Big Ten Spring Review: Rutgers

Ohio State will trek to face Rutgers in prime time this fall. While the Scarlet Knights will have a new quarterback in year two of Big Ten play, Rutgers will try to take down the Buckeyes under the lights just like they did Michigan a year ago

Quick 2014 Rutgers review: Head coach Kyle Flood’s team started the season 5-1 before getting blasted by Ohio State 56-17 on Oct. 18. That was the first of four losses in five games, and all of the setbacks were decisive ones as Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State outscored the Scarlet Knights 180-44. Rutgers ended the season on a high note, however, beating Maryland in the regular season finale and North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Senior quarterback Gary Nova led the nation in yards per completion and was third in the Big Ten in passing yards, touchdown passes and passing efficiency.

Defensively, the Scarlet Knights struggled in just about all phases but rushing the passer. Their rushing yards per game allowed more than doubled from the previous season (from 100.8 to 212.3) and they finished next-to-last in the Big Ten in both total defense and pass efficiency defense.

In Football Outsiders advanced stats, Rutgers was the No. 9 team overall in the Big Ten last year with a strong passing game and decent running game offensively. The defense struggled equally against the run and the pass (83rd nationally in both rushing S&P+ and passing S&P+, stats that are similar to baseball OPS) while being susceptible to big plays and struggling to force three-and-outs. The latter was also an issue for the offense.

Spring game recap: The Scarlet beat the White 35-21 in a controlled scrimmage in front of 15,782 fans at High Point Solutions Stadium on April 24. Of the two players competing to be Nova’s replacement at quarterback, Chris Laviano had the more efficient and productive day than Chase Rettig. Laviano completed eight of 10 passes for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Rettig, an LSU transfer, went 4 for 7 for 37 yards. Carlton Agudosi was Laviano’s top target, hauling in four passes for 91 yards and accounting for both of the QB’s touchdown tosses. On the other side of the ball, safety Anthony Cioffi made the biggest pay of the night when he returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown.

Issues addressed: After finishing below .500 in their first season of Big Ten play then losing more than half of their starters on each side of the ball, the Scarlet Knights had a lot of work to do in the spring.

Of course the quarterback duel collected a lot of headlines, but Flood said told reporters on the Big Ten spring teleconference toward the end of spring ball he did not expect to make a final decision his starter until the second week or so of preseason camp. Nonetheless, he confirmed after the spring game Laviano was ahead, as probably should be expected given his advantage in experience over Rettig, who sat out last season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

“Now they're both going to have the opportunity to do what I think is one of the more important things that you do all year long, and that's taking your team from the end of spring practice and make sure that when you come back in the fall, that first practice in the fall, you're a better football team than you were in practice 15,” Flood told reporters in Piscataway after the spring game.

Whoever wins the quarterback job could have quite a few weapons to work with as standout receiver Leontee Carroo returns and the backfield could be crowded with Justin Goodwin impressing the coaching staff in the spring. Injured veterans Paul James and Desmon Peoples rejoin the fray at running back in the fall, and sophomores Josh Hicks and Robert Martin both showed flashes of what they can do last year.

“We’re going to have to get a lot out of that room and we’re going to have to play those guys at different positions because those are probably some of the best playmakers on our team,” Flood said on the spring teleconference.

The coach also praised the spring development of the offensive line, where only two starters return but Tariq Cole, Dorian Miller and Derrick Nelson caught his eye.

"I think at every position we need to improve,” Flood said. “If we're not improving at every position from now to training camp, it's going to be hard to win football games in the league we play in. That's certainly going to be important for everybody.”

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