Sophomore quarterback struggles through recent stretch at Rutgers
Chris Laviano remembers it like it was yesterday.
Roughly one year ago, then a wide-eyed redshirt-freshman, Laviano trotted out to the field at Memorial Stadium in the second half of the Rutgers football team's Big Ten road battle at Nebraska.
After Gary Nova went down with a knee injury with less than a minute left until halftime, Laviano led Rutgers on offense for the third quarter and beyond in front of 91,088 in Lincoln.
The Glen Head, New York, native flashed signs of promise here and there, throwing for 49 yards on 4-of-7 passing and adding 54 yards — with a long of 46 — on five carries rushing, but couldn't provide enough of a punch as then-No. 16 Nebraska ran Rutgers out of the building in a 42-24 rout.
"I remember we were pretty competitive in the second half and they're a tough group, they're really physical," Laviano said.
Much has changed for both parties since that afternoon on Oct. 25.
Now Nova's successor as the starting quarterback at Rutgers (3-6, 1-5) one year later, Laviano's sophomore season has been a turbulent ride full of growing pains.
After sitting atop the Big Ten in completion percentage and pass efficiency, Laviano peaked in his career-high evening in the Knights' 55-52 triumph at Indiana on Oct. 17.
Since then, his numbers are ugly, with 25-of-60 (41.7 percent) passing for 245 yards (81.7 per game), three interceptions and a fumble to zero touchdowns.
To top it all off, Laviano hasn't led the offense on a touchdown-scoring drive since the 25-point comeback in Bloomington.
But head coach Kyle Flood has backed the first-year starter through thick and thin, sticking with Laviano despite fan calls for sophomore backup quarterback Hayden Rettig.
"Chris is a competitor. And like anything else, you play three of the top-five defenses in the country back-to-back-to-back ... I've seen pretty much everything to this point in the season," Flood said. "So now, as we go forward, I think every time you've seen those things in a game, the next time you see it, it's not quite as fast. The game slows down a little bit for you."
After the latest blunder — a 49-16 massacre at then-No. 16 Michigan — Flood defended his decision to leave Laviano in until the fourth quarter by saying he thought the signal-caller could grow from the most experience as possible against a top-ranked defense.
Laviano, who was 11-of-26 against the Wolverines with 97 yards and a pick, wanted to remain on the field.
"I like the fact that I was left in the game," Laviano said. "I love to play. I don't wanna come out, ever ... the more snaps you take, the best learning experiences you have."
While the numbers might not reflect productive performances, senior running back Paul James said he has seen Laviano mature in his first year under center.
"He's grown a lot — that's a lot of tough situations he's been put in and that's really gonna help him as a player and as a person," James said. "I feel like with that experience, that's gonna help him in the future. It's helped him so far a lot."
With the Cornhuskers (4-6, 2-4) boasting a pass defense that ranks 124th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, yielding 319.1 yards per game, Laviano receives the best possible opportunity to get his season back on track when he makes his ninth career start.
In order to keep Rutgers' season from continuing in its downward spiral, Laviano might need to make the most of it.
"For him, it's just important to start the preparation over again," Flood said. "It's a new week, process. Corrections we made. And now, as we go forward, we begin to embrace the game plan and against what we're gonna see this week."
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