Rutgers loss to Washington in season opener remains massive improvement
At first, when the Rutgers football team forced a 3-and-out against No. 8 Washington on its first possession, rumblings coursed throughout High Point Solutions Stadium. There was a lot of disbelief that the same team that lost 48-13 last season in Seattle would come out of the gate pressuring the Huskies to commit mistakes and throw the ball away on the first drive of the 2017 season.
Then, the touchdown.
A 59-yard drive culminated in fifth-year senior quarterback Kyle Bolin throwing his first touchdown as a Scarlet Knight to fifth-year senior wide receiver Janarion Grant to give the Knights a 7-0 lead with seven minutes to go in the first quarter.
“I think everybody was just cool, calm and collected," Bolin said. "Coming out there we knew that we were on a big stage and a lot of people didn’t believe that we could beat the team or hang with them at least. I was just being able to go out there and do what we’ve been coached to do and execute at a high level, and it really showed how we drove the ball down the football field and put it in the endzone.”
The lead would last late into the second quarter and never resurface, but the team made a far greater impact in the first quarter than it had done most of late season.
In the season opener on Friday night, the Washington Huskies left Piscataway with a 30-14 win over Rutgers in front of an announced crowd of 46,093.
To many on the Knights, it was a night of mental languish and unforced errors, much of it coming from within and not from the magnitude of the fixture and its opponent.
"We had our chances, just didn’t make the plays that we needed to," said head coach Chris Ash. "In my opinion, we beat ourselves. Didn’t feel like there was a physical mismatch out there against a really good football team. Some things we gotta get cleaned up moving forward. … Keep moving forward, keep getting better, and I like the direction this team is going.”
The phrase "we beat ourselves" may be an overused one for defeated coaches and players, but there is something to say about taking advantages of the errors of one's opponents, which Washington did and Rutgers did not.
With a misplayed punt leading to a return for a touchdown and a score coming out an interception, the Huskies exploited the many mistakes the Knights committed.
Where Rutgers hurt itself was its conservatism on the offense end, opting to punt on fourth down while in Washington's half later in the game, which effectively slashed its chances at making a run and upsetting the eighth-ranked team in the nation.
Fifth-year senior wide receiver Damon Mitchell, who caught four passes for 46 yards Friday, echoed Ash's sentiments about its errors giving way to the success of Washington.
“As a team, we were there with them toe to toe," he said. "What cost the game for us was the things that we didn’t get done. Give all the respect to them, but it was not necessarily what they did but what we did.”
It is a mark of a good team, to be able to use the mistakes of the other for gain. Even so, positives can surely be taken out of a game that would have been prayed for at this point last season, and Ash and company, despite misplays that will not fly later in the season, have points to hold their heads high on going into the game against Eastern Michigan.
The defensive line looked sharp throughout most of the game and applied enough pressure to force quarterback Jake Browning to throw the ball away on multiple occasions, only completing 17 of his 30 passes. The highlight — besides the 3-and-out and continues pressure throughout the first two quarters — was a blindsided sack sending the ball loose courtesy of fifth-year senior defensive end Darnell Davis.
On the other side, despite throwing the ball in Byron Murphy's hands twice later on, Bolin looked in control throughout much of the first quarter, garnishing his first drive in a Rutgers uniform with a touchdown and connecting with sophomore wide receiver Dacoven Bailey for a 34-yard touchdown late in the game.
Bolin had many targets Friday night, with junior tight end Jerome Washington, Mitchell and Bailey amassing over 40 yards each, while running backs Gus Edwards and Robert Martin averaging 3.3 and 4.2 yards respectively. While not mind-blowing statistics, it remains that they are improvements from last year among a team that looks wholly improved from last year.
And so, Eastern Michigan and Morgan State stand next in the Knights' path, with the team staying in Piscataway for the next two weeks before moving out to battle Nebraska.
While it proved inconsequential last season, playing a team like Washington in the season opener can help set the tone and standards for a team like Rutgers going forward. It can stand both as a barometer and a motivator for the remainder of the season.
“I felt like competing versus a top-10 ranked opponent in the country kicking off the year does a lot for us as an offense and as a football team," Mitchell said.