What Positives Can You Take From A 31-14 Loss To Nebraska?
Rutgers dropped their fourth straight game last night to Nebraska 31-14, and fell to 3-7 overall, and 1-6 in the Big Ten. In addition, head coach Kyle Flood was booed by fans during a public service announcement on the video scoreboard. Furthermore, starting center Derrick Nelson gets taken to the hospital after he collided head-to-head with fellow offensive lineman Dorian Miller while making a tackle after their quarterback Chris Laviano was intercepted with the game winding down in the fourth quarter (thoughts and prayers with Nelson and his family).
But what positives can you draw from the game, and from a team that will likely miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2010 when they went 4-8?
For starters, despite 362 yards of offense and 31 points, the defense picked off quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. three times (cool name for a quarterback). The first was an overthrow to a wide-open receiver in the middle of the field that ballhawking junior safety Anthony Cioffi swooped in at full speed and took it 51 yards to the Nebraska 6-yard line. Rutgers would get their first touchdown on a Robert Martin 1-yard rush. Cioffi now has four interceptions on the season and six for his career.
The last two interceptions happened to be a pair of first for a pair of redshirt freshmen. Safety Saquan Hampton picked off a deep ball that seemed to get hung up in the strong winds. After the game, Flood was asked specifically of Hampton and Cioffi and how they still fought and made plays. “Hampton and Cioffi both had interceptions,” Flood said. “Turnovers are critical in the game. Saquan had 13 tackles. Career-high. That’s good. That’s really good. It’s important. He’s in the middle of our defense for a reason. For him to be productive, that’s a good sign.”
Nose guard Kevin Wilkins snagged an Armstrong pass in the third quarter and returned it 10 yards as the signal caller tried to throw a screen pass, but the 6-foot-3, 295-pound got in the way. Wilkins became the first nose guard to intercept a pass for the Scarlet Knights since Charlie Noonan against Pittsburgh in 2010.
Linebacker Steve Longa and cornerback Blessuan Austin both forced fumbles as well.
Senior star wide receiver Leonte Carroo said he wasn’t 100 percent, but returned from an ankle injury that has kept him out of the last two-and-a-half games and caught four passes for 62 yards to lead the team.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels called a trick play for the Knights’ second score of the game. With 6:03 left in the third quarter, Martin took a direct snap and tossed the ball to wide receiver Janarion Grant who rolled to his left and threw a lefty pass on the run to Laviano for the score.
During the four-game skid, Rutgers has been outscored 177-47, and the defense has given up 2,430 total yards of offense. For the season, the Scarlet Knights have only sacked opposing quarterbacks 12 times. All year, the secondary has been getting chewed up and beaten with pass after pass, making every signal caller look like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. However, the starting secondary is young (seven of the nine players on the defensive back two-deep are true or redshirt freshmen) but continue to improve and will gain experience as they go forward. Many of them are playing out of necessity after multiple players and starters were arrested and dismissed from the team earlier this year (Nadir Barnwell, Delon Stephenson, Ruhaan Peele, Andre Boggs, and Darian Dailey). It was unfair to them and something that obviously wasn’t predicted by anybody, but kudos to them for continuing to fight every day.
While the offense has struggled mightily during this four game stretch with now Laviano having more receiving touchdowns (one) than passing touchdowns (zero), he is only a redshirt sophomore who has started only 10 games. At one point, he was leading the Big Ten Conference in passing completion percentage. And while he may not have the strongest arm and is prone to foolish mistakes, he is mobile and can escape from pressure and pick up yards with his legs.
The two main players at running back – Josh Hicks and Robert Martin – are only sophomores. On the season, Hicks has rushed 120 times for 613 yards and four scores. Martin, who earned the starting nod against the Cornhuskers, has 108 carries for 622 and five touchdowns. The future is bright at the running spot. The room also features redshirt senior Paul James, true freshman Charles Snorweah (who also splits as a defensive back) junior Justin Goodwin, and redshirt junior Desmon Peoples.
The Scarlet Knights have endured a rough season. Their record isn’t what they had hoped for. There have been the aforementioned off field issues along with Flood getting suspended for three games after having improper communication with a professor and Carroo being suspended two games as well. There are a lot of what if’s like what if Rutgers still had Barnwell, Stephenson, and Boggs in the secondary? What if Carroo wasn’t hurt or suspended? What if Flood was never suspended? But, Rutgers is in a stable place in the Big Ten, and they can’t go anywhere but up.
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