Rutgers wide receivers eye improvement to assist quarterback, offense
All eyes and most questions surrounding the Rutgers football team’s offense, as with most football programs, are directed at the situation behind center.
Junior quarterback Chris Laviano has been inconsistent in his play in the first two games of the season, completing 57 percent of his 62 passing attempts but also turning the ball over twice with a fumble that could’ve been two against then-No 14 Washington and two interceptions, including on the first play of the Scarlet Knights (1-1) home opener against Howard.
But just as with the play that pushed momentum further towards the Bison and had the 45,245 fans in attendance at High Point Solutions Stadium believing in the possibility of a monumental upset to an FCS program and an 0-2 start to the Chris Ash era, the blame isn’t being spread around evenly.
The interception sprouted from a pass intended for senior wide receiver Carlton Agudosi, who deflected it directly into the hands of Alonte Dunn before Howard scored in just three plays over a minute and a half.
Laviano received most of the blame for the location of his pass being behind Agudosi, but the reality is he was not the intended target.
“If you look at that read right there on the flat defender and the (strongside linebacker) took the bubble out there from Janarion, so Carlton should’ve just sat down right there in that window,” said offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer. “(Carlton) got a little excited on the first play of the game, kept rolling through the window. When Chris tried to make him right, the middle linebacker had time to step into that window.”
The play was one of a number of missed assignments throughout the first two games of the season, though not all ended as badly. Senior wide receiver Andre Patton’s touchdown that tied the game at 14 was the most positive outcome in a similar situation thus far.
“To be honest, it was a missed assignment,” said wide receivers coach Jafar Williams said of the first receiving touchdown of the season for his team. “It worked out luckily for him but those are the little things, the details that we talk about and even the fans, they don’t know that. I know that as a coach, we can’t get away with those mistakes.”
Though a mistake was made, the end result is an encouraging sign of Rutgers' ability to improvise.
“There’s going to be times where there’s missed assignments or wrong routes ran but I feel like just as long as you and the quarterback, or even if I’m blocking, me and the running back are on the same page, we can make big plays happen,” Patton said.
It ended well but it gave a glimpse of one of the reasons the Knights have struggled to garner production in the pass game.
Spoiled from having Leonte Carroo make 20, 30, 40 yard catches routinely in the past three seasons, Rutgers no longer possesses a deep ball threat similar to the wide receiver now playing with the Miami Dolphins this season.
Through two games, the Knights' leaders in receiving yards are Janarion Grant — the do-it-all receiver who catches a majority of his passes in the backfield through bubble screens — senior running back Justin Goodwin and senior tight end Nick Arcidiacono.
Patton is the first wide receiver to appear on the list at four and aside from the 22 yard touchdown against the Bison, he and his fellow receivers have not gotten big plays in the first two games of the season.
Redshirt freshman Jawuan Harris’ 29 yard touchdown later in the contest was the longest pass completed by Laviano. Harris caught two passes for a combined 46 yards against Howard, a performance that earned him a starting spot on the depth chart ahead of Rutgers’ game against New Mexico Saturday at noon ahead of Agudosi.
“No I didn’t (expect to be a starter so soon),” Harris said. “So just being able to get that opportunity, I’m very blessed, very grateful for it so I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”
Harris’ rising up the depth chart is a testament to his improvement during the offseason after missing spring camp — Williams said he had one of the biggest jumps of anyone in the summer — but it also demonstrates the lack of production coming from the wide receivers corps.
Laviano hasn’t been spectacular but he hasn’t had much help, either.
“I don’t know what the numbers are but we definitely need more production,” Williams said. “I put a lot on our guys in our room and we put a lot on our shoulders. That’s what needs to be expected so I think they understand that and I’m gonna need to keep driving that message as well.”