Rutgers moved out of training camp and into full game week preparations for Washington State. After 22 full practices and more than 50 hours on the field in August, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood did everything in his power to prepare his team for Washington State, and the challenging 2014 schedule.
It’s season preview time
Team MVP -- Quarterback Gary Nova – No player is more valuable or irreplaceable on the 2014 roster. Rutgers needs Nova now more than ever.
Star of Camp: Offense -- Receiver Leonte Carroo – He made it look easy, consistently. There was no need to push Carroo too hard in camp, and his 10 games last year were just a taste.
Star of Camp: Defense -- Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton – This became clear immediately after the start of the second scrimmage. Without the disruptive Hamilton (three sacks in the first scrimmage), the Rutgers defense could not get to either quarterback and gave up six touchdowns.
Most Improved: Offense -- Receiver Andre Patton – The sophomore made up for an inconsistent spring with a huge head of steam at the start of training camp. He earned the right to start.
Most Improved: Defense -- Defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph – He brought a different level of consistency compared to a rough spring at nose tackle. Joseph made big plays in both scrimmages, and showcased a high level of athleticism for his size.
Making Noise -- Cornerback Dre Boggs – There is big-time potential here and even more athleticism. Get Boggs healthy, and put him in a position to make plays.
Three Reasons to Believe
1. The Fridge Factor -- Most of it is talk so far, but the impact by newly hired offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen is a big one in the Hale Center. With a season that hinges so much on the quarterback play, there could not be a better guy than Friedgen to elevate Nova’s game. Friedgen gets it, and the offense raves about his ideas. When it comes to kickoff Thursday, even the most pessimistic fans are going to see changes that they like.
2. Us against the World -- From external expectations to job security questions to recruiting, Rutgers sees this season as being here to show the world. Flood is in year three of a five-year deal, and has a roster full of players that truly love him. These guys want, very badly, to win for their head coach and their school. The leadership is significantly improved, and the Scarlet Knights want to punch opponents in the mouth after a distracting offseason.
3. Strong in the Trenches -- Rutgers is slightly undersized for the Big Ten, but the starters on both sides of the line are as good as they’ve been in a long time for Rutgers. The offensive line returns five starters, though there will need to be significant improvement from last season. The defensive line has nine legitimate weapons and is two deep at every position. Rutgers is best when it establishes the run and stuffs the other team. Both can be accomplished with the current personnel.
Three Real Concerns
1. The Gauntlet -- Welcome to big-time football. From Oct. 4 to Nov. 1, Rutgers faces a brutal four-game stretch that is as tough as anyone will see all season. Four likely top 25 teams in a row with half of them on the road, Rutgers has a tremendous challenge to simply stay healthy and energized. Rutgers sees consecutive games with Michigan, at Ohio State, at Nebraska and Wisconsin. From training camp alone, Rutgers battled injuries so how much tougher does that get to manage against some of the most physically powerful teams in the country?
2. Lack of Depth -- Specifically in the secondary and on the offensive line, Rutgers does not have a lot of experience or established depth. Lose one defensive back or a couple of offensive linemen and the season outlook changes quickly. Players like Keith Lumpkin, Betim Bujari, Nadir Barnwell and Carroo would be beyond challenging to replace.
3. Quarterback -- Nothing can accurately similar what it will be like for Nova as a senior. The success of this offense lives and dies largely based on his decision-making and leadership. Getting it done in practice is great, but that does not always translate to what happens in games. Nova, despite some brilliant games in his first three years, lost his starting job midway through each season based on decision making. Friedgen and graduate assistant Mike Teel have been huge in the meetings, but they are not the ones making the decision after the snap. How much has Nova improved? We’ll see. Whatever happens, he likely finishes his senior year as the career leader in both touchdowns and interceptions.
Now watch Scout.com’s prediction video, and feel free to discuss inside.