Rutgers vs Kansas/Buffalo: Stock Up, Stock Down
After one of the worst losses in team history — let alone under the supervision of head coach Chris Ash — the Rutgers football team looks to bounce back this weekend as it returns home from its two-game road trip to host Buffalo on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights (1-2, 0-1) had a lot to clean up in practice this week after the crushing 55-14 loss to Kansas last weekend, and will need to pick up the slack over the course of the next few games if it hopes to salvage its season, before it is too late.
Senior tight end Jerome Washington
The receiving corps for Rutgers was a question mark through all of training camp and that speculation has been proven mostly right through the first three games of the season. The Knights’ top receiver at the moment is sophomore Raheem Blackshear — the team’s starting running back — with 12 receptions on the season. But after him, arguably the next best pass-catcher on the team is Washington. He leads the team in receiving yards with 85 so far, this season, and had his best game of the season against the Jayhawks last weekend. Washington caught three passes for 41 yards and was one of the few positives from that game. With the quarterback situation shaky at the moment for Rutgers, it will be up to a veteran player like Washington to lead the young receivers and help them with some of the growing pains that come with playing in the Big Ten.
The offensive line
Another key positive from last Saturday’s blowout was the play of the offensive line. Juniors Jonah Jackson and Kamaal Seymour opened up the right side of the line to help graduate student Jonathan Hilliman reach the end zone for the Knights’ lone offensive touchdown of the day. On the day, the group helped Blackshear run for 102 yards, just the second time in his career crossing the century mark on the ground. The biggest stat of the day though was keeping the quarterback safe, as Rutgers and its offensive line gave up zero sacks on the day.
Senior Blessuan Austin is scheduled for surgery today to potentially re-repair the same ACL that kept him out of eight games last season, Ash told the media earlier this week. Austin went down during the Knights’ season opening win over Texas State, after hitting the ground hard after intercepting a pass from the offense. The potential loss of Austin, who is widely considered the top NFL prospect on the roster, is just another setback for a cornerback group who are struggling to stay healthy. Sophomore Tre Avery has yet to take the field for Rutgers this season due to injury, and his progress has been heavily screened over the course of the season. True freshman Avery Young and fifth-year senior Isaiah Wharton have been picking up the slack for a weak defensive back unit as much as they can.
Head coach Chris Ash
There’s no real way to sugar coat the embarrassment that was last weekend’s game at Kansas. That one put a deep cut into Ash’s plans and the team’s future overall. Just the game’s implications on this season alone are hard to stomach. The Knights had a chance to make a bowl game this season if they won all three of their non-conference games and won at least 3 of their 4 first Big Ten games before running into four straight games against ranked conference teams. The loss against the Jayhawks takes away the non-conference goal, and has already put Rutgers at plus 5.5 against Buffalo. Kansas in general is usually considered one of the worst teams in Division I football, and yet it cruised by the Knights easily. The loss already has some fans calling for Ash’s job. Though he shouldn’t be considered on the hot seat, the loss does not paint a pretty picture of what’s to come for the remaining games this season. A second consecutive loss to a non-conference team would all but end Rutgers’ season before the halfway mark.