Rutgers supports both quarterbacks as sophomore makes first career start
No one will know whom Rutgers head football coach Kyle Flood would have named as the starting quarterback for the Scarlet Knights’ season opener, but the sophomore who leads the first team offense out on its opening drive might have had the upper hand all along.
Pointing to the overall body of work, the fourth-year head coach gave Chris Laviano the green light over Hayden Rettig when Rutgers (1-0) set its depth chart on Monday for the week of preparation leading up to Saturday’s home contest with Washington State (0-1).
Will Rutgers fans see Rettig again when the second game of the fall kicks off at 3:30 p.m. at High Point Solutions Stadium? That part isn’t absolutely certain.
“Chris (Laviano) is the starting quarterback right now,” Flood said. “And I don't want any player in our program looking over their shoulder worried that they would be pulled out of a game because they made a mistake. Right now, Chris is the starting quarterback.”
Neither Laviano or Rettig have been made available to the media since training camp on Aug. 25.
Laviano dazzled when he returned from his first half suspension in the third quarter, flinging three touchdown passes and 138 yards on a perfect 4-for-4 day.
Rettig, in his collegiate debut, completed 9-of-11 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown through the air in addition to two carries for 17 yards and a touchdown on the ground when he started the game’s opening half.
While Flood shied away from considering the LSU transfer’s playing time against the Cougars and has been against the use of a two-quarterback system since the Knights reported to training camp back in August, he didn’t rule out the availability of Rettig now and in the future.
“Any player who is a competitor is going to be disappointed,” Flood said. “… But Hayden is a great teammate and somebody that also understands that he's very close to being the starting quarterback and those things can happen real quick. So, he'll be ready. We're fortunate that we have got two guys on our team right now that played at a high level in a college football game.”
After hauling in all three touchdown passes from Laviano, Carroo expressed his excitement to line up wide with the Glen Head, New York, native under center and engineering the offense this weekend.
But Carroo, who set the program’s all-time receiving record after his three scores went for 129 yards, keeps both quarterbacks in mind when it comes to preparation in practice.
Knowing that either is capable of playing at any given time, the Don Bosco Prep (New Jersey) product said he maintains a strong relationship with both signal-callers.
“As a receiver, you know that, even though Chris (Laviano) is the starter, you know that doesn’t mean you shy away from Hayden (Rettig). … You still continue to get reps with both quarterbacks,” the senior wide receiver said. “And, whoever’s out there, you just gotta know that you have a relationship with both of them and you have trust in them and they have trust in you to get the job done. At the end of the day, (whether Laviano or Rettig is) the quarterback, he’s the Rutgers quarterback, so he has to get the job done.”
But as first-year offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels toys around with the pro-style offense’s tempo and speed, the explosiveness Laviano and Carroo bring to the table could be a key aspect to keep an eye out for.
After connecting on a pair of deep strikes for 55 and 56 yards, respectively, Laviano found Carroo one last time when Rutgers marched its way inside the 20-yard line.
With the Norfolk State defense gassed at this point of the drive, Laviano quickly fired a bubble screen to Carroo, who did the rest on an 18-yard catch-and-run for the tandem's third score.
While Rettig burned two timeouts in the first half during his time as the offense’s orchestrator, Laviano never seemed to skip a beat when it came to the pace of the offense.
Both quarterbacks may clearly deserve more time running the system as the season progresses. But right now, according to senior running back Paul James, Laviano’s grip on the offense’s speed and his overall leadership at the position makes him stand out.
Against a Washington State air raid is bound to aim and fire on a Rutgers secondary that could play up to seven freshmen rotated around the defensive backfield, the Knights will need to do everything they can to keep up.
And with those two key attributes, Laviano could be the one to keep Rutgers afloat.
“I think that helps, but I think he’s a great leader,” James said of Laviano’s ability to run the offense at a quick pace. “He really knows the offense, he really understands it and I feel like that helps him out a lot. And a lot of the guys love him. We love him across the board, so he really could get out there and lead us and that helps that trust that we have with him and that trust that we have as a team. It really helps him at quarterback.”
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