This past season of Rutgers Football was like sticking your hand in warm water that’s the same temperature as your body. You don’t really feel anything in particular aside from a “meh” weirdness.
Offensive sputters, Quarterback issues, questionable coaching decisions, a dumb loss, injuries, surprising and non-surprising beatdowns, and more plagued the season, but there were also some great moments, flickers of hope, and I’m weirdly content with this past season. Well, content enough as compared to the 2016 season which I recapped here.
What Went Wrong
Let’s go in order.
1. Eastern Michigan loss.
2. Janarion Grant’s seemingly eternal injury.
Technically, these issues started after the Morgan State game in the 2nd Quarter. I wrote an entire article dedicated to his return during Rutgers Week last year. Stupid Desmond King broke his ankle during his would-be final year and he was out for the last 8 games and we went 2-10. Grant utilized a medical redshirt and decided to stay another year. This was great news. After all, Grant was one of the best offensive playmakers RU has ever had. We really hoped for him and for the team, that he would be healthy and make a difference. Unfortunately, that was just not the case. I really hope these injuries did not completely destroy his NFL career.
Blessuan Austin, our star cornerback, was also out for the remainder of the season after the Nebraska game with a torn ACL. That was a big blow to our defense.
3. Ohio State’s 56-0 beatdown.
I thought we left these shut-out-blow-outs back in 2016?
4. An irritating Penn State loss.
Irritating because while I fully expected to lose, we led them by 3-0 for the first quarter, then by 6-0 for the beginning of the second. Such a tease as the game morphed into another petty James Franklin blowout. Also, during and after the game there were a bunch of paranoid Penn State fans who SWORE that Rutgers players were purposefully trying to stifle Barkley and ruin his Heisman chances as some vendetta for his decommitment. Not. Kidding.
5. Indiana’s 41-0 beatdown.
Again... I thought we were past these shut-out-blow-outs and WAIT, WHAT INDIANA?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??
6. Quarterback Issues.
I sometimes really hate that this game relies so heavily on a single position. Rutgers has had Quarterback issues for the past 6 years at least (which is how long I’ve been following RU football), and they only got worse after Gary Nova. Even with highly touted Louisville transfer QB, Kyle Bolin and surprisingly effective in certain moments Gio Rescigno, we just couldn’t get anything going on offense primarily due to pass issues. With that known and obvious, it became so easy to stifle our run game.
7. Coaching decisions.
I believe in Coach Ash for the most part. Do I think he is our Dantonio? Meh. Do I think he will get Rutgers to a reasonably successfully level as he continues to recruit and improve his assistants? I think so. But some of his calls are just weird... He also calls timeouts at strange times that often seem to benefit the other team and I remember a 3rd down timeout or two that I think can be attributed to the opposing team’s subsequent first downs.
What Went Right
1. This hit.
This insane sack on Jake Browning by Linebacker Darnell Davis which happened in our first game was highlighted by sports networks for the entire week and continued to be shown in College Football highlight reels throughout the season. Always cool to see a Rutgers play in the mix of these given that they almost always feature the heavyweights of each conference.
2. Three whole Big Ten wins.
Yes, I am perfectly aware that Illinois was Illinois, Maryland was playing their 5th(?) string Quarterback and Purdue didn’t “prepare for Rutgers” the way they should have, but I don’t care! I was at both the Purdue and Maryland games and those were some of the best games I’ve attended in my post-Rutgers career (shout-out to the young alumni section. 131 for lyfe!). Also, these were 3 more Big Ten wins than pretty much everyone predicted for Rutgers going into the season.
3. Real signs of improvement.
In 2016 we went 2-10 with 0 conference wins. This past season we went 4-8 with a whopping 3 conference wins. Quantifiable improvement. Baby steps.
4. Offensive Coordinator hire.
Okay, so this happened after the season ended and in 2018, but it’s directly tied to Jerry Kill leaving and is relevant to the end of the seas— I don’t care.
No, I don’t think a single coordinator can fix our entire team. However, I DO think that a good offensive coordinator that pledges to work with the quarterbacks, and has solid experience can make a difference given that this is the area we need help with most. John McNulty, a former OC for Rutgers during the Schiano days (2007 & 2008) and who spent time coaching offensive positions in the NFL, most recently for the Chargers, is Rutgers “new” offensive coordinator after Jerry Kill retired from coaching due to health concerns. I like McNulty’s history at RU.
“McNulty ran a Pro-style attack that featured multiple formations. The result was one of the most prolific offenses in Rutgers history, as the Scarlet Knights became the first major-level program to boast a 3,000-yard passer (Mike Teel), a 2,000-yard rusher (Ray Rice) and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood) in the same season.” —Keith Sargeant, NJ.com
I am excited. If Joe Moorhead can help turn Penn State around, why can’t McNulty turn Rutgers around? Here’s hoping he breaks the “Rutgers OC’s only staying for one year” curse.
All in all, I am content with the 2017 season. Most Rutgers fans are content. We all felt the improvement and look ahead to next season, thankfully without that sour taste and disappointment we had after 2016. I am also happy for Coach Ash. There are now pictures and videos of him looking happy on the Internet. A stark difference from the pictures of 2016.