Rutgers remains confident in quarterback
At the end of his second career start, Chris Laviano’s record under center chalked up another loss to drop him to 0-2 on the year.
With the sophomore starting at quarterback, the Rutgers football team has yet to climb back into the win column since opening up the season Sept. 5 with a 63-13 cakewalk against FCS foe Norfolk State.
He followed up his perfect third quarter of action in the season opener, where he dazzled in his brief time on the field after his first half suspension, going 4-for-4 with 138 yards and three touchdowns. He then posted deceptive numbers that might not tell the whole story behind his performance in a 37-34 home loss to Washington State on Sept. 12.
The excuses are there and they're more than reasonable. Laviano suffered without a single trace of a running game to balance the offense as the Scarlet Knights scrounged together just 43 yards on 32 carries.
The signal-caller was also without his right hand man in senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo, who remains suspended indefinitely following his arrest for simple assault under domestic violence.
And across the line of scrimmage, his teammates on the defensive side of the ball were steamrolled for 330 rush yards on 41 carries.
But after completing 27-of-42 passes for 251 yards and tossing two interceptions in Rutgers’ sloppy 28-3 blunder at Penn State, Laviano assessed the performance in simple terms.
“Just gotta start off faster than we did,” Laviano said after the game. “And we gotta score points.”
While Kyle Flood serves his three-game suspension, his duties stop when game day rolls around. During the week of game prep, Flood operates practice the way he normally would as the team’s head coach.
That being said, it ultimately still isn’t up to interim head coach Norries Wilson to name the starter under center.
As for the Knights’ homecoming matchup with Kansas, Flood stuck with Laviano. When Rutgers released its depth chart on Monday to kickoff the week of game prep for the Jayhawks (0-2), the latest lineup of projected starters printed Laviano’s name in bold with sophomore Hayden Rettig below in the two-deep list of positions.
Wilson, who fields the questions in Flood’s place during media availability throughout the week, left the window open for Rettig to slide in when the assistant coach mulled the idea of a potential quarterback switch in a teleconference with reporters Sunday afternoon.
But when asked to provide an idea for when he planned on choosing a quarterback for the week, Wilson shot it back down. He cited Flood's depth chart on Monday, but spoke further on the matter to reporters on Wednesday.
"I think everyone knows you've got to put the best players on the field," Wilson said. "I know we'd be doing a disservice if we didn't put out there who we thought the best players were. Coach Flood put out a depth chart that reflects his opinion on each position — not just the quarterback position, each position."
While the verdict is still out on whether or not Rettig’s strong arm and collegiate debut 9-of-11, 110-yard and one-touchdown effort through the air back in the opener merits a second look, Laviano remains the starter for the third straight week.
The Glen Head, New York, native quietly leads all Big Ten starting quarterbacks in completion percentage at 72 percent after connecting on 54-of-75 attempts to open up the fall.
The numbers might not tell the whole story from either angle — his past two outings have been centered heavily around quick strikes in offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels’s up-tempo wrinkle — but Rutgers remains behind its starter.
“We gotta help the quarterback out as a team. We gotta block for him up front,” said senior running back Paul James. “We also gotta start opening up the running lanes so that we can open that pass lanes, give him that opportunity to throw the ball because if they can just stop the run, then they’re easily going to be able to stop the pass.”
As James tries to spearhead the revival of the ground game against a Kansas defense that has allowed an average of 225.5 rush yards through its first two games this year, Laviano might look to further spark the ember to the fire he and Carlton Agudosi ignited last week.
Playing for Carroo at the “X” receiver, the junior wide out emerged in the senior captain’s absence with a career-high six receptions for 80 yards to lead the Knights’ receiving corps.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder provided a bright spot in a game where Rutgers looked lost, as the off-field darkness spilled its way onto the field, but Agudosi commended Laviano for remaining mentally tough.
As the Nittany Lions’ pass rush threw Laviano around on the field grass like a rag doll on their way to five sacks, how the sophomore signal-caller got back up resonated with Agudosi.
“I think (Laviano) showed a lot of heart,” Agudosi said. “He was getting pounded all night and I think people take for granted how hard it is to get whacked by 300-pound guys and still stick in there and keep his head up. He wasn’t pouting and put his head down, he was trying to motivate us and keep us going.”
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