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B1G 2017// Rutgers Scarlet Knights Cocktail Party Preview

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A grounded, but still passionate Rutgers 2017 preview.

Dimitri Rodriguez

Hello Big Ten fans, Rutgers fans, general college football fans, and others. This week kicks off OTE’s Big Ten 2017 Team previews— 14 weeks (not including a break) dedicated to all B1G teams going in reverse order of how the teams finished in 2016. So there should be no surprise that Rutgers is up first. This accepting attitude, however, does not mean that I, Zuzu, ultimate Rutgers fan, is any less optimistic for the future than I always am. I will concede though that, based on the Spring Game (which I didn’t watch, but On the Banks did an excellent recap of it here), this year will probably be another marked by growing pains. However, I still believe that we will have a steady improvement that commences this season, and serve as the start of where Rutgers fans want to be. Where do Rutgers fans want to be, you ask? I’ll get to that later. But first... can we tawlk about last season? Let’s tawlk about last season.

About last season

I should have saved the neuralizer I used in last year’s Rutgers preview. Look, I understand that last season was... bad. But just realize what Rutgers was dealing with. The 2016 season was the result of a complete housecleaning, top and bottom of the entire Rutgers Athletics Department, not just football. For football, the entire coaching staff was gutted and replaced with coaches of varying experience levels, only a few of which had proven themselves at their respective positions. The players had to adjust to different coaches, personnel, and a completely new up-tempo offensive style. These adjustments are the same almost any middling team goes through when a coaching staff overturn of this scale happens, and those teams actually have similar first season results. I’m not going to make all the excuses, as coaches and players have a task to do (win), the least of it is to NOT get shut out by lots of points, four times in a single season... Anyway, I made a picture to sum up last season

Two actually...

For a full recap on Rutgers’ 2016 season check out this article. Okay, now that I got that self hate out of the way.

Looking Ahead

New Coaches

Okay, so Rutgers did adjust a particular coaching position which seemed to be giving the team a lot of grief last year and that is offensive coordinator. Drew Mehringer, a young Tom Hermann trained coach, bounced to work with Hermann again at Texas, and Rutgers brought in Jerry Kill, the complete antithesis to Mehringer. I won’t go into all the details of my thoughts on this (which you can find here), but Jerry has gone an record as saying that his offense will be a mix of everything and what actually works for the players. GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME. Also, he has a plethora of experience which is desperately what this team needs in general. I imagine Coach Ash will lean on him for more than just offensive input.

Rutgers also landed Lester Erb as running backs coach, someone who might seem familiar to Iowa fans as he was an assistant at Iowa for 13 years. Whatever Iowa fans’ opinions of him are, Rutgers fans are excited because he, at the very least, brings Big Ten experience to the crucial position. Erb comes to Rutgers directly from Nevada where he was running backs coach and assistant head coach. He is touted as a great recruiter, and I look forward to see how he works with Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, two undoubtedly talented players who just didn’t get a chance to stand out last season.

The last new coach Rutgers brought in is Henry Baker as Cornerbacks coach. Baker has been at Delaware for six seasons and was part of the Defensive Staff that ranked No. 19 nationally in fewest passing yards allowed per game (181.5), No. 21 in interceptions (15) and first overall as a team in fewest penalties per game (3.64). Of course though, the Colonial Athletic Association (FCS) is NOT the Big Ten, but I’m happy to give him a chance. He’s also from Patterson New Jersey, so that may give him a nice recruiting edge where we need it most— in state.

Impact Players

Offense

The offense is run by the quarterback and Rutgers has had struggle at the position. It has shown in this off-season and out of six designated quarterbacks in 2016, we only have two remaining in the program and one is out for the season with an ACL tear. The one quarterback is Giovanni Rescigno whom I do credit for bringing some life into the offense last year. If he is 100% healthy, I believe he will be solid and full of surprises. He had exhibited his dual threat QB nature until he got a lower body injury and was restricted to passing. That’s where the tempo stalled a bit. Gio needs to run.

After the Spring Game on Saturday, April 22nd, Ash has said that he will in fact be competing for the position with freshman, Johnathan Lewis, 3 star dual threat out of St. Peter’s Prep who right now is pretty much looked at as a beacon of hope for Rutgers fans, Robert Nittolo, grad transfer from Southern Connecticut State, and... wide receivers Damon Mitchell and Janarion Grant?? (more on that tomorrow). This summer should be interesting.

I mentioned running backs Josh Hicks and Robert Martin above and, after coming off of career worst seasons, I know these two will have something to prove. These guys are good running backs, I’ve seen them in action. In 2015, Martin led the team with 763 rushing yards and Hicks with 674 rushing yards (had over 100 in two games). Here’s hoping Kill’s offense will suit them.

On the wide receiver end we have Jawuan Harris, Arkansas grad transfer Damon Mitchell, and Janarion Grant. Jawuan Harris, if you don’t know, is also a baseball player at Rutgers and quite simply, one of the most naturally athletic players Rutgers has had on the team. One of the biggest plays of Rutgers’ season was when QB Chris Laviano connected deep with Harris for a 75 yard touchdown. I foresee solid things from Harris this year. I’m looking forward to Mitchell who has an existing relationship with Ash when he was at Arkansas and overall seems to be an athletic, dynamic player and will likely serve as a great mentor.

For now, I will temper my immense excitement over Grant’s return because you’ll be getting a full article tomorrow on why he’s awesome and how he will help Rutgers, but just know that...

On the offensive line, I have great hope for how A.J. Blazek (the most naturally positive and energetic person I have ever met) will mold what Ash believes to be some of the most important players on the team. Three early enrolled freshman OL’s are doing great this spring and may actually see game time in the Fall. Micah Clark, the highest rated recruit in Rutgers’ 2017 class (Rivals’ 3rd best player in NJ), his brother, 3 star Jamaal Beaty, and 3 star Sweden native, Sam Vretman have each had great springs thus far. The former two are dual side lineman, so I expect to see them on the defensive side as well, but the offensive line needs them most.

Defense

With the departure of great players like Anthony Cioffi, Quanzell Lambert, Julian Pinnix-Odrick and Darius Hamilton, I think there are a few players who can continue to make something of our defense. Safeties Kiy Hester and Saquan Hampton missed solid chunks of game time in 2016 with injuries, but both were excellent players when working at 100%. As far as the rest of the secondary goes, cornerbacks Blessuan Austin and Isaiah Wharton are also names Rutgers fans hear on game days. In 2016, Austin totaled 14 pass break-ups, had an interception, one fumble recovery, recorded 41 tackles including a sack. Wharton recorded five pass break-ups, had an interception, and a blocked kick. If these players can all remain healthy and well-coached, then our secondary will be good (a stark difference from their inexperience back in 2015 when they had to step up to the plate after... events)

Aside from the secondary, the defense seems to have moved around a lot of players to find a better fit for the player and the team including Ross Douglas, a Michigan transfer, from DB to strongside linebacker, defensive end Myles Nash to tight end, and moving linebacker Solomon Manning to defensive. After a recent spring practice, DC Jay Niemann said, with regards to the linebacker unit, “They are light years ahead of where they were at this time last year, as they should be.” Good, good. For fan-favorite, Kemoko Turay, Ash seems to be comfortable with where he is right now and has said, “We need him,” and that he wants to “make him a great football player.” Maybe we can get some more of this in the season:

John Munson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

and this...

Saed Hindash | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Overall, I am comfortable with regards to our defense. After all, Ash is a defensive coach at heart and I think the team is in good hands, experience-wise with Jay Niemann as Defensive coordinator and now Bill Busch, previously the defensive backs/safeties coach, who has been promoted to co-defensive coordinator. Last year, our defense wasn’t “bad.” The primary issue, I think, was that our players were so absolutely gassed after our offense kept getting 3-and-outs at their speedier tempo.

Other things

A.J. Blazek has been promoted to Assistant Head Coach. This is wonderful. He is positive, exciting to be around, amiable, and definitely compliments Ash’s stoic and serious demeanor. Additionally, a beautiful new football practice complex, named after Rutgers football alumnus Marco Battaglia is slated to be finished in time for summer football camp. Check out the photos here.

Schedule

Rutgers Football 2017 Schedule.csv

Date Opponent
Date Opponent
Fri, Sep 1 vs Washington
Sat, Sep 9 vs Eastern MI
Sat, Sep 16 vs Morgan State
Sat, Sep 23 at Nebraska
Sat, Sep 30 vs Ohio State
Sat, Oct 14 at Illinois
Sat, Oct 21 vs Purdue
Sat, Oct 28 at Michigan
Sat, Nov 4 vs Maryland
Sat, Nov 11 at Penn State
Sat, Nov 18 at Indiana
Sat, Nov 25 vs Michigan State

Zuzu’s Predictions

Okay I’ll give a worst case scenario one, an optimistic one, and a Zuzu homer one.

Worst case scenario: 2 wins again with these wins coming from Eastern Michigan and Morgan State. BUT we play much closer games and have few to zero shut outs.

Optimistic scenario: 6 wins with Eastern Michigan and Morgan State victories and Big Ten wins coming from Illinois, Purdue, Maryland, and Indiana.

Zuzu homer scenario: The same games as the optimistic scenario, but with 1-2 upsets over either Nebraska, Michigan State, or Penn State.

OTE’s Cocktail Party

Anyway, so while you’re at this party, if you run into a Rutgers fan I’ll give you the rundown of what NOT to mention and what to mention, you know, in case they’re cute and you want to impress them.

Don’t mention:

Kyle Flood, Julie Hermann, possible impending NCAA sanctions, our bad last two seasons, trite New Jersey stereotypes, pork roll vs Taylor Ham (it’s Taylor Ham), or Penn State (unless a certain 4 letter word beginning with “F” is in front).

Do mention:

Fat sandwiches, us beating Princeton in the first ever collegiate football game, our mounted knight and his trusty steed, our new facilities, Eric LeGrande, Rutgers having the most players in Super Bowl LI, how cool the Big Ten is (most RU fans love the conference and are knowledgeable), and our lord and savior Pat Hobbs.


So I said above that I’d address where Rutgers fans want to be. Look everyone. Rutgers fans aren’t dumb. We KNOW we have a steep hill to climb to get a level where we are respectable. We KNOW that most of the top teams in the country have historically been successful for decades. We KNOW that other teams are taking away our in state talent that could help Rutgers be a great program. We KNOW we are behind facilities. We know. We KNOW.

But we’re not going to just concede and embrace the daunting struggle which lies ahead in a negative way. We’re going to keep looking ahead brightly until the light has dimmed from our souls. So yeah, you can keep hating on Rutgers fans’ “annoying” optimism and our matter of fact attitude over the idea that we’ll be good one day. But that’s just it— good one day. Very few Rutgers fans think we’re going to be Alabama or Ohio State (at least not for a looooong time, if ever). So what do Rutgers fans want? Consistent bowl games (6-8 wins), with the occasional 9 win season, and an infrequent 10 win season. Enough major success to keep fans filling our stadium year after year and e n j o y i n g t h e m s e l v e s because that’s the whole point of this football thing.

Oh and we want to beat Penn State. Many times.

K thanks see you tomorrow. Happy Rutgers Week!


B1G 2017: Rutgers Week

MONDAY | Cocktail Party Preview | Potluck I

TUESDAY | Personnel Files: Janarion Grant | Potluck II

WEDNESDAY | What to do when you visit Rutgers? Lots! | Potluck III

THURSDAY | Wildcard | Potluck IV

FRIDAY | Definitely some hate from someone(s). But Pride from Zuzu | Potluck V