Big Ten Spring Football Review: Rutgers

Big Ten newcomer Rutgers had much work to do this spring with new coordinators on both sides of the ball, an unsettled quarterback situation and a defense that ended last season in general disrepair. How did they do addressing those issues?

Quick 2013 review:

Rutgers started the season with a one-point overtime loss at Fresno State then won its next four. That would be the high-water mark for the season as the Scarlet Knights won only two of their last eight games.

Statistically, the offense was poor overall (95th in total yards), particularly running the ball (100th). The Knights were 77th in the nation in scoring, and though the passing game was respectable in terms of yards produced (62nd) quarterback Gary Nova threw 14 interceptions in 10 games. Stopping the pass was a major issue for Rutgers, which was 120th at 312 yards per game and 100th in efficiency, but the squad was fourth in rushing defense (100.8 yards per game). Both units were poor on third downs.

As far as Football Outsiders rankings, the Knights would have been the second-worst team in the Big Ten in overall S&P+ with equally bad offense (90th) and defense (91st). The offense particularly struggled on standard downs (108th) but was not bad on passing downs (47th). Defensively, Rutgers was better from a play efficiency standpoint than drive efficiency and respectable on standard downs but not passing downs.

Spring game recap:

Desmon Peoples ran for 85 yards an a pair of touchdowns as the White downed the Scarlet 21-0 in front of 11,500 fans at High Point Solutions Stadium. Nova, a senior, completed only 6 of 13 passes for 78 yards while junior Mike Bimonte was 5 for 11 for 55 yards. Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano, who played for both teams, was a combined 0 for 9 with an interception. Janarion Grant led all receivers with 45 yards on three grabs while Kemoko Turay stood out defensively with three sacks. Bria Verbitski led all players with eight tackles, including one for loss, and Myles Nash notched an interception.

Issues addressed:

Kyle Flood's team brings back a total of 16 starters on offense and defense, but there were plenty of things to work on during spring ball.

Although Nova is back, he had to compete for the starting quarterback job this spring as a result of committing too many turnovers last season, and Flood told reporters in Piscataway that he would be the starter if there was a real game to be played when the spring game was held.

"I think Mike and Chris have both made a lot of progress this spring," Flood said (via NJ.com). "I think when you've got one guy who's got a lot of game experience and two others who don't, you have to give them as many snaps and opportunities as you can if you think they have a chance to make your team better. I'm pleased with all three of those guys. I feel like we've got three quarterbacks on our team right now that can help us win football games. Now we'll just take the time between spring practice and the first game to figure out how exactly it will sort out."

Flood said Nova cut down on interceptions during spring practice and benefited from the influence of new offensive coordinator Ralph Freidgen.

"It seems to be the right guy and the right pairing at the right time," Flood said. "The quarterbacks that Ralph has trained in the past have had a tremendous amount of success over time. I think he's had a great influence on Gary and those other quarterbacks as well. Certainly Gary with the most experience, I think he's had a big influence on him."

Not one of the nine returning starters on offense, Grant was named the most improved player on that side of the ball after being a star return man last season. He could be in line for a larger role this season after top receivers Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt moved on, leaving behind light end Tyler Kroft as the most productive pass catcher.

"I feel good just catching the ball more, being able to get my hands on the ball and be physical with it," Grant said.

T.J. Taylor, a redshirt freshman linebacker, was named the most improved defensive player, while senior defensive end David Milewski was given the Frank R. Burns Award for displaying "extraordinary mental and physical toughness."

Those are things likely in high demand for the Knights this spring after the 2013 squad allowed more total yards and more passing yards than any unit in school history. New defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said when he was introduced he would not significantly change the 4-3 defense but plans to employ an attacking style.

"We have a long way to go and I personally still have a long way to go but it's been a great spring," Milewski said. "Hopefully this is a springboard for us going into the summer and into next season."

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