Preview 2017: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Previewing and looking ahead at the Rutgers Scarlet Knights season – and what you need to know.
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What You Need To Know About The Rutgers Offense
With former Minnesota head man Jerry Kill taking over the Rutgers offense, expect more power from the ground game and more pop for a passing game that was beyond miserable last year.
The Scarlet Knights finished with the worst O in the country – generating just 283 yards per game – and was the second-worst in scoring averaging just 16 per outing.
The strength is at receiver, getting back Janarion Grant from injury to go along with Jawuan Harris to form a dangerous 1-2 punch, but is there a quarterback to get them the ball?
Giovanni Rescigno is the veteran who knows the system, but he didn’t have much to work with last season. Coming in to provide a fight is Kyle Bolin, a graduate transfer from Louisville, who took off with Lamar Jackson obviously the main man for the Cardinals.
However, the real excitement is over Johnathan Lewis, one of the stars of the recruiting class with the talent and upside to be the main man for the program for the next few years.
The woeful running game at least gets back a few veteran backs, led by Robert Martin, who led the way with 625 yards and two scores, averaging over five yards per carry. Three starters are back up front for a young line that took its lumps – big-time.
Biggest Key To The Rutgers Offense
The passing game has to work at least a little bit. The Scarlet Knights never seem to have a quarterback who can take the job and make it rock – that’s what Johnathan Lewis is supposed to be for – and they had receiver issues when Grant suffered his ankle injury.
That’s still no excuse for the team to finish the season completing 48% its passes with just three games with over 200 yards. The O has to convert third downs, answer scores, and move the ball a bit – it needs a passing attack that isn’t so sad.
What You Need To Know About The Rutgers Defense
The defense wasn’t quite as miserable as the offense, but it wasn’t all that far off. Teams ran at will on the front seven, converted third down after third down, and scored whenever they needed.
It was a relatively young group that had to fight through the growing pains, with seven of the top ten returning tacklers underclassmen last year, and with ten of the top 13 tacklers back.
There has to be more of a pass rush, and there has to be more bulk up front, but the line isn’t going to be better without Darius Hamilton on the inside. There aren’t the 300-pound brick walls to hold up, so it’ll all be up to the rotation – everyone has to stay fresh.
The really, really young linebacking corps – with five of the top six options last year underclassmen – has to be far, far more disruptive with more takeaways and more plays in the backfield. The same goes for the secondary that started three sophomores has to come up with something positive, but it needs help from a better pass rush.
Biggest Key To The Rutgers Defense
Stop … the …. run. Granted, the D wore down after the O time and again did next to nothing, but the front seven didn’t provide any help. How bad was the nation’s third-worst run defense? It allowed 5.7 yards per carry and three touchdowns or more in seven of the last ten games.
It stunningly held down Washington in the opener, and wasn’t’ bad over the first month, and then came the problems, getting gouged for 300 yards or more in four of the final eight games with Ohio State and Michigan combining for 891 yards and 13 scores.
Rutgers Will Be Far Better If …
Score … whenever there’s a chance. The Scarlet Knight defense isn’t going to be a rock yet, but the offense should be better under Kill’s watch. Now, it can’t miss an opportunity to come up with a score, especially in the red zone.
Along with all the other problems, the Scarlet Knights were worst-in-country awful inside the 20, scoring just 17-of-25 times. They lost to Minnesota by two – there was a missed field goal. They lost to Iowa 14-7 – they were 1-of-4 in the red zone. They lost to Indiana 33-27, and came away empty once. Even if they’re more successful from close range in two of those games, 4-8 looks a whole lot stronger than 2-10.
Best Rutgers Offensive Player
WR Janarion Grant, Sr. – When healthy, he’s among the nation’s most dynamic playmakers. The 5-10, 172-pounder caught 20 passes for 210 yards in just under four games, suffered a broken ankle, and was out for the year.
While he’s been a good receiver over the course of his career, he’s been a devastating return man, averaging over 25 yards per kickoff with five scores, and 11.4 yards per punt return with three scores.
2. OT Tariq Cole, Jr.
3. WR Jawuan Harris, Soph.
4. QB Johnathan Lewis, Fr.
5. RB Robert Martin, Sr.
Best Rutgers Defensive Player
LB Trevor Morris, Jr. – The quarterback of the defense, the 6-1, 232-pound Academic All-Big Ten performer also led the team with 102 stops with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss.
The man in the middle was one of the few positives for the woeful run defense, cranking up double-digit stops during a four-game late-season stretch with 46 tackles turning the run. He’s got the size, and he can hit, but a few more plays behind the line would be nice.
2. LB Deonte Roberts, Jr.
3. DE Darnell Davis, Jr.
4. LB Tyreek Maddox-Williams, Soph.
5. S Kiy Hester, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Johnathan Lewis, Fr. – When and if Rutgers football becomes good, Lewis will be the quarterback. The 6-3, 220-pound local product has the next-level arm to go along with the mobility to make things happen on the move.
Bolin will probably be the starter out of the gate, but that’s not a lock – especially if Lewis is everything expected.
The pressure will be intense to see what he can do from the start of fall camp, and while it’ll be tempting to redshirt him, he might be too good to keep under wraps.
The Rutgers Season Will Be A Success If …
The Scarlet Knights win five games. Eastern Michigan and Morgan State have to be locks to, at least, match last season’s two-win total by mid-September. With Purdue and Maryland at home, there are chances for home wins, to go along with a manageable road date at Illinois. Of course, they’ll likely be underdogs in every Big Ten game, but they’ll be stronger.
Key Game To The Rutgers Season
Oct. 14 at Illinois. Rutgers will lose to Washington, Nebraska and Ohio State, and it’ll almost certainly beat Eastern Michigan and Morgan State for a 2-3 start. And then comes the two-game stretch against Illinois and Purdue to make or break the season.
Win both games, and there’s a dream of going bowling. Lose both, and it’ll be another brutal year. After losing to the Fighting Illini 24-7 last year, the Scarlet Knights need to pull this off in Champaign.
2016 Rutgers Fun Stats
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Opponents 154 – Rutgers 27
– Rushing Yards: Opponents 3,170 – Rutgers 1,739
– Field Goals: Rutgers 10-of-14 – Opponents 11-of-21