Rutgers readjusts entering Penn State week
With the face of the program, Leonte Carroo, suspended indefinitely following his arrest for charges under domestic violence in a postgame altercation involving two females this past Saturday night out side of High Point Solutions Stadium, head coach Kyle Flood and the Rutgers football team finds itself in the middle of its latest off-field crisis.
As three ongoing investigations linger around the Scarlet Knights, the tornado of controversy has begun to swirl more rapidly than before.
On the field, Rutgers is coming off a 37-34 letdown against Washington State. On top of that, hostile territory of up to 107,282 raucous fans clad in white at Beaver Stadium awaits when the Knights head out to Happy Valley to take on Penn State in their Big Ten Conference opener.
As the noise from the off-field controversies blares on, Rutgers finds itself in the middle of its largest task yet early in the 2015 season.
With the six players dismissed from the team following their alleged involvement in charges ranging from home invasions to assaults and the fate of their senior captain unknown following his arrest, the Knights' head coach took on the responsibility.
“As the head coach, everything ultimately reflects on you and it's part of the job,” Flood said. “If you shy away from that, you probably shouldn't do the job.”
While Flood said he did sit down with Carroo after the incident to address the disciplinary action, players said that they have not spoken to their teammate since Rutgers’ last game.
Without one of the team’s four captains, who chose not to declare for the NFL Draft at the end of the 2014 season and cited unfinished business at Rutgers as why he wanted to return for his senior year, some others have had to step up.
One of those is Quentin Gause. The senior captain and strong side linebacker said that there has been a collective effort by the Knights in the locker room to block the off-field buzz out, especially after the latest turn of events.
“You’ve got other guys on the team as well. You’ve got guys that will step up and play a big role as well,” Gause said of the team’s leadership and focus. “For me, it doesn’t really affect me much. All it is, is to be a much more harder leader to be a better leader for my teammates.”
Junior defensive tackle Julian Pinnix-Odrick echoed those sentiments, reiterating the emphasis placed on Rutgers coming together as the team enters a pivotal matchup.
With a 1-1 record, the importance of the rematch with the Nittany Lions cannot be overstated.
Throw in the wrench of the Carroo hoopla and the Knights could be looking at a potential must-win game that could have huge implications on where the team ends up as it attempts to progress through the season and into the gauntlet of Big Ten play.
But Pinnix-Odrick assured that everyone is on the same page.
“No matter what type of situation we’re hit with, as a team, we have to respond with putting your head down and working and controlling what you can control,” he said. “I mean, I can only control what Julian controls, Coach Flood can only control what Coach Flood controls and that is the same for every player. And if I can’t do anything about the situation, I have to do what’s best for my team. … We’re always supportive of our family and we always have our family’s back, so we’re real defensive on anything in that front.”
While Carroo’s status for the remainder of the season remains a mystery, one wide receiver’s role in an upperclassmen-laden position group could see his role increased tremendously when Rutgers takes on Penn State.
On Monday, junior Janarion Grant was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week by the conference. The honor comes after the Trilby, Florida, native shattered the Knights’ program record for all-purpose yards in a single game after he rattled off 339 against Washington State on Saturday.
“It’s wonderful. It’s a great feeling,” Grant said. “I didn’t know anything about it. I saw it mentioned on Facebook, people from my hometown putting it up. It feels really special. I put a lot of work in and it just shows.”
When Rutgers needed it most, Grant took the game into his own hands.
After bringing the Knights back into the game with an electrifying 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter, lightning struck twice when Grant weaved his way through the Cougars’ kicking team on a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown to give Rutgers what would have been the game-winning touchdown in a 37-34 loss.
Flood acknowledged the returner’s honor, crediting Grant’s role in keeping the game winnable after Washington State went up 20-6 as Rutgers struggled to sustain drives on offense.
“I think an award and an honor that he certainly is deserving of this week after his performance on Saturday,” Flood said. “That's exciting to see, two weeks in a row, to score on special teams the way he did, it's going to make us a better football team.”
Grant, who also hauled in five receptions for 65 yards and took one carry on a jet sweep for 21 yards on the ground, showed flashes of how far he has come since inheriting a bigger role on the offense this season.
After working in the off-season to bolster his overall abilities as a receiver from a mental standpoint in learning the playbook to becoming more physical running routes and catching balls, Grant foresaw this in training camp when he told the media how he felt entering his third season on the Banks.
And with the team’s most potent weapon sidelined indefinitely as his status remains unclear following the suspension, Grant feels more than ready to take on the larger slice of the pie if necessary.
“All the receiver group core (has more of a responsibility without Carroo),” Grant said. “Once one guy’s gone, another one has to step up. That’s the way we look at it.”
For the third game in a row, Rutgers will be without a senior captain not named Carroo.
Senior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, an integral piece to the Knights’ defense in the trenches, is listed as “out” for Saturday’s Big Ten opener at Penn State.
He has not practiced in over one month with a lower body injury. Barring a miracle late in the week, he’ll likely sit out for the rematch with the Nittany Lions.
“I think when a player like Darius is not in the lineup, you miss him no matter who you play against,” Flood said. “Darius could have helped us last week and if he's not available this week, we'll miss him this week.”
Pinnix-Odrick, who rooms with Hamilton and has been starting in his place at the three-point technique, talked about what it has been like without one of the cornerstones of the defensive line.
“He’s one of the fiercest competitors I know,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “It kills him. He’s doing all that he can to get healthy and the things to do to get back out there with us. I see him everyday and we talk about things. He’s definitely trying to be there as much as he can with the team while preparing himself.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.