Rutgers sticks with Chris Laviano as starting quarterback despite recent struggles
As the Rutgers football team slugged through another blowout for the second consecutive weekend, all Hayden Rettig could do was watch.
Restricted to the sideline as he has been for much of his first year of eligibility after transferring from LSU, the sophomore quarterback stood around with his teammates in the cold rain as Wisconsin buried the Scarlet Knights, 48-10, last Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
From the jump, it hasn’t been the ideal season for Rutgers (3-5, 1-4).
“It’s tough for everybody, I guess,” Rettig said on Saturday. “I thought we did really well, to be honest with you. We played hard. That’s all you can really ask for.”
The Los Angeles, California, native’s positivity embodies the attitude he has had to maintain since Chris Laviano took the reins of the offense on Sept. 12 against Washington State as the starting quarterback.
Laviano’s season has been turbulent to this point. Through his first six starts, he led the Big Ten in completion percentage and neared the top of the conference in pass efficiency.
But now in the midst of a two-game skid after back-to-back blowouts to No. 1 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) and Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1), Laviano and the Knights are trending in a downward spiral as a trip to the Big House looms for Saturday at No. 16 Michigan.
Ever since Jim Harbaugh returned to coach at his alma mater, he has revived the Wolverines (6-2, 3-1) and their top-ranked defense.
That expects to pose even more problems for Laviano and the Rutgers offense when they get to Ann Arbor.
But as much as the Glen Head, New York, native from out on Long Island has struggled in his past two starts, head coach Kyle Flood expressed no desire to consider Rettig as an immediate, capable option in Laviano’s place.
“Those are decisions I have to make and Chris (Laviano) is our starting quarterback and we’re trying to give him enough opportunities to learn through the game,” Flood said. “And if the opportunity is there to give Hayden (Rettig) some experience, we’ll do that. We did this week again like we did last week.”
Despite Rettig’s moments of shine and glimmers of potential, Flood still has yet to legitimately entertain the Cathedral High School (California) product as a viable starter under center since training camp in August.
Rettig, who was named the starter by default on Aug. 25 after Laviano’s suspension for the first half of the Sept. 5 season opener against Norfolk State, flashed promise in his first live football action since his senior year of high school in 2012.
In his collegiate and Rutgers debut, Rettig went 9-for-11 with 110 yards and two total touchdowns with one passing strike and a scramble for the end zone in the first half against the FCS-caliber Spartans.
But since naming Laviano the starter for the Sept. 12 game against Washington State — an eventual 37-34 loss — Flood hasn’t looked back from his decision.
While Flood served a three-game suspension, then-acting head coach Norries Wilson and first-year offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels didn’t substitute Rettig for Laviano at any point in the Knights’ 28-3 loss at Penn State.
None of the other contests merited a change as Laviano appeared to be turning the corner behind the jolt of momentum with a 55-52 comeback win at Indiana where he threw for a career-high 386 yards and four touchdowns to one interception on 28-of-42 passing.
That was one week after he stood up to then-No. 4 Michigan State by going 15-for-25 with 208 yards and three scores through the air.
But since then, Laviano hasn’t been the same. In his past two games against the Buckeyes and the Badgers, he’s a combined 14-of-34 (41.2 percent) and just 148 yards to go with two picks and one lost fumble.
The fumble was on a mishandled exchange under center from junior Derrick Nelson to Laviano on the Knights’ own 3-yard line. Three plays later, Wisconsin barreled into the end zone on Corey Clement’s 1-yard dive from the goal line.
While Rettig reserved his comment on when asked whether or not he felt as if he should have been inserted into the Wisconsin game earlier as his team trailed by as much as 38 points, Laviano briefly expressed his desire to remain on the field.
“Yeah,” he said, when asked whether or not he would have preferred to stay in the game despite the blowout in the fourth quarter. “I always wanna play and be there for my team.”
Although Flood has addressed his desire and appreciation for Rettig to gain experience when the situation calls for it, the only times the fourth-year head coach has followed through in doing so has been when Rutgers trailed by 48 and 49 points, respectively, against OSU and Wisconsin.
“It’s just a matter of when you make the decision,” Flood said. “I decided I wasn’t going to make that decision until the fourth quarter and in the fourth quarter we got Hayden (Rettig) in there.”
Flood then said in his weekly teleconference with local media on Sunday that in-game quarterback switches aren't affected with the idea in mind that it could alter one of the signal-callers' confidence.
"We don't make decisions worried about hurting people's confidence," Flood said. "If your confidence is that easily shaken, you're in the wrong business so that's not a concern at all. If you wanna be the starting quarterback, you have to be confident in your own abilities. And if I decide to make a decision in a game, whatever that is, it better not affect how you approach the next week."
Nothing expects to change for Laviano, who fell to 2-5 as the starter for the Knights, in the near future. With Flood’s latest vote of confidence for the sophomore, it appears unclear how much competition Rettig brings to what is largely referred to as the game’s most important position.
But in the meantime, Rettig isn’t able to do much more than what he’s given. So as Rutgers delves deeper into the second half of its schedule, it is what it is right now.
“Just try to keep playing, I guess,” Rettig said of what his approach is to a game when he enters. “Play as hard as I can and see if I can make plays.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.