Rutgers enters second half of season riddled with injuries
The Rutgers football team suffered its heaviest shutout loss since 1888 in a 78-0 bloodbath to No. 4 Michigan Saturday. The loss came a week after a 58-0 blowout at the hands of No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus.
The Scarlet Knights (2-4, 0-3) are halfway through their season and have played three of the top-5 teams in the country in the Wolverines, Buckeyes and No. 5 Washington in their season opener, a game they lost 48-13.
Yet, despite being outscored 156-0 in their past two games and thoroughly outplayed in the process, the Knights still have hopes of reaching a bowl game as they enter a far more manageable second half of the season.
“Yesterday, we met as a team like we normally do on Sundays. We talked about the first half of the season, the first six games and where we're at as a football team. We're a 2-4 football team,” said head coach Chris Ash at his weekly press conference Monday. “We need to put those games in that first half of the season behind us and get ready for the second half of the season.”
The final six games of the season begin with this Saturday’s homecoming game against Illinois (1-4, 0-2), a team currently going through a transition period of its own under first-year head coach Lovie Smith.
Unfortunately for Greg Jones, he will not be able to participate in what would be his first and only homecoming game.
The senior walk-on running back turned scholarship strongside linebacker has officially been medically disqualified and ruled unfit to play football due to a neck injury sustained in Columbus last week against Ohio State.
He’ll remain around the team throughout the season, but his career in Piscataway — and likely his playing career in general — on the football field has come to a close.
“It was a doctor recommended decision. ... It's what's best for Greg,” Ash said. “Greg's an outstanding young man … Plays the game the way we wanted our players to play it, and it was tough, relentless. Studied the game all the time. Great teammate, and we wish Greg nothing but the best.”
Jones’ name is added to the laundry list of injuries Rutgers is dealing with at the moment, joining senior defensive end Quanzell Lambert (out for the season) and sophomore safety Saquan Hampton and his replacement Kiy Hester, who are both out indefinitely.
Junior cornerback Ross Douglas started in place of Hampton at free safety, with running back Josh Hicks taking warm-up snaps at safety for the first time since collecting six tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception against Army last season.
With the status of Hampton and Hester unknown, the same situation could arise against the Fighting Illini.
“We haven't decided that yet,” Ash said of using Hicks at safety. “We needed some more depth. We had to move Ross Douglas to safety and he started the game. We moved Josh over to safety to help provide some depth. What his future will be will determine what the team's needs are as we go forward.”
The injuries aren’t limited to the defensive side of the ball, with top playmaker Janarion Grant’s absence being felt on offense since he suffered a season-ending injury against Iowa three weeks ago.
Rutgers has amassed just 13 completions for 130 yards in the 10 quarters its played without Grant, with eight completions and 92 yards coming from the second half of the game against the Hawkeyes alone.
The Knights had three completions for 33 yards against Ohio State before a pitiful 5 yards on two completions against the Wolverines.
If Rutgers hopes to reach the postseason, it’ll need to do a whole lot better than that moving forward.
“It is hard. It is an adjustment. Everybody’s gotta do more. Everyone’s gotta ask of themselves and ask of each other more,” said offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer of life without Grant. “We have to do a better job of being a cohesive unit on offense for us to be successful so everybody can fill that role. The days of just get the ball to (Janarion Grant), he’ll make it happen, that doesn’t exist anymore.”
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