Deep threats emerge in RU passing game
The Rutgers football team’s passing game last season was nearly one-dimensional.
That dimension went by the name of Mohamed Sanu, who is now a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals.
In his final season as a Scarlet Knight, the South Brunswick, N.J., native caught 115 åpasses for 1,206 yards.
Now, the Knights have a group of receivers that can step up when needed.
“That’s the great thing about this receiving corps,” said sophomore wideout Brandon Coleman. “We’re really deep. We have a lot of versatility, and we have a lot of depth.”
Statistics back up Coleman’s assessment.
Coleman, senior wideouts Mark Harrison and Tim Wright and sophomore running back Jawan Jamison all have more catches through the first six games of the season than they did all of last season.
Senior tight end D.C. Jefferson is only one reception behind last year’s total.
The emergence of redshirt freshman tight end Tyler Kroft — he caught a touchdown pass Saturday against Syracuse — only added to the group’s depth.
“We have a lot of weapons everywhere,” said sophomore quarterback Gary Nova. “Everybody can catch the ball. Tyler stepping up the way he did, he didn’t really play that much, goes in there, makes a great catch and gets hit, hangs onto it. It’s just a testament to everybody doing their job when they get an opportunity.”
The wideouts have earned more of those opportunities in the passing game thanks to the rise of the downfield passing game in the Knights’ play-calling.
Six receivers this season have caught passes of 34 yards or more, four of whom failed to accomplish that feat in the previous campaign.
Coleman, who towers over most defensive backs at 6-foot-6, is at the forefront of the vertical attack.
He leads all pass catchers that have 10 or more receptions in yards per catch with an average of 15.9. Nova credits that to preparation.
“That’s just a lot of work we did in the summer, waking up early in the morning, going out there and throwing deep balls and just working on everything,” Nova said. “I think it’s showing off this year.”
He is not shy about looking Coleman’s way for a big gain, either. Nova is conscious of Coleman’s height advantage against defenders and said usually if Coleman is in one-on-one coverage, he is going to beat the defender.
The two simply need to be in the same mindset.
“I mostly see the same thing that Gary sees, coverage-wise,” Coleman said. “If we’re on the same page, then he’s going to give me a chance. If we’re not, then he’s going to move through his progressions.”
What makes the deep passing game more effective is its lack of turnovers.
Although Nova’s eyes are downfield more than they were a year ago, his interception total remains low. He has been picked off only twice this season and not since the Sept. 8 home opener against Howard.
“Just knowing when you have to take a shot,” Nova said of how he has kept his interception total down. “If it’s not there, just [check] it down. Jamison, when he has the ball in his hands, can make anything happen. If it’s not there, just take your check down, and we’ll call it again if anything later on in the game.”
The receivers provide assistance to their quarterback, as well.
“I remember [against] South Florida [Sept. 13], he threw up a ball and I knew I couldn’t get it, so I turned into the defensive player,” Coleman said. “I wasn’t going to let it be picked off. We help each other out.”
All of it leads to Nova owning a pass efficiency more than 24 points higher than the one he has last season, and a 6-0 record for Rutgers.
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @JGregoryTargum.