Rutgers' offense reaches new low against No. 4 Michigan
PISCATAWAY— It was hard to imagine the Rutgers football team's offense being able to put on a worse showing than it did in the 58-point shutout loss to No. 2 Ohio State last week.
But on Saturday night against No. 4 Michigan, the Scarlet Knights pulled off the seemingly impossible.
Rutgers finished the game with two completions, two first downs and 39 total yards of offense en route to its second consecutive shutout loss, this time falling 78-0 to the Wolverines at High Point Solutions Stadium.
It took the Knights until the 9:12 mark of the fourth quarter to pick up its first first down in a game that saw Rutgers have a higher number of punts (16) than it did passing yards (5), completions and first downs combined.
"The whole thing's on me," said head football coach Chris Ash on the Knights' offensive struggles. "I've got to do a better job of getting the team ready. Simple as that."
On the heels of completing just three passes and gaining 116 total yards on the road against the Buckeyes, the Knights' offense picked up in Piscataway right where it left off in Columbus the week prior.
On Rutgers' first four drives, junior quarterback Chris Laviano and company were held to negative-2 yards across four three-and-outs. Laviano himself was 1-for-8 for 6 yards through the air.
Facing a manageable 14-0 deficit at the 4:27 mark of the first quarter, Ash decided to make a quarterback change before the Wolverines could pull away for good.
Ash benched Laviano in favor of junior Zach Allen, who had just one short series against Iowa of experience under his belt this season.
"We were hoping to (get it) going on offense," Ash said of inserting Allen into the game. "Whether it's through Zach or somebody else or a running back. You know, we've got to get something going on offense. We've obviously struggled the last three weeks in a row."
But a change in quarterback didn't change the Knights' misfortunes on offense one bit.
Across Rutgers' final six drives of the half, it netted 8 yards and continued to trot out sophomore punter Michael Cintron after just three downs of offense.
Allen was 0-for-3 passing the rest of the half and the only positive play the TSU transfer produced ended in disaster.
Late in the first quarter, the Knights faced a third-and-five from its own six when Allen scrambled out of the pocket before dashing for the first down. Just as Allen got past the first-down marker, he was immediately drilled by Delano Hill, who knocked the ball out of Allen's grasp onto the ground for Bryan Mone to recover at Rutgers' 4-yard line.
"At that time, offense needed a spark, it was a great opportunity and clearly the story of the day is we didn't get rolling at all the whole game," Allen said. "For some reason, it's one guy every play. We have the right game plan, the right calls. It's just every once and a while a guy messes up and we have to get back goin'."
When the Knights came out of the locker room at High Point Solutions Stadium for the second half, they were facing an insurmountable 43-point deficit and was being outgained 309 to six. The Wolverines kept most of their starters in the game at the start of the third quarter and their dominance on defense ensued.
On Rutgers' first six drives of the latter half, it had gained all of 4 yards.
It wasn't until the 9:12 mark of the fourth quarter — with the Knights facing a 71-point deficit and Michigan trotting out its third-string on defense — that Rutgers would pick up its first first down of the game on a 12-yard dash by freshman running back Trey Sneed.
"I'm glad we got a first down," Allen said when asked if he was aware that Rutgers didn't have a first down late in the game. "You don't really worry about stats in a game, but clearly it's going through your head. If you're the quarterback and you go three-and-out every play you know and it's so frustrating. So frustrating. 'Cause you know these guys give it their all every play and didn't happen. And that's the frustrating part. Everyone out here cares. Everyone out here works their butts off and tries their best."
After Laviano was benched late in the first quarter, Allen played every snap the rest of the way, finishing with an underwhelming passing line of 1-for-10 for negative-1 yard.
The question moving forward for Chris Ash and offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer becomes whether the Knights will make a permanent change at the starting quarterback position. The past few weeks Ash has repeatedly said Rutgers will stick with Laviano at quarterback unless a better option arises.
The Knights have three-plus quarters of tape on Zach Allen and, although it came against one of the nation's top defenses, after his performance, it's hard to see them slotting him into the starting role at this moment.
Regardless of who leads Rutgers' offense onto the field against Illinois next Saturday, the Knights simply need better play from the quarterback position.
In the ten quarters since senior receiver Janarion Grant went down with a season-ending injury against Iowa, Rutgers has amassed 13 completions for 130 yards, with eight completions and 92 yards coming from the second half against Iowa alone.
"As a quarterback you prepare every week and everyday like you're the starter," Allen said. "We were going against a very good defense and they brought a lot of different stuff. They just have some good players. They just outperformed us today."
- Trey Sneed rushed for 29 yards across eight carries.
- Michael Cintron punted 16 times on Saturday night. Michigan has punted 22 times this season.
- Even further, over Rutgers' first three Big Ten games it has punted 51 times. That number alone would rank tied for third in the conference for the season.
- Rutgers averaged .72 yards per play.
- Jawuan Harris has accounted for all five of Rutgers' receptions in the past two games.
- Over the past two games Robert Martin has 25 carries for 74 yards.
- Rutgers averaged .9 yards per carry.
- Michigan had 13 tackles for loss and four sacks.
- Michigan fullback Khalid Hill rushed for two touchdowns and two yards on two carries.