Rutgers offensive line looks to bounce back against Morgan State
When the Rutgers offensive line took the field against Washington in the season, no one expected the unit to have a good game, considering the clout and reputation of the Huskies' defensive line.
The Knights far exceeded expectations, though, as they did not give up a sack and blocked for 131 rushing yards.
At that point, it looked like offensive line coach AJ Blazek had drastically turned things around from last year, when the line struggled early and often.
But the success the unit had in the first game did not continue against Eastern Michigan, as Rutgers quarterback Kyle Bolin was under pressure constantly, leading to a lackluster offensive performance and a 16-13 loss.
Bolin took full responsibility for his play last Saturday, but it is clear the bad performance was not all on him.
"(Kyle Bolin) wants to play better," said head coach Chris Ash. "As coaches, we've got to help him do that and the pieces around him have got to help him do that, too. We've got to play better at the offensive line position."
On the surface, just one sack allowed and 4.3 yards per rush is not a bad performance. But Blazek expects a lot more out of his offensive line, especially against a non-power five team like Eastern Michigan.
Rutgers has rushed for over 100 yards in both of its games this season, but Blazek knows that when the Knights start facing off with physical Big Ten teams, rushing yards will come at a premium and he needs to see more from his unit this week.
"I got a hell of a different standard (than 100 yards). I want us to be 200 yards a game. I think a good O-Line does that," he said. "We've done well, but not well enough to win. One hundred and ten, 120, 130 yards is a good improvement. We got better competition coming up and 130 (yards) right now is gonna wind up being 60, 70, 80 (yards) if we don't keep building on our game."
If practice is any indication, the group that Blazek calls his "Rare Breeds" has gotten its head in the right place and is ready for Morgan State on Saturday.
It was the general consensus that Tuesday was one of the best days of the year for the Knights — with Blazek praising his group's energy.
He noted that in some periods, they took a little bit of time off of the clock, making the drills shorter. He said because of the energy in the linemen, they were able to get everything done in less time, about 15 minutes less than a normal practice.
"Energy (was the difference in Tuesday's practice)," he said. "Our guys were flying around ... they come get their work in, do it right, that’s part of the maturing process."
As for the players, the leader of the offensive line is Dorian Miller — a fifth-year senior, team captain and left guard. A three-year starter, he is the most experienced player on the line, as well as the only player with a full season under his belt going into 2017.
After the loss to Eastern Michigan, Miller had to answer all the tough questions, including those about his 15-yard penalty on the final drive that took Rutgers out of field goal range and ultimately killed the drive.
But he has an entire position group — and team — looking up to him after an incredibly tough loss. Miller helped the team regain its focus for Morgan State — he knows that his group played well in the season opener and it just needs to get back to that level of play and things will work themselves out.
"We just gotta get back on schedule," he said. "Focus on building off of two weeks ago."