Sophomore readjusts offense for Rutgers entering Wisconsin
After two of the best performances in his young collegiate career, Chris Laviano looked like he was finally beginning to turn the corner for the Rutgers football team.
In a tightly contested battle with then-No. 4 Michigan State and a 25-point comeback victory over Indiana the very next week, the sophomore quarterback appeared ready as ever for the challenge No. 1 Ohio State posed last Saturday night at High Point Solutions Stadium.
But the Glen Head, New York, native did exactly the opposite, turning in the worst of his six starts under center with 10-of-20 passing for 117 yards and an interception as the Scarlet Knights (3-4, 1-3) struggled mightily on offense all night long in a 49-7 blowout loss to the Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0).
“Ultimately, we just didn’t make enough plays and played pretty poorly. That started with myself,” Laviano said on Monday. “We just gotta — we learn from it, just put it behind us and just start over. Luckily, we’ve got another game of football.”
That next game of football Laviano is referring to looms this upcoming Saturday on Halloween at Wisconsin.
The Badgers (6-2, 3-1) gave Laviano a welcome to the Big Ten when he substituted in for Gary Nova midway through last year’s contest, a 37-0 blowout loss on Homecoming on Nov. 1, 2014.
Laviano couldn’t do much in his relief as the backup, going 2-for-12 with 17 pass yards as Wisconsin rolled Rutgers during the rainy Saturday afternoon.
Now with full rein of the offense as the starter, Laviano said the rough experience from his first round with the Badgers should help him in his seventh career start.
“I just remember from last year, their blitz schemes and the way they rolled their coverages and what not was pretty good. They would do it, probably, the best in the Big Ten,” he said. “It’s gonna be a good challenge for us.”
The challenge begins with outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert. The two combine for 89 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks to create a disruptive force in Wisconsin’s 4-3 defense.
Head coach Kyle Flood remembers the tandem quite well, reiterating that Rutgers has already keyed in on how to protect Laviano and dissect the defense through the pair of outside linebackers.
“They’re really disciplined on defense. They play to their strengths on defense,” Flood said. “They’re got two of the better outside linebackers in the country and in (senior strong safety Michael) Caputo, one of the better safeties in the country. They funnel a lot of their run game between those three guys. Those guys make a ton of plays.”
As far as it concerns Carlton Agudosi, the Knights need to get back to basics in order to resuscitate the offense when they roll out to a hostile environment at Camp Randall Stadium.
The junior wide receiver, who led Rutgers with two receptions for 76 yards in his last time out against Ohio State, kept his assessment and approach simple.
“You just gotta work and focus on the details,” Agudosi said. “There’s a lot of things that we’ve seen on film that we could’ve done better, so it’s all about our approach to the next game and moving forward and looking at our mistakes and fixing them. That’s the only thing that you can do.”
To some, that all starts on the line of scrimmage.
The Knights struggled to get enough of a push in the trenches on offense, with the running game limited to 104 yards on 29 carries and allowing two sacks to a tenacious Buckeyes defense.
While Flood said Laviano deserved more help, the sophomore quarterback bit the bullet and embraced the idea that Rutgers needs a greater balance in production all the way around on offense.
“There’s a bunch of pieces to what went wrong with Ohio State. It’s not the line’s fault or anybody’s fault. Starting with me, I’ve gotta own my job better and do a better job managing the little things in the game better,” Laviano said. “I just think, all-around, we have to own our jobs better and just ultimately not make stupid mistakes and step up in big plays because a missed assignment here and there is what causes problems during a game.”
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