WSU opener: Getting to know Rutgers offense

THE COUGS' SEASON opening opponent, Rutgers, looks this spring to be keeping their 2014 offensive plans close to the vest. New Rutgers OC and quarterbacks coach Ralph Friedgen, the former Maryland head man and a longtime renowned offensive mind, says he won't make any major changes to the Rutgers attack. But there's a caveat there…

Friedgen has also said he won't truly settle on an offensive philosophy until he gets to know the current personnel better this spring.

All things being equal, the guess here is that Rutgers is going to look to run more than they pass in the '14 season. That could change if a quarterback suddenly emerges but the evidence pre-spring there is lacking.

The incumbent, Gary Nova, is not a fan favorite. He'll be a senior this season, but he has 39 interceptions to go along with his 28 career starts. Head man Kyle Flood has made it plain this offseason that the QB job is wide open. The question is if anyone behind Nova is capable of seizing it.

Mike Bimonte, Blake Rankin and Chris Laviano are all likely to get long looks this spring. They have a combined total of zero snaps experience on Saturdays. Friedgen has a good track record in developing QBs, (Boomer Esiason and Frank Reich both came out of Friedgen's tutelage at Maryland,) but it's more likely one of them will need a season under Friedgen before they can be expected to flourish.

THE RUNNING BACK picture is somewhat clearer. Rutgers has two potentially good backs in Paul James and Justin Goodwin. James, though, will have to stay healthy. He rushed for 573 yards in the first four games last season before suffering a leg injury. And Rutgers proceeded to finish 100th nationally in rushing.

Goodwin showed some flashes last season but lacked consistency. Savon Huggins went from starter to third on the depth chart last year and will need to open some eyes this spring to get back on an upward glide path.

UP FRONT, Rutgers returns its entire starting line from 2013. But Friedgen and new line coach Mitch Browning have their work cut out for them here.

In addition to the poor rushing rank from last year, Rutgers tied for 102nd in sacks allowed.

Guard Kaleb Johnson, a four-year starter, figures to be the focal point. Win the battle here and the Cougs could make it a long day for Rutgers on offense.

Ideally, this spring would see younger players on the o-line, such as Dorian Miller and J.J. Denman, to push some of the returning starters. If not, large-scale improvement would seem unlikely.

ONE RECEIVING THREAT the Cougs will have to account for in any case is tight end Tyler Kroft.

Rutgers finished No. 62 in the nation in passing yardage last season and Kroft was the biggest reason why. He led Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season.

The problem is that none of the wide receivers had more than 573 hashes.

This spring for the wideout corps in large part will be about trying to find a deep threat. Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt are both gone and it will almost certainly fall to Leonte Carroo. Ruhann Peele has lots of potential but is unproven, as are Carlton Agudosi (6-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).

THERE'S A LOT of unknowns here on offense. But Friedgen has a strong reputation. And while Friedgen is keeping things under wraps, he has generally trended towards a pro-style set that relies heavily on the quarterback.

If he finds the right combinations, i.e. matching an offense to his existing players' strengths, Rutgers could be better than expected come Aug. 28.

If not, WSU should have every opportunity to win the game on defense.

Of course, that's on paper.

WSU will need to effectively crash and disrupts the Rutgers o-line, one expected to be experience-laden. If they can do that, the rest should fall into place for the Cougs.

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