Homecoming is a tradition celebrated by schools all across the nation. School spirit, parades and a home football game are all part of the festivities that typically bring a fun atmosphere to the school that weekend. For the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, however, this homecoming weekend will be overshadowed by numerous off-field issues surrounding the football team.
On September 3, five Rutgers University players were arrested for their alleged connection to a number of crimes that took place around the Rutgers campus. Shortly after this news broke, another Rutgers player was arrested for his alleged involvement in these crimes. All six players were immediately released from the program. Of the players released, starting cornerback Dre Boggs, backup cornerback Ruhann Peele and starting free safety Delon Stephenson were most notable.
Unfortunately things didn’t end there for the Scarlet Knights. Star wide receiver Leonte Carroo, an All Big-10 first team selection last season, was suspended indefinitely by head coach Kyle Flood after Carroo was alleged to have been involved in an altercation outside the football complex. Carroo, who easily led the Rutgers team in yards receiving last season by totaling 1,086 yards with 10 touchdowns, had already served a first half suspension in Rutgers’ first game due to a violation of team rules before the season began.
The final blow to the program occurred on September 16 when coach Flood himself was suspended by the university for three games. The suspension, which officially began during last week’s game against Penn State, was for improper contact with a faculty member after he was accused of trying to convince the faculty member to change a player’s grades.
Rutgers currently has four running backs listed as their starter for this week’s game against the Jayhawks, all of whom return from last year and scored at least one touchdown last season. RB Josh Hicks is the leading returning rusher from last season while RB Robert Martin led the team in touchdowns. While Rutgers did lose last year’s leading rusher Desmon Peoples, the four returners (Hicks, Martin, RB Paul James and RB Justin Goodwin) accounted for 1,565 of the 2,114 total yards rushing for last year’s team.
Aside from their lackluster 43 yards rushing last week against Penn State, this experienced group of running backs has gotten off to a hot start. They’re averaging 177.3 yards rushing per game through three games and have scored 5 touchdowns. With four talented players in the backfield, the Jayhawks defensive line, which gave up 281 yards on the ground against Memphis, will have to find a way to stop this rush attack without wearing down.
The indefinite suspension of star WR Leonte Carroo has significantly weakened the Scarlet Knights passing attack. Through the first three games of the season, Carroo accounted for 25% of Rutgers’ yards receiving and pulled in 3 of starting quarterback Chris Laviano’s 4 touchdown passes. Carroo’s suspension has left if up to wide receivers Andre Patton and Carlton Agudosi to pick up the slack. Patton is the more experienced of the two, but it was Agudosi who made the most of Carroo’s absence last week by catching 6 passes for 80 yards receiving.
Defensively, Rutgers has struggled to contain offenses so far this season and is prone to getting beat on big plays, especially in the air. In their week 2 loss against the Washington State Cougars, the Rutgers secondary allowed four different receivers to average more than 10 yards per catch and three of those receivers broke out for plays of 25 yards or more.
They can get beat on the ground as well, as Penn State was able to torch the Scarlet Knights defense last week for 330 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns with Penn State RB Saquon Barkley leading the way with 195 yards on his own. This could be good news for Kansas RB Ke’aun Kinner who has rushed for more than 100 yards in both KU games this season.
While opponents have torched the Rutgers defense for some big plays, the Scarlet Knights have been stout on third and fourth down. Opponents are completing just 29% of third downs (11-of-38) and have only converted one fourth down (on six tries) so far this year against the defense.
5 Players To Watch
No. 91: DL Darius Hamilton (6-4, 265, Sr.)
Last season, Hamilton led the Rutgers defense with 11.5 sacks while totaling 45 tackles (32 of them being solo). He was named defensive captain for the Scarlet Knights this season, but a lower body injury has kept him from making much of an impact so far. Fortunately for the Rutgers defense, Hamilton made a surprise return last week against Penn State after initially being ruled out by coach Flood before the game. His status for this Saturday’s game is Questionable, but if he is able to play he could be a headache for the Kansas offensive line. His medical status throughout the week will be something Jayhawk fans should keep on eye on.
No. 11: QB Hayden Rettig (6-3, 210, R-So.)
Not too often do back-up quarterbacks make a watch list for games. However, Rettig is a unique case. Rettig and current starting quarterback Laviano were locked in a starting battle all camp long before Laviano came out victorious. However, Rettig was still able to start in Rutgers’ first game against Norfolk State when Laviano was suspended from the first half of that game. Rettig excelled, going 9 for 11 for 110 yards and a touchdown, but was replaced by Laviano as soon as the second half began.
Rettig has had a powerful arm since high school and is capable of accurately throwing 60+ yards down the field with ease.
Laviano has struggled since the first game though and fans were calling for the strong armed Rettig to be put in the game during last week’s Penn State loss. While it didn’t happen last week, if Laviano struggles again, the crowd could get rowdy enough to force interim head coach Norries Wilson to put Rettig in.
No. 3: LB Steve Longa (6-1, 225, R-Jr.)
Longa led the Rutgers defense in total tackles last year and it wasn’t even close. He compiled 102 tackles (71 of them solo) to go with 2 sacks. The closest any defender got to matching his numbers was fellow LB Quentin Gause who had 72 tackles. Longa is quickly on his way to having another 100+ tackle season as he has 26 tackles through his first three games of the season. KU fans know how far having a hard nosed linebacker can get a defense, and Longa has the potential to be another thorn in the Jayhawks side on Saturday.
No. 13: WR Carlton Agudosi (6-6, 220, R-Jr.)
Though the Jayhawks will fortunately be able to avoid going up against Carroo, they’re still going to have their work cut out for them. Agudosi is a matchup nightmare for the Jayhawks secondary and could be in for a career day. Wide receivers have thrived so far against the Jayhawks, especially when they have a size advantage. Standing at 6’6, Agudosi will have a significant height advantage and will be looking to use that on every play against Kansas.
No. 1: WR/PR/KR Janarion Grant (5-11, 170, Jr.)
While Grant was shut down by the Penn State special teams and defense, he showed just how explosive he can be in week 2 against Washington State. Grant set a single-game school record for all-purpose yards by gaining 339 total yards. In that game he had a 100-yard kick off return for a touchdown as well as a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown. He’s a dangerous special teams player and can quickly put points on the board for the Scarlet Knights.
Wave The Wheat If…
The secondary shuts down the Scarlet Knights passing game. Easily the biggest flaw the Jayhawks currently have, the secondary has been out played and out matched against every opponent this season. While the right adjustments were made against South Dakota State in week one, KU had no answer for the Memphis Tigers passing game and was torched for multiple big plays all game long. Kansas will need to quickly find a solution to their secondary situation or else Jayhawk fans will be in for some long games when opponents like TCU and Baylor roll around.
Plough The Field If…
KU doesn’t take advantage of Rutgers’ shaky run defense. Ke’aun Kinner will be the best player on the field Saturday and it’ll be up to head coach David Beaty and staff to use that to their full advantage. Kinner could have a career day if he is given the ball on a regular basis and allowed to use his talent and athleticism to pick apart the Rutgers defense.
KU hasn’t won a road game since the first “Hangover” movie was still in theaters in 2009. After losing 33 road games in a row it’s hard to pick the Jayhawks, even against a program that’s in as much disarray as Rutgers is. Kinner will light up the stat sheet but Rutgers pulls it out in the end.