Inconsistent play continues to plague Chris Laviano through three games
Another game, another erratic performance from junior Chris Laviano.
And for the first time this season, the Rutgers football team subbed out its starting quarterback late in a close game because of his inconsistent play.
Through four second-half drives to the 7:48 mark in the fourth quarter, the Knights had just three points to show for. Rutgers' previous drive ended on three consecutive incompletions from Laviano, forcing the Knights to punt from New Mexico's 28-yard line.
On Rutgers' fifth drive of the latter half, head football coach Chris Ash inserted graduate transfer Zach Allen into the game at quarterback, sending Laviano to the sidelines.
For the previous two games, sophomore Giovanni Rescigno had been the Knights' backup at the quarterback position, but Allen, who was Laviano's main competitor for the starting job in training camp, was listed as a co-backup to Rescigno on the depth chart leading up to the New Mexico game.
It was just a week prior that both Rescigno and true freshman Tylin Oden, who had his potential redshirt burned, got garbage-time snaps over Allen.
"Zach Allen had a great week of preparation, he really did," offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer said. "At that time in the game, Laviano was struggling a little bit right there. So he needed a breather to kind of reassess the situation and get his mind back into the right frame of mind."
Zach Allen and the Knights took over on the New Mexico's 35, and things didn't get any prettier. The Knights would have went three-and-out after gaining just three yards but caught a break after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on the Lobos after the third down play was already dead.
The ball was moved into the red zone and Rutgers had a fresh set of downs, but it failed to advance any deeper, having to settle for a 33-yard field goal from Bonagura.
All told, Zach Allen was 0-for-2, rushed for 1 yard and nearly threw an interception.
On the next offensive drive, Laviano was back behind center, but he wouldn't attempt another pass the rest of the game as the Knights kept the ball on the ground to keep the clock ticking.
"You know, just like it's been for the last three games, goods and bads," Ash said of Laviano's performance. "There were a lot of short, easy passes (that) we that missed today. I obviously put Zach Allen in for a series in the second half, and it was more to calm Chris down. We thought there were a lot of throws on the field for us to get, and he missed them and he just was going through a bad stretch in the second half. We needed to pull him out and just get his mind right and give Zach a chance to go in and see what he can do, and we ended up putting Chris back in the game."
Laviano agreed with his head coach's assessment of his performance.
"I wasn't frustrated. I just probably had to stay more consistent," Laviano said of his short-term benching. "Coach is going to have to do what we have to do. I trust him fully."
The junior quarterback didn't turn it over in a game for the first time this season, but he finished the day 11-for-27 with 152 yards and one touchdown. Take away the 75-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jawuan Harris and he was just 10-for-26 with 77 yards.
Rutgers wasn't asking Laviano to make tough throws down the field much and, as Ash said, it was Laviano's misfires on intermediate routes in the flat, across the middle and on screens that led to his temporary benching.
"I think as a whole on offense, if we're gonna try and win more decisively (like) I thought that we could of in that game, we gotta throw and catch the ball better," Mehringer said. "You look at the passing stats and I think that's a telling statistic. So I think for both the quarterbacks in the white out unit, tight ends included in that, we gotta throw and catch the ball better. That's the one glaring issue that I thought we had today."