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Postmortem 2015: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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“The team was not the same after the spike on fourth down.” -Unknown Rutgers Fan

Photo: Jason Towlen/Staff Photographer

Ladies and gentlemen of The Empire. I write to you from the sunny shores of a faraway land, sipping on Mai Tais and reviewing some contract bullshit. Yes, I have succumbed to the dreaded "day job" that has plagued so many bloggers of yore, so this may be my last missive.

Fear not though! I have trained (aka Tweeted at a bunch of times) a valiant replacement! Wise beyond her years and talented with the trombone, she longs to dig the earth for ancient beasts and digs through Twitter to bravely troll Penn State fans. She is a football die hard and a proud daughter of Rutgers. You know her from the comments section, you love her from Twitter.

Ladies and gents, I present our new Rutgers editor: The Illustrious ZuzuRU!

(Please hold your applause for the comments section.)

Take it away Madame Blogger!

Thanks, Ray!

Our recapitulation of the 2015 Rutgers football season starts in summer 2015. This is the time where college football fans all over start to really feel the anticipation of watching their team, hopefully, making all of the necessary changes and adjustments to bring home a (or another) winning season. Obviously, the nature of the game does not allow this for all teams, but if you had a winning season previously you hope you can emulate that again, maybe with even fewer losses. If you had a losing season you at least hope to have more wins, and go to a bowl game. There is no college football fan who desires a season lesser than the one prior. Rutgers shocked the Big Ten conference in its inaugural season after finishing 8-5 with a 40-21 win in the Quick Lane Bowl over ACC opponent North Carolina.

Rutgers fans had every reason to believe we would have another winning season and go to bowl game for the tenth time in ten years. We were returning our star player, senior and team captain Leonte Carroo, a fantastic wide receiver who chose to forego the NFL draft in order to return to Rutgers for his senior season. Something really exciting for fans was that our LSU transfer quarterback, Hayden Rettig was finally eligible to play. The graduation of Gary Nova was a godsend to many, and even though he brought us great success in his time as our starting quarterback, the Rutgers fan base looked ahead to consistency at the position. On defense, we still had Steve Longa at linebacker, our lead tackler coming off of 93 tackles in the previous season, and Darius Hamilton our star defensive tackle, and team captain, as well. We had many indications we would be successful and so, come summer, we were riding high with excitement for our second Big Ten season. I, personally, was so excited that I even wrote a gif-riddled piece back in June on how much I love RU. Rutgers fans couldn’t wait to get through the next few months and show the Big Ten that we do belong in this conference.

Rough Start

As the summer came to a close there was some news that our head coach, Kyle Flood, had had "impermissible" contact with a faculty member with regards to a player. The details of this contact were initially muddled, but what actually happened was straight out of a bad comedy movie. Even though these details would manifest in the next few weeks, our head football coach faced possible suspension, even firing before our season even started! Still though, Rutgers fans were hopeful the issue would be sorted out. This kind of stuff happened everywhere in the college football world, right? Next round of news was that five Rutgers players were suspended for the first half of the season opener due to curfew violations. These players included quarterback Chris Laviano, and Leonte Carroo. This wasn’t so bad, just the first half of an easy game, right? No biggie.

Not even a week later, five other Rutgers players were suspended, and then eventually dismissed from the team after being arrested and charged with assault and a home invasion which occurred back in April. One of these players, Nadir Barnwell, was the very student which Kyle Flood improperly spoke with the faculty member about. The reason was that Barnwell was one of the better players on our secondary, but he was academically ineligible to play due to failing the course this faculty member taught (and the course he failed leads me to an entirely separate rant which I will not get into here). WELL, now he was arrested and dismissed from the team along with a huge chunk of our secondary. Things were not looking good for Rutgers Football and we were barely through the first week of September and hadn't even made it to the first game.

Positivity remained, however, and Rutgers fans still had Carroo, Rettig and a huge 63-13 win over Norfolk State. Unfortunately, Rettig, who only started for the first half of that game, would not play again until the fourth quarter of the blowout by Ohio State on October 24th. Cries of "#FreeRettig" from the fan base were ever prevalent throughout the season and we were never given a true reason for Rettig not starting. It was always why Laviano was. This just wasn’t enough and Flood was losing supporters, who were eager to see Rettig’s abilities, with each passing game. Of course though, I skipped a lot in between Norfolk State and the Ohio State game.

Lest we forget about the absolutely heartbreaking loss against Washington State, a game we were "supposed to win" having played them away, and beat 41-38 the season before. Washington State came to "R" house to give us a taste of what that felt like. That game was stellar for Janarion Grant, setting a new Rutgers record for all-purpose yards gained (339 yards) and it really hurt that his efforts could not be rewarded with a big ‘ol "W." The Washington State offense blitzed right through our emaciated secondary which was weakened by the arrests. With this non-conference loss, Rutgers was now in a place where it had to be even more careful when it came to securing at least five more wins. There was absolutely zero room for losses at games that could/should have been won.

More Scandal

Positivity caps were kept on. We only played two games! We still had many more and the next game was the one that Rutgers fans wanted to win most and--OH GOD WHAT NOW?!? Head Coach Kyle Flood had been suspended for three games, and our star offensive player was suspended indefinitely in connection to an altercation between himself and two women that occurred after the Washington State game (charges were later dismissed). This all culminated in an embarrassing 28-3 loss to Penn State. I was there for that game with an itty bitty all brass piece of the Rutgers Marching Band. It was an awful experience watching our team fight as hard as they did and still have no points to show for it (and it rained). It was also tough watching former Rutgers commit Saquon Barkley run all over us. A positive (or maybe just neutral) result of this game was Interim Head Coach Norries Wilson’s "unique" press conference. His bizarre, but straightforward style gave some RU fans hope in terms of what he might bring to the next two games he would coach.

Sadly, many Rutgers fans lost all hope for the season after that game, which was truly an awful performance compared to the year before. However, the next few weeks weren’t all bad. We won our Homecoming for the first time in four years with a 27-14 win over Kansas on a beautiful day. This was one of the few nice treats in this disaster of a season. Though, this over-exaggerated article claiming Rutgers and Kansas were the worst P5 teams written over at ESPN certainly sucked leading into this game.

On October 7th, three days before out next game, Leonte Carroo had been reinstated… by our still suspended head coach… Whatever. Our season already had jokes. Yay for Carroo! Next up was Michigan State. This was the game that gave the remaining followers of Rutgers football hope and then steamrolled demolished decimated destroyed it all in one moment.

The Point of No Return

The spike on fourth down… I don’t even have to link it anywhere here. You all know what it was, you all laughed at it, and you all expected that of all the schools that would do something like that, it would be Rutgers. There was so much hope lost that night. I will not say that, had Rutgers not spiked the ball on fourth down, we could have scored, gone into overtime, and possibly upset Michigan State. I will say, however, that we'll never know what could have been because it did happen and that moment will forever pain Rutgers fans. Winning that game would have been the panacea for our season, but it instead served as another chopped off limb to our figurative Knight, only this one wasn’t saying, "tis but a flesh wound." It was saying "help."

This was the last game Norries Wilson was coach for.

Attempt at "Normalcy"

Kyle Flood was back and, with a 2-3 team at the time, the remaining Rutgers fans were just hoping for 4 more wins. At the time, it didn’t seem that ridiculous and we looked ahead to getting those four wins with Indiana, Nebraska, Army, and Maryland. "If we just go bowling this season, all will be well!" is what Rutgers fans kept saying to ourselves on our way to work, while at work, at bars, at diners, in our sleep, at school, at the mall, in the shower, on the toilet, while walking our dogs, and during any other daily facets of our lives.

A CONFERENCE WIN AT INDIANA WOO! This win felt fantastic because of the 25 point comeback that led to it (matching our comeback at Maryland in 2014). I was at that game with the band too and experiencing that first half misery transform into elation by the end was something I’ll never forget. I can only imagine the reactions of the Rutgers and Indiana fans alike who may have turned the game off and checked back at the end. This 55-52 win was a little high-scoring to give us much confidence in our defense, but it was an in-conference W, nonetheless. Just three more wins for us to get to our bowl game…

We miserably lost to Ohio State on Primetime television... But it wasn’t a shut out! AhahahaHAHAHA! WE GOT TO FIRE OUR CANNON. At this point in the game, the remaining Rutgers fans consisted of the band and about 30 students, at least from what I could see. (Though, Ohio State stole our colors, so I could not really tell who was who, but judging by the stadium-wide "O –H –I – O", I’d say it was pretty clear what scarlet-clad fan base remained). We cheered our faces off when we scored that single touchdown. I had never cheered so hard for something so mediocre in my life.

And yes… that was the kind of thing Rutgers fans grew joyous for in this past season.

The next few weeks came and went. Loss at Wisconsin, loss at Harbaugh…..

*heaviest of all sighs*

Loss at home vs. Nebraska. Our bowl hopes were shattered. Despair, anger, and confusion seeped into the Rutgers fan base. Was this was really going to be our first bowl-less season in ten years?

A Glimmer of Hope

Last season, the bowl projections indicated that there would not be enough 6-6 teams to fill all of the ridiculously numerous bowl games, and that a few 5-7 teams would be eligible for bowl bids. The 5-7 teams can go to bowls based on their APR, or Academic Progress Rate. Well… RUTGERS TEAM SMART, RUTGERS TEAM HAS CHANCE TO BOWL GAME!!! However shameful a 5-7 bowl berth would have felt, Rutgers fans were reinvigorated once more, for what would be the last time of the season. Just two more wins and we could still go to a bowl game! We would certainly beat Army and Maryland.

We beat Army (which, game aside, was a lovely experience by the way and you all should go to West Point at some time in your lives).

After this win, Rutgers was 4-7 and poised to get that fifth win over Maryland, our fellow Big Ten newcomer who we beat in our inaugural Big Ten season. They were also a team that was, if you can imagine, doing worse than us. They were head coach-less sad turtles.

Cue Senior Day for all of us Rutgers seniors associated with the Game Day experience. Cue the last game of the roughest season Rutgers fans had experienced in years. As the day progressed, it became cloudy and rainy, but weather would be the least of our troubles. There have been many games like that in Piscataway. The game was going well and we were up 31-13. at halftime No WAY we could lose right? Well… I’m sure that’s what Indiana’s fans thought, as well was what Maryland thought last year when we came back by 25 to beat them on their senior day.

Nevermind...

I won’t go into the details of the Terps’ life-destroying comeback because, for reasons, much of that game is a blur. But I will say they just gave back exactly what we gave them last year. I mean hey, we’re supposed to be rivals, right?

Rutgers football’s most disastrous season in years was finally over. We finished 4-8, and this season, for some terrible reason, erased the prior season for every non-Rutgers fan. It was like the memory erasing stick in Men in Black. "Everyone please look here. Thank you. Rutgers is a bad team, and they have performed like they did in this season for the past ten years." The rest of the Big Ten felt Rutgers Football finished exactly as we should have, and this really hurt, because yes, different conferences or not, Rutgers fans ARE used to winning seasons. And even though it was one year, we became used to a winning season for our newer, tougher conference, as well. Yet there we stood in late November 2015 with no bowl game and no respect…

And no football coach?? No Athletic Director???

*GASP*

A Clean Slate for Rutgers

Could it be? Did Rutgers University and President Robert Barchi actually make a decision intended to move Rutgers Athletics forward? We Rutgers fans couldn’t tell yet because Rutgers had not yet gotten the replacements for—Oh hey look, a new Athletic Director! Patrick Hobbs, a lawyer and Dean from Seton Hall with expertise in fundraising, intelligence in money, a passion for sports, and does not have "foot IN mouth disease" (hah). Hobbs quickly proved to be full of vision for Rutgers' future, smart, charismatic, and he instantly connected with fans, alumni, and donors, who had been waiting for Julie Hermann to be replaced since she took the position. The next step, and one that had Rutgers fans a lot little more on edge was the search for a head football coach.

Who, in our new era of football, could be given the helm in attempting to awaken Rutgers as the sleeping giant it potentially is? There were many names floating around including former Rutgers head coach, Greg Schiano who is responsible for digging Rutgers out of obscurity, Al Golden, Jersey guy and fired Miami Coach, and some coordinator from Ohio State named Chris Ash. I will skip the details of what happened next ,all of which could make for a separate, very positive "The Origin of the Future of Rutgers Football" article.

Rutgers landed Chris Ash, Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator as its Head Coach on December 7, 2015, about a week after Head Coach Kyle Flood was fired. Ash's introductory press conference was nothing short of outstanding and Rutgers fans were hooked on his vision for our beloved program from day one. Ash's vision is focused on creating a great culture, keeping Jersey players home, and "being better tomorrow than we are today." Ash still had work to do in Columbus, but most of us saw that as a sign of loyalty and the drive to finish what you start. All noble attributes in a head coach we were eager to have.

AP Photo/Mel Evans

AP Photo/Mel Evans

Coach Ash has made great moves in filling his staff including getting Houston's Wide Receivers Coach's Drew Mehringer as Offensive Coordinator, and his former coach Jay Niemann as Defense Coordinator. Niemann's defense at Northern Illinois held Ohio State to its second lowest scoring output of their season. Drew Mehringer, of course, is a protégé of Tom Hermann, former offensive coordinator at Ohio State. Mehringer's plans for offense will consist of a power spread suited to Rutgers' strengths. Ash even snagged Purdue's Running Backs Coach, Jafar Williams (one of the few strengths of Purdue was in their running backs). Feels good to know that the same position at Rutgers is more desirable than at another Big Ten school. Sorry Purdue. All in all, this new staff has Rutgers Fans very excited for the 2016 season, and after this past one... We need it. There are fans who have said they've bought season tickets for the first time years because they feel that there is something special about the #AshEra.

Fuuuutuuurreee

Our future is bright and with all of these positive changes, our excitement for the upcoming season has already commenced months before the summer (Although,maybe it's because our basketball team is terrible). I predict that our Spring Game, recently announced for April 23rd at 7 p.m., will have its largest crowd ever. Rutgers fans will be eager to see our new exciting offense and Chris Ash's defense. We cannot wait to see what an Ohio State man is going to bring to Rutgers. We are absolutely thrilled to have a coach attempting to emulate such a program and you just cannot go wrong. We just need the players, the support, the time, and patience from everyone involved. New athletics facilities are even on the way and actually supported by the state.

On behalf of all Rutgers fans, I'd like to thank this terrible season for creating a better future for Rutgers. In ecology, there is a concept in which a forest fire destroys everything old and makes way for new growth. It was time for a fire, in this case a dumpster fire, and Ash to bring some new growth to Rutgers. From the Ash, Rutgers will rise. The Birthplace of College Football might finally be entering an era when we can truly own that title. Sure, it's late, but better late than never, something about late blooming flowers, yadda yadda , we're gonna be good at football.