State of the Union: Halfway Through

Rutgers has a winning record and a memorable victory over Arkansas in the first half of the season, but is on the outside looking in at the BCS after losing to Louisville. At the midway point in the season, looks at some of the trending topics in 2013 and ahead to the second half.

Rutgers (4-2, 1-1) and head coach Kyle Flood will be hard at work during the bye week to fix the mistakes that led to a 24-10 loss to No. 8 Louisville. With 18 days between games, Flood offered his thoughts on the halfway point in the season late last week.

"We are what our record says we are," Flood said. "We're a 4-2 football team. We're 1-1 in conference play and we've got a tremendous opportunity ahead of us with the next six games. But you can't play six games at a time. You only get to play one at a time. And the one we're going to play is not for two weeks. I think it's our best interest of the program to really focus on us right now." is here to follow up with more.

Going Well -- Special teams has not lost a step with the departure of Robb Smith to the NFL. In his second year as special teams coordinator, Joe Rossi has Rutgers right where it needs to be in terms of game-changing plays (with the exception of a place-kicking game that is in need of consistency). Rutgers is doing everything it needs on special teams. It starts with big plays in the return game from Janarion Grant and Quron Pratt, but there is a lot more to it than the obvious.

Rutgers continues to lead the country in blocked kicks over the last five seasons, most recently by Jamal Merrell against Louisville, and remains solid in kick coverage. Players like linebacker Nick DePaola, fullback Kevin Marquez, receiver Carlton Agudosi and cornerback Anthony Cioffi all experienced success as gunners or in kickoff coverage. The addition from Nick Marsh is an obvious upgrade in winning the field position battle.

Flood has also clearly done well in his first year of talent evaluation. After playing three true freshman from his first recruiting class, young faces step up weekly in the 2013 season. It started with Grant against Fresno State, but Rutgers is getting significant production from its class of 2013 class already. Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell are now two of the top cornerbacks on the active roster and running back Justin Goodwin exploded onto the scene with 222 total yards and three touchdowns against SMU. With a bye week to evaluate, the true freshman debuts may not be done.

Rough Start -- Rutgers cannot rely solely on its defense to win games this year, and that means better consistency and ball security from the offense. Nova is going to make mistakes, and his accuracy needs improvement, but do they always have to come when Rutgers desperately needs a play? There are times to be aggressive and there are times to play it safe. Rutgers has seen over-aggression (Louisville) and over-caution (Virginia Tech) go wrong and must find the right balance. The chance for Brandon Coleman and Paul James to heal up during an 18-day break should bring balance back to the offense.

Rutgers has to find a way to better protect Nova on the offensive line and rein in the mistakes in the passing game. Messing up is OK, and it's going to happen at quarterback, but four interceptions is never a formula for victory.

Poised for Success -- The Rutgers front seven struggled against Louisville but had a solid overall performance in the first half of the year. That starts with red-shirt freshman Steve Longa, who is the closest thing to Khaseem Greene on the current roster. Rutgers will not face a running team as good as Louisville this season unless it gets one in the bowl game. Rutgers has a chance to dominate against the run, and develop talent on the line and at linebacker at the same time. Longa's emergence, alongside some inspired play by backup Quentin Gause bodes well for Rutgers against the run. The return of Jamal Merrell against Louisville gives defensive coordinator Dave Cohen more flexibility at linebacker. It also allows him to ease Davon Jacobs and L.J. Liston into the fray slowly.

Rutgers is not a team that has ever relied on defensive ends first when generating pressure. The lack of pressure from the front four should not be cause for alarm, but can still improve. David Milewski is a pleasant surprise at defensive end after multiple knee surgeries, and youngsters Djwany Mera and Daryl Stephenson have huge opportunities for development in the bye week with plenty of film to review with line coach Jim Panagos.

Must Show Improvement -- It does not get any easier for the Rutgers defensive secondary after losing fifth-year senior Lew Toler for the season Thursday night with a broken arm. Rutgers consistently lost 1-on-1 battles at cornerback in the first half of the season, and tackling against spread teams like Fresno State and SMU was inconsistent at best. Rutgers has excuses – extreme youth, a defensive coordinator doing it at the BCS level for the first time – but simply needs to play better in the second half.

Freshmen Ian Thomas, Barnwell and Cioffi are all reasons to get excited about the future of the position long term. All three are playing at an equal or higher level as freshmen than NFL draft picks Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and Marcus Cooper, but have a lot of developing to do. Getting a veteran presence like Gareef Glashen back in the bye week is huge. Flood may also need to look more deeply at Tejay Johnson and Delon Stephenson at cornerback.

How Things Finish -- In all reality, the loss to Louisville is crushing in terms of the program's goals for a BCS bid. The road only gets harder as Rutgers goes to the Big Ten and there will have to be a lot of luck for a BCS bid to take place this year.

Rutgers has plenty for which to play, and is good enough to see a 6-0 finish as possible. Rutgers will be an underdog against UCF, and needs to show improvement defensively against Houston and Cincinnati but is in position for a good record and a chance at another share of a conference title.

The Pinstripe Bowl against West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma State or Notre Dame is an attractive and realistic option. Plenty remains on the table, but Rutgers should finish strongly with the three toughest games of the season behind it.

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