Rutgers offensive line looks to build on exceeding expectations against Washington
A year ago when the Rutgers football team took the field against Washington, the Scarlet Knights were simply unable to move the ball on offense. The main reason being the offensive line was simply overmatched by the size and physicality of the Huskies' defensive front.
But last week, that was anything but the truth. Offensive line coach AJ Blazek's "RaRe BReeds" paved the way for 143 rushing yards from Rutgers running backs and did not surrender a single sack.
That is no easy task, as Washington boasts one of the top defensive lines in the country led by 340-pound preseason All-American Vita Vea.
For Rutgers, right guard Dorian Miller and left tackle Tariq Cole were the only members of the line with extensive experience.
But sophomore center Jonah Jackson, a newcomer to the unit, outplayed the expectations of head coach Chris Ash and said that playing against the Huskies definitely improved the group gave him more confidence going forward.
"Being a new guy, I didn't know how I'd compare to other guys in different conferences," he said after practice on Tuesday. "Going against top-ranked players like them, it was something that set the bar for me and let me know where I can go from there."
The performance put forth by Jackson and his teammates not only caught the attention of the coaches, but also senior running back Robert Martin.
Martin, who ran for 55 yards on Friday, noted the stark improvement across the board and believes they will only get better throughout the season
"The offensive line played real good. They pass blocked real good. They were just hungry," he said. "All camp our coaches were pushing them, saying we're a line of scrimmage team, it starts up front. They bought in this whole camp. They continue to get better and you saw that on Friday (against Washington)."
As a running back, Martin was able to notice the improvement in pass protection, something that Ash admitted he was worried about going into the game.
Offensive coordinator Jerry Kill was very conservative with the types of passing plays he called also in part to the questions surrounding the offensive line.
But with Ash admitting the pass protection was better than he thought it would be, Rutgers should be able to stretch the field more this Saturday when it hosts Eastern Michigan.
Kill also noted how he was unsure of the offensive weapons he had to work with, but now feels more confident in his group.
While Blazek doesn't call the plays, he knows that what his group does plays a massive factor in the offense's potential. He believes the improvement will lead to quarterback Kyle Bolin getting more opportunities to throw the ball down the field.
"That's the hope," he said. "That's on our shoulders. The better they get, the more confident our quarterbacks get and it makes it a lot easier to stand in there and throw it around."
As the Knights prepare for their matchup with the Eagles, Jackson knows not to take them lightly or hold back at all.
As a team that has lost 10 straight games, Rutgers is in no position to overlook any team and Jackson hopes the Knights can attack early and crush any hopes Eastern Michigan has of an upset.
"I think they're gonna come in and take it to us early and we gotta get after them, score on the first drive and keep going," he said.
One final note of importance:
On Saturday at the game against Eastern Michigan, donations for Harvey Relief will be accepted and are encouraged. Rutgers Athletics is looking for new or lightly used clothes and shoes to help the victims of the hurricane.