Sam Hellman / Scarlet Report
Know Your Foe: The Rutgers Edition
Sam Hellman: I expect a slow start and growing pains but when Rutgers figures things out, the offense will be dangerous. This is your classic power-spread attack, with a lot of influence from Houston and Ohio State. Look for powerful runs to open up the pass. This is a no-huddle, all shotgun offense. Look for plenty of read option with both tailbacks and receivers. The challenge for Rutgers is four years worth of pro-style players moving to a spread scheme. At a lot of positions, quarterback included, Rutgers does not have the ideal skill set. Chris Laviano can do a lot of things at quarterback, but he can't be a playmaker in the run game. Rutgers has nothing but unproven talent at receiver after one of the school's all-time greats, Leonte Carroo, carried things last year. Rutgers returns four offensive linemen, so I don't expect a hostile road environment to be an issue. At running back, Rutgers has three or four guys that could rotate. The one to watch is Josh Hicks, who is a formal bowl MVP and an NFL talent when he is on his game. Senior receiver Janarion Grant is an All-American returner but he is unproven as a receiver. Look for him to be a weapon as both a runner and receiver.
SH: The first thing you notice about the Rutgers defense is its lack of depth. Rutgers has multiple walk-ons on its two-deep, including 215-pound Greg Jones as a starting outside linebacker. Of the six linebackers on the two-deep, they combine for a total of one career start at the college level. The Rutgers secondary was one of the most abused in the country last year and three of four starters return from that group.
What Rutgers lacks in experience, it makes up for in athleticism and scheme. This is a fast, very fast defense at many positions.The defensive secondary finally has some experience, and should be much better under a new scheme. Rutgers ran off-man coverage for fear of deep balls last season. They're now a quarters defense with a focus on press man coverage. There are two keys to the defense. The first comes up front where former five-star defensive tackle Darius Hamilton anchors a veteran unit. Rutgers has to find a way to create pressure with its front four or suffer the consequences of the press man. The second key comes at strongside linebacker, where Jones and Najee Clayton will be playmakers. Look at Darron Lee at Ohio State last year and that's what Rutgers wants.
SH: Rutgers will be one of the best return teams in college football. Rutgers could also be one of the weakest field-goal and punting teams in the country. I'll start with the good news. Grant is a monster kick returner, and he's a lock for All-American if coaches have the stones to kick his way. His first college touch came at Fresno State in 2012. It went 100 yards for a touchdown. Rutgers has a few other real return threats, including true freshman Dacoven Bailey.
In the kicking game, David Bonagura beat out Jared Smolar in a battle of walk-ons. Bonagura was a backup for the last few seasons before he became a starter by default in spring. To be honest, he wasn't a very good kicker in spring, but he improved with practice and weight room work. He is solid from shorter ranges but I don't know if you can trust him when you start talking 40 or 45 yards. At punter, Michael Cintron has a super powerful leg but he's new to the punting game. Consistency has been his issue. His accuracy and get-off are areas for improvement.
SH: Everything is impressive early, but it's easy to look good when you're undefeated. Rutgers was in desperate need for a change this offseason, and anyone will look better compared to the debacle that was 2015. To the people that have been around a program for a while, Ash has a lot of similarities to Greg Schiano. He's no nonsense, all business. Ash isn't a coordinator that lucked his way into a job after a few good years. He's planned for a decade for his first head-coaching job and learned lessons from greats like Urban Meyer and Barry Alvarez. Ash looks like the savior so far, but let's let him coach a game or two before we anoint him.
As far as his staff, it mirrors Ash in a lot of way. There are a lot of young, unproven coaches. Most of the coaching veterans on his staff have Ohio State or Wisconsin ties. As far as his coordinators, Ash hired Drew Mehringer, who was Tom Hermann's protege at Houston. What Mehringer lacks in age and experience, he makes up for in time spent with Meyer and Hermann. Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann was once Ash's head coach. They see eye to eye on a lot of issues.
SH: The average Rutgers fan is just happy to see a more respectable program in action. Not any see Rutgers pulling off an upset here. For Rutgers fans, they just want to see progress. They want to see the Chris Ash plan in action. They want a reason to believe. Chris Ash said it on day one, this isn't an overnight fix at Rutgers. No one expects last year's 4-8 team to magically win a conference title this year. If you ask the average Rutgers fan, they want to see a team that plays hard, limits mistakes and covers the spread in week one. The wins will come, but this might be too much too fast.
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