2014 Review: The Scarlet Knights’ introductory season into the Big Ten wasn’t a great one but Kyle Flood and his team reached the eight-win mark in 2014, something not many expected. Rutgers struggled mightily against some of the heavyweights of the conference, losing games to Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State by a combined score of 180-44.
Without question, there was still plenty of room for improvement for Rutgers, but the 3-5 conference finish was a great mark for a team with little expectations heading into the season.
The Scarlet Knights had a fairly one-dimensional offense with senior quarterback Gary Nova and receiver Leonte Carroo leading the way. When things weren’t going well for Nova, Rutgers struggled. In all five losses this year, Nova failed to eclipse the 200-yard mark through the air and threw 10 interceptions to just one touchdown in those games. The biggest disappointment came in a five-interception game against Penn State, with the Nittany Lions prevailing 13-10 in Piscataway.
But the Scarlet Knights took care of the non-conference slate, winning all four games and taking down Michigan, Maryland and Indiana in conference play. The eighth win came in the Quick Lane Bowl against North Carolina in what was the team’s top performance of the season.
High Point: Easily the most impressive win for Rutgers came against North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl, with a 40-21 victory over the Tar Heels. The most important win, however, came on October 4th with a 26-24 victory over traditional power Michigan.
Yes, the Wolverines had a rocky year in 2014, but the importance of beating a team like Michigan for a program struggling to gain national recognition was a huge step in the right direction. Not to mention, the Scarlet Knights played pretty well that night.
Nova threw for 404 yards and tossed three touchdown passes in the win with Andrew Turzilli on the receiving end of two of those touchdowns. The defense played well in the game too, holding Michigan to just four of 11 on third downs in the game. At the time, it moved Rutgers to 5-1 on the season and 1-1 in Big Ten play.
Low Point: Rutgers hit perhaps the toughest three-game stretch of any team in the country last season, lining up against Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin in consecutive weekends. The outcomes weren’t pretty, losing by more than three touchdowns to each of those opponents.
The Knights committed five turnovers and scored a total of 41 points in the three losses, with one of those being a 37-0 shutout loss to the Badgers.
It was a harsh introduction into the Big Ten conference and Flood’s crew received the bitter taste of reality from late-October until early-November. Luckily, those three losses didn’t completely ruin the season for Rutgers.
Best Player: Leonte Carroo was by far the most consistent player for the Scarlet Knights a season ago, catching 55 passes for 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. He was easily the favorite target for Nova, catching 30 more passes than the team’s second-leading receiver.
Carroo had several big games for Rutgers last season, catching five or more passes on seven occasions. His top performance came early in the year against Tulane, grabbing seven passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-6 rout of the Green Wave. The junior was also instrumental in a win over Maryland, catching six passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns to get Rutgers to the seven-win mark for the regular season.
Without its dynamic receiver, Rutgers could have had much more difficulty on the offensive end a season ago.
2015 Outlook: The Scarlet Knights have some talent returning on the offensive side with running back Josh Hicks looking to build off a strong end to his freshman season and Carroo back on the edges as a receiving threat for the Scarlet Knights. But with Nova gone, the question of starting quarterback could be an issue.
Three guys will compete for the starting role, as Chris Laviano, Hayden Rettig and Giovanni Rescigno are all hoping to be under center when the season opens up on September 5th against Norfolk State. Having played some back-up minutes behind Nova, Laviano may have the slight advantage for the spot heading into spring football, but at the moment Flood has no clear-cut favorite.
If Rutgers wants to make some noise next season, which will be difficult in the Big Ten East, the defense will have to make improvements. Freshman defensive end Kemoko Turay shined for the Scarlet Knights and will be one of the top players returning on the defensive line in the conference, but Rutgers will need more than just one guy to slow down the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin next season.
There are plenty of holes for Flood to fill this fall, but there is some talent returning. The Scarlet Knights have very little chance of competing for the Big Ten championship realistically, but could easily put together four or five wins in conference play if the right guy is at quarterback and some adjustments are made defensively.