Rutgers at No. 14 Washington
Time – 2 p.m., Husky Stadium, Seattle, Wash.
TV/Radio – Pac 12 Network, 1450 AM WCTC, 710 AM WOR
Series – First Meeting
Last meeting – First Meeting
Coaches: Rutgers – Chris Ash (1st season, 0-0); Washington – Chris Petersen (11th season 107-24, 3rd at Washington, 15-12)
It's a New Day, Yes it is – Remember the last time Rutgers played football? Well, almost everything is different now. Pat Hobbs replaces Julie Hermann. Chris Ash replaces Kyle Flood. The spread replaces the pro style. Rutgers has a renovated weight room. Leonte Carroo is gone. Darius Hamilton is back. Eleven new coaches man the sidelines for the Scarlet Knights. Just about everything at Rutgers is different, and one can argue that it is all for the better. After a long offseason grind for both players and fans, let's just play already.
The Rise, Fall and Rise of Chris Laviano – Laviano says he is a different man than the one that left fans with an ugly feeling in 2015. Sometime between blowing off the media after April 23's spring game and the start of training camp, it clicked. Laviano said himself that Rutgers deserves a quarterback that is totally committed. Laviano committed himself to the weight room and a leadership role and, ask anyone else in the program, he succeeded. Until the “new” Laviano actually plays a game, it will be hard to judge his progress. Washington represents a more-than-challenging first test with a physical and experienced defense.
Smells Like Road Spirit – Rutgers returns to Seattle where the Scarlet Knights beat Washington State two years ago from Century Link Field. The program underwent massive changes since then, but the challenges of an opener 2,800 miles from home remain unchanged. Rutgers left campus yesterday afternoon for the transition to Pacific Standard Time in what is an 11 a.m. kickoff local time. Washington has enough of a home-field advantage with a 70,000-seat capacity. For a tune up, Rutgers ran through all of its pregame operations for an 11 a.m. scrimmage and walkthrough last Saturday.
Matchup to Watch
Rutgers LBs vs Washington RB Myles Gaskin
After a record-setting freshman season for the Huskies' most dangerous playmaker, Gaskin has to be eager for a run at three new starters in the Rutgers linebacker room. A redshirt freshman Trevor Morris, first-time middle linebacker Deonte Roberts and walk-on 215-pound Greg Jones have the brutal responsibility on their shoulders. Gaskin, who returns after 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, is going to hit the second level. The Rutgers linebackers have to be fast enough to the edge and strong enough in their new tackling style.
Scarlet Knights win if …
Chris Ash Called His Shot – With enough sarcasm to compete with Chandler Bing, Ash promised that there would be zero mistakes, growing pains or adjustments in his first game as a head coach and the debut of new offensive and defensive schemes. Well … the closer that is to reality, the stronger Rutgers' chances of a massive upset in game one of the Ash Era. There will be mistakes, many of them. If Rutgers wins, those mistakes are a few false starts and missed tackles. Rutgers can't afford busted coverage or read-option fumbles.
Huskies Win if …
They Smother The Spread – Washington boasts a strong, physical front seven. No matter what offense opponents run, Washington has the personnel to shut it down. Rutgers will try to knock the Huskies out of their comfort zone with pace of play, but that only works for so long. For Wisconsin to cover the spread, it starts with a powerful group of defensive linemen against Rutgers in a no-huddle spread for the first time.
WR Janarion Grant – The man that once scored seven ways in one game at Pasco (Fla.) High is way more than a bubble-screen weapon for the Rutgers power spread. While many see quarterback as the focal point of a spread offense, it's all about the playmakers and Grant is the most dynamic one on the Rutgers roster. Run, catch or other, Grant needs to make an impact.
Something to Prove
DT Darius Hamilton – Hamilton has nothing to prove to his teammates and fans after four stellar years of leadership, passion and effort, but he needs to prove to himself that he is healthy enough for a major role this season. He spoke with absolute confidence about his ability after an injury redshirt season, but until it happens in a real game, it's anyone's guess. Hamilton sat out the majority of the offseason and most scrimmage periods in training camp. Tomorrow is his first real game action since the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl (last year's Penn State fiasco doesn't count).
Looking to Build
LB Trevor Morris – Talk about an excellent offseason. Morris went from a developmental linebacker last season to a backup in the winter to starter by the spring game. Morris is the perfect example of a Rutgers player that seized a moment during coaching changes. Morris is not experienced at linebacker, nor was he an elite prospect in high school. But what Morris has is a competitive edge. He isn't afraid to hit or play with a mean streak.
Freshman to Watch
WR Dacoven Bailey– Look at Bailey as Grant's understudy in many ways. Remember when Grant took his first college touch 100 yards for a touchdown at Fresno State? Bailey is just as dangerous. With the amount of sweeps, read options and deep shots in this offense, look for Bailey to find touches tomorrow as long as he hugged his playbook appropriately and is ready for action.