Well… uhhh. I was trying to think of witty ways to start this recap of Rutgers Football’s 2016 Football season, but I decided to just approach this at face value. I’ve put on my pathologist hat and this recap is a postmortem (the coroner was the Big Ten Conference, of course).
[/pōstˈmôrdəm/ noun: an examination of a dead, in this case, college sports team, to determine cause of death.
Several things in the College Football world died this past season, the first being the season itself which fell victim to the sad, forward march of time that gave way to another stodgy, CFB-less off season. The other are things are specific to Rutgers, and this article will analyze all the aspects of Rutgers that died this season and provide causes of death.
Death #1- Respect for our program
Rutgers fans see it every day. On this site, on Twitter, Facebook, other sports sites, etc. Any dwindling respect people had of Rutgers coming off of our egregious season of Kyle Flood and player scandals in 2015 was demolished this season where, not only did Rutgers go 2-10, but we were shut out and blown out by:
Ohio State, 58-0
Michigan State, 49-0
Penn State, 39-0
You may have seen this gif from Reddit College Football. They too were surprised they were able to use it four times.
Cause of Death: No offense + Quickly tired defense. Our up-tempo, little room for the opposing team to breathe offense enacted by our new coaching staff also made it so our defense, which had genuine talent, also had no time to breathe. And not getting far on the drives themselves certainly didn’t boost team morale which is needed for any shot at winning or... scoring.
Death #2- Any level of reasonable mental health Chris Ash had
This poor man.
Cause of death: 58, 78, 49, 39.
Death #3- Our offense
Speaking of offense and not scoring. Our offense was one of the earliest deaths of the season. After New Mexico, we scored 9.6 points per game (and 4 of those were 0 mind you). We averaged 3.6 yards per rush for the whole season and average rushing yards per game was 144.9. As an added bonus, we only got two first downs in the entire Michigan game. A Michigan fan and Rutgers fan embraced in a hug when we finally got our first First Down. Our offense was... very bad and it legitimately died enough that we even lost our 7th offensive coordinator in 7 years, Drew Mehringer to Texas. (He was replaced by Jerry Kill though, so some resurrection may be happening)
Cause of death: Janarion Grant’s injury. Loss of Grant, our most explosive offensive playmaker since Leonte Carroo really hurt us. I don’t like when a team is carried by only a few players, but whatever helps us score points at the end of the day is what we need. Grant had some awesome returns early this season and even threw a touchdown pass! He’s quite the athlete and his loss really hurt Rutgers’ offensive playmaking ability. Additionally, not having a Quarterback who fit the new system the coaching staff imposed didn’t help. A misalignment of personnel and playbook ideals is a good summary of this issue.
Death #4- The Kyle Flood Era
This death might be worth celebrating for Rutgers and Big Ten fans (that’s not morbid, right?). The last few aspects of the Kyle Flood days were shoved out the door with this new staff. A new offensive style, new culture, new facilities, new mantras, and more all came about as a result of the new coaches. In addition, Kyle Flood era quarterbacks Chris Laviano, Mike Dare, and Hayden Rettig all transferred to programs where they would be a better fit, creating quite a bit of room for new power spread quarterbacks in the 2017 and future classes.
Cause of Death: Coaching and Athletic Department transition. Few programs have great first years after coaching changes due to “non-natural” reasons.
Death #5- Rutgers Football
This season was our worst in a decade. There is little to sugarcoat
Cause of Death: #1, #3, #4.
Resurrection from the… Ashes
(Yes, I did it again and will probably do this in all my articles until Rutgers gets another coach with an elemental last name like Forest or something in 20 years, and even then I’ll still think of puns related to that coach’s name)
Rutgers ended its 2016 season last in the Big Ten, but still managed to land a class in the lower 40’s. This is a decent-sized jump between Kyle Flood’s middling 50’s range classes. If we can keep this up, with bumps upward a bit every year, each fueled by bowl games and occasional upsets, then we will get competitive talent. Coaching ability is, in a way, yet to be seen as, again, there was a misalignment of personnel and playbook ideals this year, but Rutgers fans are eager to see what a class that these coaches have been working on for a full cycle can do.
There is little reason for Rutgers fans to look ahead and not be excited. The saying once you reach the bottom, there’s nowhere left to go, but up! is certainly what Rutgers fans are saying in our sleep. We have landed some top New Jersey players, have beautiful new practice fields coming by the end of the summer, and have adjusted our coaching staff with the addition of Jerry Kill as our new Offensive coordinator. I personally think Kill will develop our players in ways that Rutgers hasn’t see since Craig Ver Steeg. Additionally, Lester Erb has come in as our new Running backs coach. I know Iowa fans have very specific feelings on this hire, but for Rutgers I’m confident he’ll get the job done in the ways that we need due to his experience. With regards to players, there are two I think will have immediate impact: Johnathan Lewis, 3 star spread-style QB built like a tank, and Micah Clark, 4 star offensive tackle and incredible athlete with size and speed who Ash believes “could play both sides of the ball.” I’m excited for 2017, which I believe can be gauged as Chris Ash’s true first year as Head Coach of Rutgers Football.
Just know that Rutgers fans are excited, will continue to be excited, and remain excited for the rest of our Rutgers loving existence in spite of what happens in any season.