Over the next couple of weeks, GopherDigest will take an early look at the Minnesota Gophers football team’s opponents throughout the 2016 regular season. Today, we preview the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
Oct. 22, 2016, 11 AM (CST) kickoff
Rutgers head coach: Chris Ash (1st season)
Coordinators: Drew Mehringer (Offensive coordinator; 1st season) and Jay Niemann (defensive coordinator; 1st season)
Rutgers 2015 record – 4-8 (1-7 B1G): The Scarlet Knights started their season on the right foot going 3-3 with a close loss to Michigan State and beating Indiana on the road, but the Rutgers faded losing five of their final six games and ultimately firing their head coach.
2015 offensive stats: 84th nationally in total offense (377.0 YPG), 78th in scoring offense (27.1 PPG), 86th in passing offense (207.1 YPG), 65th in rushing offense (169.9 YPG)
2015 defensive stats: 111th nationally in total defense (462.0 YPG), 104th in scoring defense (34.9 PPG), 118th in passing defense (275.9 YPG), 84th in rushing defense (186.1 YPG)
Returning leading passer – QB Chris Laviano (2247 yards, 16 TD, 12 INT on 187-of-307 passing): Laviano returns as the senior quarterback transition from a pro style offense to the spread, so it'll be interesting to see how he handles the transition. Quarterback is going to an interesting position to watch for Rutgers.
Returning leading rusher – RB Robert Martin (763 yards, 6 TD on 141 carries): The Scarlet Knights return their leading rusher from last season and Martin figures to be a large part of this new offense in 2016.
Returning leading receiver – WR Janarion Grant (352 yards, 1 TD on 35 catches): Rutgers loses their star player on offense from last season in WR Leonte Carroo, who was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, so Chris Ash has to find some new fire power at the wide out spot.
Returning leading tackler – DB Isaiah Wharton (57 tackles): The Scarlet Knights lose their top three tacklers from last season, so they have to find some new bodies to replace those 282 tackles somewhere.
Returning leader in interceptions – DB Anthony Cioffi (Four picks): The Rutgers defensive back had four interceptions to go with 10 total passes defended.
FIVE QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY SAM HELLMAN OF THE SCARLET REPORT
What was the biggest thing about this Rutgers team that you drew from watching spring practices and its spring game?
SH: The biggest thing from watching spring practice is that quarterback will be an issue for Rutgers this year. Incumbent starter Chris Laviano stayed in the lead but hasn't stepped forward as a red-shirt junior. He's the leader to retain the job but quarterback is a concern.
What are the three biggest story lines to follow this season?
SH: 1) Change --- Rutgers has a new coach, 11 new assistants and a new AD. Rutgers has the right people in place for its true assimilation into the Big Ten because, for the first time, it has people that are committed to athletics. Chris Ash wants to do things his way, and his way is almost the complete opposite of the way things have been done.
2) Quarterbacks -- I know it's repetitive but this is the hot topic at Rutgers and has been for about 10 years now. Rutgers always seems to find itself in a weird spot at quarterback and this year is no different. The square peg into a round hole analogy fits with the transition away from pro style.
3) Hot Start in Recruiting -- Rutgers is off to a great start in recruiting but how will that continue through the season? Rutgers has a top 25 class right now and a commitment from the top kid in the state for the first time in five years. Will Chris Ash be able to hold things together if the losses start piling up and other schools get involved?
What are Rutgers' greatest strengths for the 2016 season?
SH: Rutgers has a strong defensive line, and a coaching staff devoted to tough defense. The defensive line is deep with multiple NFL prospects in former five-star Darius Hamilton (son of Keith Hamilton), Julian Pinnix-Odrick, NT Sebastian Joseph and freakish athlete Kemoko Turay. They'll need the help with a lot of youth at linebacker and in the secondary.
What are the Scarlet Knight's greatest weaknesses?
SH: Again, quarterback. When you have multiple quarterbacks, you don't really have any (unless you're Ohio State). Rutgers moves from the pro-style to the spread and most of the quarterbacks on the roster don't have the idea skillset. The two that do are totally new to Rutgers and have no experience -- TCU transfer Zach Allen and freshman Tylin Oden.
What is your outlook for the 2016 season for Rutgers and what's your way too early prediction for their game against the Gophers?
SH: As far as a season outlook, this isn't a quick fix at Rutgers, so expect a rebuilding season. Chris Ash wants to get things done his way with his guys, and that doesn't happen in one year. Rutgers could sneak into a bowl game with some help and some great coaching, but I won't bet on it yet.
Minnesota is the clear favorite in that game, especially with Rutgers going on the road and it being the eight straight game week without a bye.
You can follow Sam Hellman on Twitter @SamHellmanScout.
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COMPLETED EARLY OPPONENT PREVIEWS:
Oct. 29 at Illinois
Nov. 5 vs. Purdue
Nov. 12 at Nebraska
Nov. 19 vs. Northwestern
Nov. 26 at Wisconsin