Chris Ash somehow spun three Big Ten wins together last year with a team that ranked 126th in the nation in offense per S&P+. Outside of a 65-0 pasting of FCS Morgan State, the Scarlet Knights managed more than 17 points just twice throughout the entire season. They were outscored 340-151 by FBS opponents. For comparison, Penn State scored 534 points and allowed 214.
So after tying its high for conference wins, and despite the terrible underlying numbers, are things looking even better for Ash and the Knights in 2018?
Rutger at a Glance
|Head Coach||Chris Ash, 3rd Season, 6-18 overall|
|2017 Record||4-8, 3-6 Big Ten (5th in the B1G East)|
|Biggest Losses||QB Kyle Bolin, WR/PR Janarion Grant, RB Gus Edwards, RB Robert Martin, DL Kemoko Turay,|
|Biggest Returnees||TE Jerome Washington, RB Raheem Blackshear, RB Jonathan Hilliman, DL Kevin Wilkins LB Trevor Morris, LB Deonte Roberts, DB Damon Hayes, DB Kiy Hester|
|Summary||With five clearly more talented teams above them in the division, it will be tough for the Scarlet Knights to sniff the postseason.|
|Matchup With PSU||The Nittany Lions return to the Piscataway Hot Tub for a mid-November matchup, as they look to stay perfect against Rutgera since the Scarlet Knights joined the conference.|
There's just not a lot here. Rutgers was okay running the ball last year, to a clip of 148 yards/game, good for 10th in the B1G. But my goodness, they only averaged 115 yards/game through the air. That was the worst passing offense in the entire nation for a team not running the triple option. Only UTEP averaged fewer yards per game of total offense.
So things can only get better, right? Not so fast. The quarterback situation is ugly. Fifth-year senior Giovanni Rescigno has the experience but isn't reliable. His career line is 133 for 263 (50.5-percent) for 1,406 yards, 7 TDs, and 6 INTs. True freshman Artur Sitkowski turned in a fine performance in the spring game to the tune of 280 yards and 3 TDs, but again, it was the spring scrimmage. Ash will likely wait until the end of camp to name his starter.
The backs and receivers are a mixed bag. Leading pass-catcher tight end Jerome Washington returns (28 rec., 282 yards, 1 TD), but there's not a single wide receiver on the roster who had at least 10 catches or 100 yards in 2017. At running back, Raheem Blackshear is a true sophomore who averaged 6.1 yards/carry on 39 touches in 2017. He'll be joined atop the depth chart by grad-transfer Jonathan Hilliman, who scampered for 638 yards on 167 attempts at Boston College last year (3.8 yards/carry).
Considering their teammates on the other side of the ball looked like they had discovered a pigskin for the first time, it's remarkable the Knights were able to field a decent defense. The unit ranked 53rd nationally in S&P+ and was especially solid on passing downs. Top tacklers and senior linebackers Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts are back, along with defensive backs Kiy Hester and Damon Hayes (24 passes defended, combined). Hester originally sought a graduate transfer during the summer but opted to return to Rutgers. If they can generate any sort of pass rush, the back seven could be a surprisingly good unit for Ash.
The Knights will have to replace the electric Janarion Grant at punt returner and graduated placekicker Andrew Harte, who was 7-10 on field goals and 27-27 on extra points. Punter Ryan Anderson returns and again figures to be one of the busiest punters in America. 2017 saw Anderson boot it 79 times for an impressive 44.4 yards/punt average. Blackshear figures to be in the mix at kick returner.
It's certainly possible that the third volume of Ash's Rutger mixtape could match 2017's total of four wins. The Knights should be able to take care of Texas St., Buffalo, and fellow power-five-stain Kansas. A home date with the pillow-soft Illini looms in early October, but that's about it as far as favors of the schedule go. Rutgera will have to pick off Maryland and Indiana to get bowl eligible, and I just don't see that happening.