USA Today Images/Murray

The Early Glimpse: Rutgers 1-0, but a mess

IT WAS ONLY a week ago when Washington State seemed in prime position for a 2-0 start to the 2015 season. Start off with a facile home win over FCS Portland State, then head east and beat Rutgers, a team in complete disarray with criminal and campus issues regarding players and its coach, Kyle Flood.

Time sure is a dream crusher.

Instead, it's Rutgers looking to go 2-0 and send Washington State's program into more of an early season tailspin, if that's possible. The Cougars, reeling from last Saturday's 24-17 loss to Portland State, head to New Jersey to take on a Scarlet Knights team coming off an emphatic 63-13 win over FCS Norfolk State.

Rutgers remains a team with mess on its hands, but the Cougars are also a team with issues. On the flip side, Washington State can erase of some of the damage caused by the Vikings' loss with a good performance and win at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, win or lose, still have myriad problems.

No coach in Division I was sitting on a hotter seat heading into the season than Flood. Within a two-week period in August, five Rutgers players went on an alleged crime spree that included home invasions and assault. All were booted from the team prior to the Scarlet Knights' opener against Norfolk State. This coming after Flood himself was in the news, as the university is investigating him regarding impermissible contact with a university faculty member, allegedly over a player on the academic fence. Local columnists were calling for Flood's firing before the season opener.

It doesn't stop there, though this is minor in comparison: On Monday, Flood named Chris Laviano as Rutgers' starting quarterback against the Cougars. Laviano was suspended for the first half against Norfolk State after he was caught with a fake ID and had a curfew violation in late August. Laviano was one of five Rutgers players suspended for the first half, in addition to the five kicked off the team.

Even if the Cougars return to Pullman 0-2, they'll be able to hold their heads higher than the shameful Scarlet Knights.

What awaits Washington State on Saturday is unknown. Is Rutgers becoming "galvanized" as Flood suggested following the Norfolk State win and building an "us-against-the-world" mindset in regards to the off-field distractions? Or will the constant barrage of attention eventually rip this team apart?

The Cougars rightfully shouldn't care one whit. They have enough issues of their own to solve, but at least they're problems confined to the football field.

This is WSU's second East coast trip under Mike Leach. WSU opened the 2013 season (and the Leach era) at Auburn, losing 31-24.

About Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights started the week with news that Laviano would start at quarterback over Hayden Rettig. Both played effectively in the win over Norfolk State, but Laviano was more electric, going 4-for-4 for 138 yards and three touchdowns during his second-half stint.

Laviano, a 6-foot-3 third-year sophomore, scarcely played a year ago, getting some mop up duty in a half dozen games. Laviano didn't play in the 2014 season opener against Washington State. During his Monday presser, Flood wouldn't reveal reasons as to picking Laviano over Rettig, other than to say "ultimately, I have to look at the body of work and look at what gives our team the best chance at being 1-0."

Another player suspended for the first half made a splash after halftime when Leonte Carroo caught three passes for 129 yards, all for touchdowns, during the third quarter. The 6-1 senior is Rutgers' most prolific receiver, as last year Carroo caught 55 passes for 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns. Carroo worked over the Cougs a year ago with six catches for 151 yards.

Rutgers, a mild upset winner over the Cougars in Seattle, went on to a surprising 8-5 record and a win over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Rutgers has some firepower in its backfield. WSU will remember Paul James, who ran for 173 yards and three touchdowns against the Cougars. But Josh Hicks was the Scarlet Knights' main man against Norfolk State, running for 118 yards and two touchdowns. James is expected to start against WSU, but Flood has said that Hicks, Robert Martin and Justin Goodwin all figure in the running back mix.

Defensively, Rutgers figures as one of the softer units the Cougars face this season. The Scarlet Knights lost six starters off a defense that gave up a school-record 5,756 yards a year ago. Rutgers' secondary is in flux in part because of team expulsions.

Rutgers allowed minus-3 rushing yards against Norfolk State, but is said to have plenty of issues in its secondary. Some Scarlet Knights to watch on D are senior lineman Darius Hamilton, who has 10 1/2 career sacks and junior linebacker Steve Longa, the team's active leader in tackles fir 229

Playing youth isn't an issue for Flood. Rutgers used seven true freshman against Norfolk State, including three cornerbacks.

One small notable note that could rear its head against the Cougars is Rutgers' propensity to block kicks. Since 2009, the Scarlet Knights have blocked 42 kicks, the most by any NCAA team during that time frame.

The series: The second game between the two schools, completing a home-and-home contract. Last year, Rutgers scored 17 fourth-quarter points to rally for a 41-38 win over the Cougars in Seattle. Paul James scored the game-winner on a 3-yard touchdown run with 3:24 left in the game. Connor Halliday completed 40 ot 56 passes for 532 yards and five touchdowns in the loss. Among 2015 returning receivers, River Cracraft caught eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. However, it was Cracraft's fumble of a punt return near midfield with seven minutes remaining that set up the Scarlet Knights' game-winning drive.

Familiar faces: There are no Washingtonians on Rutgers roster, or former Cougars on the coaching staff.

Notable note: This is Washington State's 14th trip to the Eastern time zone since 1980, although it is only the fourth since 1996. The Cougars are 2-11 in those East coast road games, winning at Temple 38-34 in 1996 and Tennessee 52-24 in 1988. During the past 35 years, the Cougars have previously made Eastern road trips to Auburn, Ohio State, Temple, Pittsburgh and Tennessee.

Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

RELATED STORY: THE INORDINATE IMPORTANCE OF RUTGERS AND WYOMING

 


Cougfan Top Stories