Quarterback controversy resurfaces as Rutgers blows out Norfolk State, 63-13
PISCATAWAY — After his team’s 63-13 blowout win over Norfolk State on Saturday afternoon at High Point Solutions Stadium, Rutgers head football coach Kyle Flood caught up with former Virginia head football coach Al Groh.
As the two walked back up to the Hale Center before Flood departed to meet with the media for his postgame press conference, Groh reflected on a quarterback situation he once had with the Cavaliers where the play of his two signal-callers was so good that he couldn’t commit on a single starter.
“I said: In all my years, I don't know if I remember a situation like this where both quarterbacks were both doing a really nice job and playing at a high level and the decision part of this has become a much longer process than I anticipated,” Flood said. “When I said seven to 10 days in the off-season, I believed it would be seven to 10 days and somebody would separate themselves and we would have a starting quarterback and we would go forward. This is a little bit of unchartered water for me.”
In his first collegiate start and Rutgers debut, Hayden Rettig looked like a bonafide starting quarterback.
The sophomore, making his first appearance in a live football game since high school in 2012, carved up the Norfolk State defense. Through the air, he flashed the big arm and showed poise, delivering tight throws and standing firm in the pocket on a flurry of hits and hurries.
He even answered adversity, to a degree, after the Spartans (0-1) went 75 yards on five plays in the opening drive of the game to initially quiet the crowd of 47,453.
Then Chris Laviano happened.
After Rettig opened 9-of-11 with 110 yards and a touchdown pass — in addition to 17 yards and a touchdown on the ground — Flood elected to discontinue the LSU transfer for the third quarter.
Contrary to the idea that Rettig’s play might have merited more time in the second half — and that he could use it, given the fact that he hasn’t played live football in nearly three years — the Knights’ head coach sent Laviano out with the first team offense to begin the third quarter.
“It wasn't a matter of pulling Rettig,” Flood clarified. “I thought Hayden played well in the first half and we had an opportunity to get a live evaluation in a game environment on both quarterbacks, and I wanted to do that.”
And then the real fireworks began.
Highlighted by three scores to Leonte Carroo in the third quarter, Laviano quickly stole the quarterback thunder by going a perfect 4-for-4 with 138 yards to open up the floodgates in a blowout for Rutgers (1-0).
Neither Laviano nor Rettig were made available to the media after the game.
Laviano, suspended for the first half of the game, wasted no time in presenting his case for more time under center. On his first two drives in the third quarter, he found Carroo on a 55-yard strike before delivering another one for 56 yards on his very next series.
The Glen Head, New York, native then hit Carroo on a bubble screen and the senior wide receiver did the rest, cutting and slicing through Norfolk State’s Swiss-cheese-like defense for an 18-yard score to put the Knights up, 42-13, with 3:11 before the start of the fourth quarter.
The third and final score of the day for the Edison, New Jersey, native leaves Carroo alone at the top as the program’s all-time receiving touchdowns leader with his 22nd career score. He surpassed Tim Brown and Brandon Coleman, who were both tied for the record with 20, on his first touchdown.
The video game-like scores by Carroo and Laviano almost seemed premeditated.
“It was just talks we had in the locker room and in the weight room when we were warming up,” Carroo said. “I was talking to him, I said: Hey, we did something dumb together, we’re suspended. Let’s go out in the second half and let’s just show our team, let’s show the fans how truly sorry we are by making plays. Let’s go out there and just complete our butts off and go out there and play hard. … We kind of just went out there and clicked.”
Carroo, who didn’t line up on the field with Rettig in either half — Rettig returned to the game midway through the fourth quarter despite Rutgers being up by 50 points with 3:58 to go in the fourth quarter — didn’t give preference to either quarterback.
“I have a very great relationship with both guys. If Hayden (Rettig) was out there, it would’ve been the same thing,” Carroo said. “(Laviano) knew he was coming in the second half, so we just knew that we were just gonna connect right away. Whatever quarterback’s out there for Washington State next week, it’ll be the same thing.”
Lining up behind the pair of signal-callers at running back throughout both halves, Paul James wasn’t sure who would be feeding him handoffs when Washington State comes to Piscataway next Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
The senior captain, who took 15 carries for 82 yards in his first game since suffering a right ACL tear nearly one year ago to date, said he trusts in the coaching staff’s evaluation and believes in either signal-caller.
“I don’t know what the decision’s gonna be. I don’t have any say in that,” James said. “But I feel like both of the quarterbacks played great. They’re both great quarterbacks on our team and I feel like supports both of them fully.”
Flood refused to play the game of hypotheticals, pertaining to what decision would have been made before Norfolk State if Laviano weren’t suspended.
But as far as any timeline for a decision goes, Flood said he would shoot for naming either Laviano or Rettig by Monday or Tuesday.
“We’re still gathering the information and I’m really pleased with how both of those guys are playing,” he said. “They are certainly not making it easy on me. Both played at a high level and we’ll watch the film and decide here in what direction we’re gonna go as we move forward.”
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