous after averaging just ten yards per grab.
Best Rutgers Defensive Player
DT Darius Hamilton, Sr. – The run defense was actually better last year statistically after a disastrous 2014 season, and Hamilton was out for most of the season with a knee injury, but he’s the interior pass rusher the defense desperately needed and didn’t have. He might not be a space-eating anchor, but that’s not necessarily his job. His return gives the D a star to build around.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Chris Laviano, Jr. – Hayden Rettig is a former LSU transfer who has the tools out of central casting, but he’s never been able to put it all together and rise up and take over a gig. Laviano has more than enough experience, and an accurate enough arm, to give the offense a steady starter and leader to work around. And if Laviano isn’t it, Rettig had better be ready to rock. Rutgers can’t improve without better quarterback play.
The Rutgers Season Will Be A Success If …
There’s a bowl experience. Last year’s team got to four wins when nothing really worked quite right, but even with all the drama and all the problems, there was still a shot in the season finale to beat Maryland – that would’ve been five wins – and the Washington State game early in the season could’ve gone either way. Now the coaching situation is settled, there won’t be the issues of last season, and a lot of the rough things the 2015 team had to go through won’t be an issue this time around. Getting to six wins won’t be easy, but it’s an attainable goal.
Nov. 5 vs. Indiana – Of course there’s a chance the Scarlet Knights will come up with a shocking upset here or there, but realistically there are five forget-about-it losses – at Washington, Iowa, at Ohio State, Michigan, at Michigan State. To have any prayer of going bowling, Rutgers needs to come up with at least two wins against Minnesota, Penn State and Maryland. That’s hardly a given. There can’t be any mistakes, and that includes hosting Indiana at home after getting a week off. Lose this, and forget about any hope of a winning season.
2015 Rutgers Fun Stats
– Rutgers 1st Quarter Scoring: 48 – Rutgers 2nd Quarter Scoring: 121
– Sacks: Opponents 25 for 207 yards – Rutgers 14 for 98 yards
– Fumbles: Rutgers 19 (lost 6) – Opponents 11 (lost 3)