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1. What now?
Rutgers has pulled off something remarkable in recent years: the Scarlet Knights have managed to regress in six of the last seven seasons.
In a roundabout way, such an achievement is a tribute to both where they started seven years ago (it had to be pretty far up to give the team room to fall this much) and how far they bounced back in the one non-regression season (the Scarlet Knights were very good in 2011).
Still, they have regressed in six of seven years.
The 2013 season was perhaps the most frustrating year in this ongoing series of frustrations. For one thing, the Scarlet Knights didn't just regress, they regressed a lot. The offense figured out a way to add quite a few interesting, exciting pieces to the mix but still fall from 84th to 91st in Off. F/+; meanwhile, the defense cratered. After two seasons in the Def. F/+ top 20 (15th in 2011, 11th in 2012), Rutgers suffered a solid amount of attrition and fell all the way to 96th. Special teams was great, but special teams is only 10-15 percent of a given game. Rutgers was far worse than it should have been in 2013 and now joins the Big Ten looking more like a dud than a sleeping giant.
Still ... there's potential here. Recruiting isn't going quite as well for third-year coach Kyle Flood as it appeared it might a year or two ago, but despite the loss of big-play receiver Brandon Coleman, there is major upside in the skill positions, there is experience at quarterback and up the middle of the defense, and the defensive backfield actually experiences some continuity this time around. There's no excuse for Rutgers to rank below 90th in the F/+ rankings again in 2014.
Then again, there wasn't much excuse last year either. Flood faces some serious burden of proof this fall.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 5-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 91|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|29-Aug||at Fresno State||49||51-52||L||42.7 - 26.0||W|
|7-Sep||Norfolk State||N/A||38-0||W||19.4 - 6.1||W|
|14-Sep||Eastern Michigan||124||28-10||W||20.3 - 21.5||L|
|21-Sep||Arkansas||87||28-24||W||17.0 - 19.4||L|
|5-Oct||at SMU||84||55-52||W||29.5 - 28.9||W||5.4|
|10-Oct||at Louisville||12||10-24||L||24.1 - 27.9||L||1.3|
|26-Oct||Houston||46||14-49||L||34.7 - 46.9||L||-3.8|
|2-Nov||Temple||98||23-20||W||27.9 - 26.9||W||-3.3|
|16-Nov||Cincinnati||64||17-52||L||28.1 - 38.3||L||-4.9|
|21-Nov||at Central Florida||21||17-41||L||17.2 - 26.6||L||-6.9|
|30-Nov||at Connecticut||93||17-28||L||22.6 - 39.1||L||-9.4|
|7-Dec||South Florida||99||31-6||W||34.9 - 15.1||W||-3.0|
|28-Dec||vs. Notre Dame||26||16-29||L||19.0 - 27.2||L||-4.9|
|Points Per Game||26.5||77||29.8||81|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.0||86||26.9||59|
2. One unit, then the other
For the first month or so of the season, the Rutgers script was pretty similar. The Scarlet Knights allowed a combined 34 points to Norfolk State, EMU, and Arkansas and scored only 94 (not great considering the level of competition), riding a slow pace and solid defensive play to three wins. Sure, the season had begun with a shootout at Fresno State, but that was due as much to Fresno's pace and Rutgers' big plays as anything else. The defense broke down late in the SMU game, however, and it didn't really recover until December. And eventually the offense followed suit.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Rutgers 25.8, Opponent 20.4 (plus-5.4)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Opponent 35.0, Rutgers 29.1 (minus-5.9)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 27.0, Rutgers 23.4 (minus-3.6)
The offense appeared to be getting somewhere in October. Despite awful efficiency and redzone numbers, the Scarlet Knights averaged at least 5.4 yards per play in six of the first eight games and at least 6.6 in three.
But uncertainty at the quarterback position, combined with injuries to running back Paul James and speedy wideout Leonte Carroo, reduced it to a pile of mismatched parts. Rutgers averaged only 4.5 yards per play over the final five games of the year and scored more than 17 points just once in that time (and just twice in the final eight games). That meant that a late-season rebound by the defense had little effect on overall results.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.1%||82||Succ. Rt. +||88.4||101|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.4||40||Def. FP+||96.4||94|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.9||98||Redzone S&P+||87.1||105|
|Q1 Rk||81||1st Down Rk||111|
|Q2 Rk||106||2nd Down Rk||95|
|Q3 Rk||82||3rd Down Rk||74|
3. Big plays weren't a problem
IsoPPP looks at the magnitude of a team's successful plays, and as we see above, Rutgers' big plays were as big as anybody's. Paul James averaged 5.6 yards per carry, tight end Tyler Kroft averaged 13.3 yards per catch, and the top three wideouts -- Coleman, Quron Pratt, and Carroo -- all averaged at least 15.8 per catch. Rutgers had a perfectly acceptable 58 gains of at least 20 yards (65th in the country) and 25 of at least 30 (66th).
The problem was what happened when Rutgers wasn't breaking off double-digit gains. The Scarlet Knights' success rates were somewhere between underwhelming and abysmal; they constantly fell behind schedule, and while they often bailed themselves out with big plays on second- or third-and-long, they faced far too many and-longs to succeed. And when they got into the red zone, they flaked out, averaging just 3.9 points per trip inside the opponent's 40.
Coleman and Pratt are gone, but Rutgers still boasts some of the more exciting athletes in the Big Ten at skill positions. Can new offensive coordinator (and former Maryland head coach) Ralph Friedgen do a better job of turning potential into consistent production? And does he have a quarterback who can distribute the ball without crippling mistakes?
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Gary Nova||6'2, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||165||303||2159||18||14||54.5%||25||7.6%||6.1|
|Mike Bimonte||6'4, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Chris Laviano||6'3, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
4. Got a quarterback?
After a decade as head coach at his alma mater, Maryland, Friedgen resumes what was a long career as an accomplished offensive coordinator. He pulled the strings for The Citadel (three years), William & Mary (one), Murray State (one), Maryland (five), Georgia Tech (five), the San Diego Chargers (three), and Georgia Tech again (four). His first project back up in the booth: make something out of Gary Nova. Or Mike Bimonte or Chris Laviano. Whoever ends up behind center, figure out how to coax more consistency than a Rutgers quarterback has shown in years.
To be fair to Nova and Chas Dodd, Rutgers' two 2013 quarterbacks, last year's offensive system under Ron Prince was in no way quarterback-friendly. Nova and Dodd were asked to throw downfield quite a bit, frequently on passing downs. A lower-than-normal completion rate with relatively high interception and sack rates was probably inevitable. Still, a 55 percent completion rate is too low, and a 4.6 percent interception rate and 7.6 percent sack rate are too high.
Nova, Bimonte, and Laviano combined to complete just 11 of 33 passes for 133 yards in the spring game, but we'll ignore that for now in favor of offseason optimism.
|Paul James||RB||6'0, 210||Jr.||NR||156||881||9||5.6||6.1||40.4%|
|Justin Goodwin||RB||6'0, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||111||521||5||4.7||4.3||38.7%|
|Savon Huggins||RB||6'0, 200||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||86||286||2||3.3||3.0||25.6%|
|Gary Nova||QB||6'2, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||25||71||1||2.8||2.5||28.0%|
|Michael Burton||FB||6'0, 235||Sr.||NR||9||61||0||6.8||12.9||33.3%|
|Desmon Peoples||RB||5'8, 175||So.||3 stars (5.5)||6||16||0||2.7||2.1||16.7%|
|Devan Carter||RB||6'2, 230||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Jacob Kraut||RB||5'11, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Robert Martin||RB||6'0, 191||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Joshua Hicks||RB||5'10, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Tyler Kroft||TE||6'6, 240||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||69||43||573||62.3%||17.0%||55.0%||8.3||44||8.9||68.2|
|Leonte Carroo||WR||6'1, 200||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||51||27||467||52.9%||12.6%||45.2%||9.2||104||10.4||55.6|
|Ruhann Peele||WR||6'1, 185||So.||3 stars (5.7)||43||28||281||65.1%||10.6%||35.0%||6.5||-56||6.2||33.5|
|Michael Burton||FB||6'0, 235||Sr.||NR||26||19||149||73.1%||6.4%||66.7%||5.7||-67||5.9||17.7|
|Savon Huggins||RB||6'0, 200||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||15||12||66||80.0%||3.7%||40.0%||4.4||-65||4.9||7.9|
|Justin Goodwin||RB||6'0, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||14||10||86||71.4%||3.4%||57.1%||6.1||-29||6.3||10.2|
|Paul James||RB||6'0, 210||Jr.||NR||14||11||107||78.6%||3.4%||71.4%||7.6||-14||9.2||12.7|
|Carlton Agudosi||WR||6'6, 205||So.||3 stars (5.7)||10||5||79||50.0%||2.5%||50.0%||7.9||10||9.5||9.4|
|John Tsimis||WR||6'0, 175||So.||2 stars (5.4)||10||4||56||40.0%||2.5%||42.9%||5.6||-7||4.4||6.7|
|Andre Patton||WR||6'4, 195||So.||3 stars (5.7)||6||3||49||50.0%||1.5%||75.0%||8.2||7||6.7||5.8|
|Nick Arcidiacono||TE||6'5, 230||So.||3 stars (5.5)||6||5||44||83.3%||1.5%||N/A||7.3||-10||0.0||5.2|
|Janarion Grant||WR||5'11, 170||So.||3 stars (5.7)||4||2||18||50.0%||1.0%||N/A||4.5||-10||0.0||2.1|
|John Tsimis||WR||6'0, 175||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Tejay Johnson||WR||6'2, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Logan Lister||TE||6'5, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
5. No shortage of athletes
If the quarterback situation is in some way stable, the rest of the offense could fall in line pretty well.
Paul James has suffered a series of injuries over the last year, but when healthy he's one of the best running backs in the conference. In Tuesday's Illinois preview, I bragged about running back Josh Ferguson's combination of efficiency (39 percent opportunity rate) and explosiveness (5.9 highlight yards per opportunity). In 15 more carries, James had him beaten in both categories: 40 percent opportunity rate, 6.1 highlight yards. He's potentially outstanding, and if or when he's hurt, it appears sophomore Justin Goodwin could be a solid backup option.
There's even more upside in the receiving corps. Tyler Kroft also managed to combine decent efficiency (by this offense's standards, anyway) and big-play ability, and while Coleman and Pratt are gone, Leonte Carroo could be the real deal. He got hurt at the end of the year, and he was sometimes invisible even when he was fine, but his big games were huge: five catches for 135 yards and three scores against Fresno State, five for 80 and two scores against Arkansas, three for 54 and two against SMU, and seven for 147 and two against Temple. He has a lot to prove in terms of consistency, but he's got clear upside. And he's not the only exciting wideout: Ruhann Peele held his own as a freshman, Carlton Agudosi was a spring standout, and while sophomore Janarion Grant only caught two passes in 2013, his return skills suggest serious athleticism. There's a lot to like here, but there's a lot to improve upon in the efficiency department.
Really, it's the same story up front. Rutgers returns five players with starting experience (98 career starts), including all-conference center Betim Bujari. Plus, the sophomore class -- four-star guards Chris Muller and J.J. Denmon, tackle Ryan Brodie, center Derrick Nelson -- has massive upside. But there was upside last year as well, and Rutgers could neither open up holes for runners nor protect quarterbacks. That is, to put it lightly, a bit of an issue.
|Betim Bujari||C||6'4, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||23||2nd All-AAC|
|Kaleb Johnson||LG||6'4, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||36|
|Taj Alexander||RT||6'4, 290||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||14|
|Keith Lumpkin||LT||6'8, 315||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13|
|Chris Muller||RG||6'6, 300||So.||4 stars (5.9)||12|
|Brian Leoni||LT||6'6, 280||Sr.||NR||0|
|J.J. Denman||LG||6'6, 300||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0|
|Ryan Brodie||RT||6'5, 300||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Derrick Nelson||C||6'3, 285||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Dorian Miller||RG||6'3, 295||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Marcus Applefield||OL||6'6, 270||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Jacquis Webb||OL||6'5, 310||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.8%||53||Succ. Rt. +||100.1||51|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||33.8||2||Off. FP+||103.5||23|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.8||111||Redzone S&P+||85.0||103|
|Q1 Rk||71||1st Down Rk||34|
|Q2 Rk||75||2nd Down Rk||66|
|Q3 Rk||51||3rd Down Rk||95|
6. Big plays were a problem
Despite injuries, turnover, and youth, the front seven still performed relatively well in 2013. Rutgers still ranked 22nd in Rushing S&P+ and 31st in Adj. Line Yards, and while the pass rush wasn't amazing, it was decent. The overall defensive dropoff came via the secondary more than anything else, but that was to be expected. Only one of the top seven defensive backs from 2012's awesome unit returned in 2013.
The youth was evident and devastating. Rutgers gave up 170 passes of at least 10 yards in 2013, most in the country by a huge margin. They allowed 58 20-yard passes, third-worst in the country. Opponents completed 64 percent of their passes with 31 touchdowns to eight interceptions. And even if they didn't throw touchdown passes, once they got into the red zone, they were scoring one way or another. Rutgers not only had one of the worst offenses in the country in terms of finishing drives, it had one of the worst defenses as well.
To the extent that youth was the problem last year ... well, it will be less of a problem in 2014. But this defense was so young in 2013 that it's still pretty young now.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Darius Hamilton||DT||6'4, 260||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||12||34.0||4.6%||11.5||4.5||0||3||1||0|
|David Milewski||DE||6'4, 250||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||13||24.0||3.3%||1.5||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Djwany Mera||DE||6'4, 260||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||22.0||3.0%||5.5||2.5||0||0||1||0|
|Daryl Stephenson||DT||6'3, 280||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||9.0||1.2%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kenneth Kirksey||NT||6'1, 275||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||3||3.5||0.5%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jamil Pollard||DT||6'3, 280||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Julian Pinnix-Odrick||DE||6'5, 250||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Sebastian Joseph||NT||6'4, 270||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Kevin Wilkins||DT||6'3, 295||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Eric Wiafe||DT||6'5, 260||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Donald Bedell||DE||6'4, 229||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Steve Longa||WLB||6'1, 220||So.||3 stars (5.7)||13||87.0||11.9%||7.5||3.0||0||4||2||0|
|Kevin Snyder||MLB||6'3, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||71.0||9.7%||7.5||2.0||0||3||0||0|
|Quentin Gause||SLB||6'1, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||40.0||5.4%||8.5||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Quanzell Lambert||LB||6'1, 230||So.||4 stars (5.8)||11||15.5||2.1%||4.5||1.5||0||0||1||0|
|L.J. Liston||MLB||6'2, 230||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||11.5||1.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Myles Nash||SLB||6'5, 205||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|T.J. Taylor||WLB||6'3, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Justin Nelson||LB||6'1, 235||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Sidney Gopre||LB||6'0, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Brandon Russell||LB||6'1, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
7. A high sophomore ceiling
Kyle Flood's tenure could be made or broken by how much production he can find in his sophomore class's massive potential. Sophomores on offense -- the aforementioned linemen, Justin Goodwin, Ruhann Peele -- are vital to the Scarlet Knights' success, and that narrative continues on defense.
In his first year in a Rutgers uniform, Steve Longa emerged as one of the Knights' steadiest, most athletic defenders. Rush end Quanzell Lambert could provide a boost to a pass rush that is now without last year's best sacks guy, Marcus Thompson. Corners Nadir Barnwell, Anthony Cioffi, and Ian Thomas now have some experience to go with their upside. Deion Stephenson will be given a chance at both corner and free safety. And after injuries almost completely derailed the career of tackle Jamil Pollard, he'll potentially be back in the mix this fall.
All of these players have three years of eligibility remaining. They will be the heart and soul of Rutgers' 2015 and 2016 teams, but they have major roles to play in 2014 as well. There are also some exciting juniors: potential all-conference tackle Darius Hamilton, end Djwany Mera, and linebacker Quentin Gause, to name three. Rutgers' experience level in 2015 could be off the charts.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Lorenzo Waters||SS||6'0, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||49.5||6.7%||2.5||0||1||4||2||0|
|Gareef Glashen||CB||5'10, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||11||29.0||4.0%||4.5||2||1||3||0||0|
|Nadir Barnwell||CB||5'11, 190||So.||4 stars (5.8)||12||28.5||3.9%||3||0||0||3||0||0|
|Anthony Cioffi||CB||6'0, 180||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||28.0||3.8%||4||1||0||4||2||0|
|Davon Jacobs||SS||6'0, 190||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||22.0||3.0%||1.5||1.5||0||2||0||0|
|Johnathan Aiken||FS||5'11, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||18.5||2.5%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Delon Stephenson||FS||5'11, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||8||7.5||1.0%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Ian Thomas||CB||6'1, 200||So.||3 stars (5.7)||6||7.0||1.0%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Kamren Lott||DB||5'10, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Saquan Hampton||DB||6'0, 181||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Andre Boggs||DB||6'0, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
8. The secondary was as shaky as expected
Again, it was probably too much to expect Rutgers' new-look secondary to succeed to any major degree in 2013, not with three freshmen and a converted running back (Jeremy Deering) playing major roles. WMU transfer Lew Toler made little impact, so Rutgers' defense was left to sink or swim with young DBs. It sank pretty frequently.
Last year's growing pains could pay off at some point, though. Corners Barnwell, Cioffi, and Gareef Glashen combined for 11.5 tackles for loss and 11 passes defensed, showing signs of potentially successful aggressiveness down the line. Lorenzo Waters is an old hand at strong safety, Stephenson and Johnathan Aiken probably aren't going to be any less successful than Deering at free safety, and another batch of athletic freshmen could join the rotation this fall.
It's hard to say how much this secondary will improve, but it won't get worse.
|Kyle Federico||6'0, 190||Jr.||34-35||10-13||76.9%||2-5||40.0%|
|Janarion Grant||KR||5'11, 170||So.||21||24.6||1|
|Janarion Grant||PR||5'11, 170||So.||17||9.2||1|
|Special Teams F/+||8|
|Field Goal Efficiency||95|
|Punt Return Efficiency||2|
|Kick Return Efficiency||13|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||26|
9. Kick away from Grant
Rutgers wasted one hell of a special teams effort in 2013. Then again, the Knights still have a fantastic return man in Janarion Grant (and will for the next three years) and could still have a pretty good kick/punt coverage unit. Place-kicking could use a little shoring up, and punter/kickoffs guy Nick Marsh is gone, but Grant is a one-man field position advantage.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|28-Aug||at Washington State||68|
|18-Oct||at Ohio State||4|
|22-Nov||at Michigan State||13|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-0.2% (56)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||50|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-12 / 0.9|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||17 (8, 9)|
10. No idea
Rutgers needed a 4-1 record in one-possession games (despite horrific turnovers luck) just to reach 6-6 in 2013. The Scarlet Knights needed an impressive comeback to beat No. 87 Arkansas at home, and they had to withstand a huge comeback to beat No. 84 SMU in overtime. They barely beat No. 98 Temple and lost by 11 to No. 93 UConn. They rarely actually looked like a bowl team last fall.
Still, they were young as hell. They were impacted by inefficiency on offense and freshman glitches on defense. They have a history, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and they've inked quite a few pretty high-profile athletes in recent years. Despite falling victim to the same affinity for self-inflicted wounds suffered by the university as a whole recently, this program isn't on terrible footing. The projections are low because Rutgers wasn't very good last year, but there's promise.
All the upside in the world doesn't matter if it doesn't turn into production, however. With four top-50 home opponents and six top-70 road opponents, the Scarlet Knights will need to bounce back by a pretty considerable amount -- perhaps to around No. 50-60 overall -- to go to their ninth bowl in 10 years. It's doable, but last year's generally sketchy play provides plenty of reason for skepticism.