Rutgers addresses questions on offensive side of ball to open final week of season
Everyone wondering where Robert Martin has been in the past few weeks has gotten their answer.
The junior running back has received limited action out of the backfield for the Rutgers football team after picking up an injury against Illinois Oct. 15.
After missing out against Minnesota and not taking an offensive snap against Indiana, Martin had just 10 carries for 37 yards combined in games against Michigan State and No. 8 Penn State, playing a majority of his snaps on special teams over the two-game stretch.
Though he had a full week of practice ahead of facing the Nittany Lions, he still didn’t recover the starting spot he lost from the injury. Instead, senior teammate Justin Goodwin kept it after impressing the coaching staff in Martin’s place.
“Robert is healthy. Last week he had a complete week of practice,” said head coach Chris Ash. “Goodwin has earned the right to be the starting running back and given opportunities to go out and get carries in games ... Doesn't mean Rob has done anything wrong. It's just that's what happens when you go through injuries. You have to earn your way back. Rob is trying to do that right now.”
At one point the leader in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native had just two carries in the 39-0 loss to Penn State Saturday.
Goodwin, who entered the season as the starter but played backup to Martin from the second game of the season against Howard until his teammate picked up his injury, managed 29 yards on 10 carries against the Nittany Lions.
Since taking over as the primary running back, Goodwin has gained 254 yards on 60 carries on the ground and 100 yards on 9 catches in three games. His best game of the season came in a 34-32 loss to Minnesota, where he racked up 149 total yards of offense — 97 on 19 carries on the ground and 52 on six receptions.
“Right now, Goody, over the course of the middle of the season, has taken advantage of the opportunity that's been given to him both in practice and in games, and he's earned the right to go out and be our starting tailback," Ash said "... It's more not about what Rob hasn't done or injuries, it's about what Justin has done to seize the opportunity.”
It’s been downhill from there for the Rutgers offense, as its production has regressed to the levels of rock bottom it reached in shutout losses to then-No. 2 Ohio State and then-No. 3 Michigan in its two latest contests.
The Knights were shutout in consecutive games once again, first in a 49-0 loss to Michigan State in East Lansing and then the latest loss against Penn State Saturday.
Rutgers gained less yards in the two games against the Spartans and Nittany Lions combined (236) than in the loss to the Golden Gophers (372). The Knights have been held scoreless four times this season, the first time its happened in the program since 1936. Much of the blame for the lack of production is pinned on rookie offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer’s playcalling.
Asked about it in his weekly press conference ahead of the season finale against Maryland this weekend, he broke down the reasons why certain plays don’t work in three issues — scheme, personnel and technique.
And while he pinned the blame on any scheme issues onto himself, he distributed the workload amongst himself, the coaching staff and his players.
“Ultimately, as a unit, we gotta eliminate our own mistakes and go out and execute and we won’t have some of these types of conversations,” Mehringer said. “We were talking about yesterday, we’re all in this thing together as an offense. We gotta call plays, we gotta call good plays and we gotta go out and execute good plays. They’re not all going to be perfect, but it’s going to come down to belief and it’s going to come down to a bunch of guys in the room that want to go win and want to make that play happen right then, right there.”
Based on the response from his players, belief is the last thing missing on the offensive side of the ball.
“One-hundred percent confidence in coach Mehringer and every single call he gives me," said sophomore quarterback Giovanni Rescigno, who has started the last 4 games in place of junior teammate Chris Laviano. "I feel like he puts us in the best position to win the game. … Whatever play call he gives me, whatever the game plan is going into the game, I'm 100 percent confident. And I know he's 100 percent confident in me or I wouldn't be out there. I think that's kind of what you need (from) your offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with your quarterback."