Prior success turns to weakness for Rutgers during losing skid
Through the first six games of the Rutgers football team's season, stories of success were in abundance up and down the roster.
From the impressive play of the starting quarterback and top wide receiver to the performance at the tight end position and on special teams, there was a lot for Scarlet Knights fans to be excited about.
But during a losing skid that includes back-to-back lopsided losses and three defeats in four games, Rutgers has regressed in areas that were seen as a strength a mere three weeks ago.
After returning from an indefinite suspension as a result of a domestic assault charge being dismissed, senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo lit the college football world on fire.
Carroo, an offensive captain for the Knights, posted consecutive games with three touchdowns — first against then-No.4 Michigan State and then through three quarters in the historic comeback at Indiana.
But since landing awkwardly on his third touchdown catch versus the Hoosiers, Rutgers' all-time leader in receiving touchdowns has been relegated to splitting time while he nurses a lower body injury that limited him in the 49-7 rout by No. 1 Ohio State and kept him out of the 48-10 whitewash by Wisconsin last Saturday.
“It was pretty hard,” the senior wideout said of having to watch the blowout by the Badgers in street clothes. “It was a rough one, so me not being able to be out there to help my team was just — it was rough to watch.”
Carroo is listed as questionable on the injury report released by head coach Kyle Flood at the outset of Monday’s press conference, but after guaranteeing he would be out on the field against the Buckeyes, the Edison, New Jersey, native backed away from any grand claims for this week’s matchup at Michigan.
“When the doctors medically clear me, then I’ll be out there,” he said. “I’m getting better and better every single day, it’s just a matter of when my medical staff is ready to tell me that I’m okay.”
Flood was optimistic that having not practiced last week and sitting out the game in Madison would be helpful to restoring the health of his top target, but remained non-committal about Carroo’s ability to play at the Big House in Ann Arbor this week.
“Certainly when you don't play, it gives your body a better chance to heal,” Flood said at his weekly press conference Monday. “If we played today, (Carroo) wouldn't play. What does that mean for Saturday? I don't know that we'll know that till a little bit later in the week.”
On the other side of the ball, Rutgers' defense is looking for someone to step up and rush the quarterback. Sophomore defensive end Kemoko Turay still maintains the team lead in sacks (2), but has been unable to duplicate the success of a rookie season that garnered Freshman All-American accolades.
“I’m just trying to do my job,” Turay said. “Whenever they put me in I’m just trying to go out there and help my teammates.”
The 6-foot-6, 240-pounder has been slowed most the season by an upper body injury, which Flood said cost the Newark, New Jersey, native precious reps in his sophomore season. But the fourth-year head coach believes that the more opportunities Turay gets, the more plays he will make.
“With Kemoko, as he plays more, he's going to have more production,” Flood said. “I don't have any concerns about that for Kemoko, other than trying to get him to the point where we can play him on all three downs. We want to do that as soon as we can.”
In addition to the fall-off in production from the defense and at wide receiver, sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano has slipped in the last two times out. After banner performances against then-No. 4 Michigan State and in the historic comeback at Indiana, Laviano has languished in games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
“We just couldn’t get anything going on offense,” Laviano said after the loss in Madison. “We just gotta watch the film and correct.”
The absence of Carroo cannot be understated, but the connection between Laviano and his tight end has also been lacking in the back-to-back blowouts.
After getting production from the three tight ends, who combined for 29 receptions, 237 yards and three touchdowns through the first six games, sophomores Matt Flanagan and Charles Scarff have been held without a reception over the last two contests.
Junior Nick Arcidiacono owns the most explosive play from the position, but it’s the only grab he’s had since Indiana, going for 22 yards. Arcidiacono isn’t complaining about the tight ends tempered performance, he is resigned to sticking to Rutgers' game plan, whether it involves him in the passing game or as a blocker in the ground game.
“(The quarterbacks) are making the right reads, it just hasn’t happened to be our read these last couple games,” Arcidiacono said. “Obviously I like having the ball, but it’s not a problem for me. I like the run game just as much as the pass game.”
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