Film Room: Rutgers at Washington State

After second and third viewings of the 41-38 Rutgers victory in Seattle, looks at some of the story lines on film. We look at what Rutgers did well, what needs to improve this week and hand out game balls.

Quick Thoughts

1. Big Start -- The first play from scrimmage was a strong call by Ralph Friedgen, but an even better read and execution by quarterback Gary Nova. Nova’s eyes went first to identifying where the Washington State safety was heading. The second that safety help went after Paul James (who stayed in to help with protection) instead of Leonte Carroo wide left, Nova read the play and hit him in stride for a 78-yard touchdown.

2. Quarterback Evaluation -- Nova had a solid game, but do not anoint him as the “new Nova” based off of one game. Remember how well things went against Fresno State? Credit Nova for digging down deep and making the throws needed to win the game. Timing was the problem on his interception, but was one of his strengths in other snaps. The fourth-down conversion to Matt Flanagan was perfectly timed, as was his laser to Janarion Grant on third down. Mechanics were improved, but decision-making still needs to get better. A senior quarterback needs to recognize that the timing is off on that interception at the 5-yard line. He made other risky throws into double or triple coverage that could have gone the other way. Nova had a good game, but by no means a great one.

3. Coverage Issues -- Seniors Lorenzo Waters and Kevin Snyder both had trouble against the pass, which was a concern last year as well. Waters had issues after the catch where he would go for the big hit instead of the clean tackle. The misses cost Rutgers yardage. Washington State attacked Snyder’s area of the zone up the middle four times, all for completions.

4. Back to the Well -- Rutgers continues to use last year’s “ace up the sleeve” play in using Carroo on a fade down the right sidelines when a big first down is needed. They ran the play twice against Washington State, and one set up a key field goal. Fans remember this play from Arkansas, SMU and Temple last year. It looks like this one is here to stay, and for good reason.

5. No Mishaps on Special Teams -- Long snapper Alan Lucy and holder Mike Bimonte were perfect in their Rutgers debuts. Replacing the reliable Rob Jones and J.T. Tartacoff, the pair set up kicker Kyle Federico perfectly for 11 of the team’s 41 points.

The Offense

The game plan here was simple and effective – spread the love and wear down Washington State. Rutgers designed 28 passing plays to 42 rush attempts, which prevented the Washington State defense from keying on any specific playmaker. Rutgers coordinator Ralph Friedgen took what WSU was willing to give. The Cougars took away Tyler Kroft as an option, so Friedgen looked to Janarion Grant and John Tsimis as supplements for Carroo. James stayed fresh and maximized his rushing attempts thanks to Desmon Peoples, who bounced back with a solid showing after poor timing on Nova’s interceptions.

Overall Grade -- B+ -- Rutgers limited mental errors and got a consistent performance from its experienced offensive line. This was a Big Ten style pound-em game, but Rutgers should have stuck with the run longer during the periods in which Nova struggled. When they truly needed big plays, the offense came through. Credit Nova and Grant with two critical third-down conversions. Friedgen caught WSU napping multiple times, including Michael Burton’s big play.

The Defense

Joe Rossi brought the right game plan to Seattle. The 38 points and 532 passing yards may argue otherwise, but the Rutgers defense simply needed to execute better. The plan was to force Connor Halliday to win in the short game. Rossi played three or four safeties on most plays from scrimmage, significantly limiting the role of linebacker Quentin Gause. Rutgers blitzed to force quick throws from Halliday with safety help between the receivers and the first-down markers. Halliday only got in the zone when Rutgers started missing tackles and getting beat in mis-matches. Rutgers missed 14 total tackles in the game.

Overall Grade -- C+ -- The game plan was a solid one, but the execution left more to be desired. Rutgers cannot afford to miss that many tackles when it starts to see better defenses in the Big Ten. For the first game of the year, mental errors were held to a minimum with the exception of Julian Pinnix-Odrick’s personal foul. Rutgers showed improvement against its 2013 Achilles heel – the bubble screen. Washington State attempted it three times for a total of 13 yards. Rutgers over pursued a pump-fake on a screen, however, that set up a huge gain in WSU’s first drive.

Giving up 38 points is not as bad as it looks against Washington State. The Cougs eclipsed 38 points in six games last year. Rutgers also caught breaks from WSU, which dropped two easy touchdowns in the game that forced field goals each time. The heavy zone look in the secondary protected the inexperience back there.

Game Balls

Our game balls go out to, not the biggest playmakers of the game, but those who deserve more credit on film than the statistics indicate.

1. Fullback Michael Burton – This was a gritty and powerful performance. Both James and Peoples had excellent games on the ground, and the fullback’s blocking ability were a big reason why. James ran directly behind Burton on his first of three touchdown runs. Burton made the most of his offensive touches, and was key in giving Nova time in the pocket. Burton prevented a TFL on James’ 56-yard score heading into halftime.

2. Defensive end Kemoko Turay – In case you’ve been living under a rock, you already know about Turay’s potential. He showed why in his Rutgers debut. His athleticism single-handedly altered what Washington State tried to do offensively. His sack on third down in the final minute was huge. It will be interesting to see how good he gets when he masters his role on defense.

3. Cornerback Anthony Cioffi – It is not easy to sit on the bench when you were a starter for key portions of training camp. Cioffi stayed alert the whole game, and came up huge on his fumble recovery. Cioffi came as the gunner from the right side of the field, and out-muscled three Washington State players as the only Scarlet Knight in the dog pile.

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