A decade ago, Rutgers was on top of the college football world — at least for a week. In 2006, Rutgers started 9-0, punctuated by a Jeremy Ito field goal to beat undefeated Louisville on a Thursday night in November. Ten years later, Rutgers is back to being a cellar dweller, only now it’s in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights turn to former Ohio State assistant Chris Ash to turn things around in Piscataway. One thing’s certain, though, it’s not going to be a quick fix in one of football’s toughest divisions.
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Previewing Rutgers’ Offense for 2016
New offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer faces a challenge in moving Rutgers to an up-tempo power spread attack: How does he get his roster, which was recruited for the pro-style offense that the program has relied on for nearly two decades, to adapt quickly?
The change in style is a dramatic one, particularly at quarterback, where a dual-threat is essential to what the 28-year-old Mehringer wants out of the position. Chris Laviano, coming off an erratic first year as a starter, and backup Hayden Rettig are more scramblers than runners. So the overhaul may require a longer adjustment period than Mehringer would prefer. Rettig and Laviano will have competition this fall, as TCU graduate transfer Zach Allen announced his intention to transfer to Rutgers in early June.
The four returning starters on the offensive line face an equally demanding test because of the faster tempo and the no-huddle approach that runs contrary to what they have done in the past. Conditioning has been geared toward getting them leaner and in better shape.
There’s also a glaring lack of playmakers on offense in the passing game. Wide receivers Janarion Grant, Andre Patton and Carlton Agudosi combined for 86 catches for 1,097 yards last year, but none has ever been the go-to guy, and depth is a major concern on the unit. Returning running backs Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, who combined for 1,437 yards and 10 TDs as sophomores last season, are a dynamic 1-2 punch. Both have 1,000-yard potential.
Previewing Rutgers’ Defense for 2016
, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
With the return of fifth-year senior tackle Darius Hamilton — out last season with an injury — the defense gets back its best player and unquestioned leader. The front four will be the strength of the defense, with proven veterans Julian Pinnix-Odrick and Quanzell Lambert at the end spots. The X-factor is Kemoko Turay, a supremely talented pass rusher who can’t seem to shake his injury issues.
All three linebackers have to be replaced, and that’s a concern because the only returnee on the unit with significant playing time is Deonte Roberts, who has made one start in his career. Isaiah Johnson will look to stake a claim to the middle linebacker position, but last year the senior couldn’t crack the lineup of a defense that yielded 5,544 yards (second-most in school history) in 12 games. New head coach Chris Ash looked to address the unit’s issues with five linebacker recruits, three of whom were mid-January enrollees.
After getting roughed up, the secondary should be improved through experience, with cornerbacks Isaiah Wharton and Blessuan Austin taking their lumps as true freshmen. Kiy Hester, Davon Jacobs, Anthony Cioffi and Saquan Hampton give Rutgers depth and experience at safety after opponents passed for 3,311 yards a year ago. Jay Niemann will oversee all of it as the new defensive coordinator.
Previewing Rutgers’ Specialists for 2016
After returning three kickoffs for TDs and a punt for another score last season, Grant has established himself as one of the country’s most dangerous returners. Fifth-year senior Tim Gleeson is the frontrunner to win the open punting job. The placekicking duties appear headed to junior walk-on David Bonagura, who is looking to replace four-year starter Kyle Federico. Bonagura has yet to appear in a college game.
Ash, the former co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, now gets a chance to see how the other half of the Big Ten lives. While he inherited plenty of experience, there isn’t an abundance of talent on the roster, and the schedule — perhaps the toughest in school history — is unforgiving. Overhauling the offense figures to take some time since it currently lacks the dual-threat quarterback required to operate the power spread. Defensively, Rutgers was a mess last year and looks to be only marginally better on paper. A repeat of last year’s 4–8 season would not be surprising.