Well … that kinda sucked.
If you happened to check out last week’s edition of the “Opponent Preview” you knew going into Saturday that North Dakota State was a team not be taken lightly and that showed on the field.
Luckily for us, the world didn’t come to a close and a non-conference loss has absolutely no bearing on the Hawkeyes’ standing within the Big Ten. With that said, it’s on to the next, and, in this case, the “next” just so happens to be the Big Ten season opener against … wait for it … the Rutgers Scarlet Knights! Please … contain your excitement…
Revolving Door at Quarterback: They Don’t Have an Answer
In last week’s edition of the Opponent Preview, we discussed a team that has experienced smooth transition, after smooth transition, after smooth transition at the quarterback position. However, this week, the revolving door is a little bit different because no matter who the Rutgers coaching staff turns to, well, they’re just not going to be very good.
As it currently stands, senior Chris Laviano is the team’s starting quarterback. However, in the team’s post-game press conference following last Saturday’s victory over the New Mexico Lobos, first-year head coach Chris Ash was asked a question pertaining to the security of Laviano’s job as the team’s starting quarterback and his response went as you might expect:
"Chris is right now in a competition to see if he's going to continue to be the starting quarterback here at Rutgers. That's been the way since we've gotten here. He earned that opportunity to go out and start in the first three games. He's got to perform better. He knows that. We all know that — that's no secret — and he has to continue to get better at practice. If we're going to go out and win in the Big Ten, we've got to play well on the O-line, we've got to play well on the D-line, and we've got to play better at quarterback.''
Although Ash came across as blunt and truthful in his response, he didn’t go far enough in expressing how poor Laviano really looked this past Saturday.
Aside from the fact that Laviano finished 11-for-27 passing for only 152 yards, the Scarlet Knights’ offense was stagnant throughout the game, which led to him even getting pulled in the 4th quarter in favor of senior Zach Allen, although Laviano did come back in to close out the game.
As of now, the Scarlet Knights seem to have four different options at quarterback: Laviano, Allen, freshman Tylin Oden, and junior Giovanni Rescigno, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see two or three of these guys this Saturday.
An Offense From the Ashes
Although the quarterback position doesn’t seem to have a clear resolution in sight, under first-year head coach, Chris Ash, the Scarlet Knights’ offense has shown some signs of potential and explosion at both receiver and running back.
With last year’s star receiver Leonte Carroo now in the NFL, there were certainly questions about what player or players could fill help fill his void. Luckily for the Scarlet Knights, that void has been admirably filled by sophomore breakout Jawuan Harris through the first three games,
What has been able to set Harris apart so far this season has been his straight line speed, as he’s able to burn by opposing defensive backs and get over the top of defenses with relative ease. In addition, Harris has proven already that he’s more than capable of being a playmaking threat for this offense and that’s something many Scarlet Knights fans didn’t anticipate heading into the season.
Another impressive aspect of this offense this season has been the ground game with junior running backs Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, although Martin has definitely been the most eye-catching of the pair.
Martin is a player that really caught my eye last season, as he was able to display some impressive burst, power, and balance out of the backfield, despite recording less than 800 total yards.
Although Martin may not be the most talented runner the Hawkeyes have faced over recent seasons, he’ll likely present a tough test for the Hawkeyes’ second and third level defenders and that may be just what they need following last weekend’s struggles against the run.
Overall, Ash has this offense moving in the right direction, it just may end up taking a little while before they’re able to fully realize their potential.
The Star of the Show
Now it’s time to place the spotlight on a player who is arguably the most electrifying playmaker in all of college football — senior wide receiver, Wildcat quarterback, running back, and returner, Janarion Grant.
After studying Grant’s game, I truly believe there’s a strong case to be made that Grant is not only the biggest playmaker in all of college football but one of the most valuable players as well, as he’s able to contribute effectively in various different ways on both special teams and offense; Grant touches the ball coming out the backfield as a receiver, coming out of the slot, on the outside, on receiver end-arounds, as a running back, in the Wildcat, on punt returns, and on kickoffs.
From a skill set perspective, what really sets Grant apart is his combination of elite level speed and quickness relative to the college game, as he has fluid hips to change direction on a dime and the straight line speed and acceleration to coast past opposing defenses.
Grant’s skill set has certainly translated into production on the field as well, as he’s currently 5th in the country in all-purpose yardage with 143 rushing yards, 112 receiving yards, 112 punt return yards, and 195 kickoff return yards.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Grant will do damage against the Hawkeyes, however, I find it difficult to believe that Grant alone will be able to do enough damage to allow the Scarlet Knights to come out with a victory on Saturday.
After last Saturday’s heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the North Dakota State Bison, this game should serve as a nice tune-up for the Hawkeyes, as the coaching staff works to iron out the kinks in the offense.
The Scarlet Knights’ defense has some interesting pieces with senior defensive tackles Darius Hamilton and Julian Pinnix-Odrick, and a rangy cover safety with senior Anthony Cioffi. Overall, this defense is very subpar, especially against the run, as they allowed 293 rushing yards in last week’s 37-28 victory over the New Mexico Lobos. This feels like the perfect game to try and get the Hawkeyes’ ground game back on track after failing to get anything going on Saturday with only 34 yards on 25 carries in the loss.
Something else worth adding is that the Scarlet Knights have been outscored 59-14 in the 1st quarter in their first three games while giving up over 500 yards of total offense as well. If that trend continues, look for the Hawkeyes to capitalize with explosive plays downfield, something this defense is prone to allowing.