Based on what was readily available online, I had the choice of two Rutgers games to break down: their opening-week blowout loss to Washington or last week's blowout loss to Ohio State. I chose the more recent game for this breakdown because RU lost the centerpiece of their offense, Janarion Grant, the week prior, and I wanted to see how they'd function without him. Spoiler alert: not well.
Not well at all. Rutgers punted on every drive that didn't end a half; they didn't even finish a drive in OSU territory. The yakety flea flicker you see above is what happened on the lone occasion they crossed midfield.
They're gonna die.
Personnel. Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:
Glasgow and Taco got shields now that we've tweaked the criteria, and Stribling got his star after last week's performance. On the other side... well, at least they've got a bunch of returning starters? Unfortunately, four of them stand out for the wrong reasons, and TE Nick Arcidiacono easily could've been a fifth—PFF has him grading out at a -7.9 and pretty much equally bad in all phases through four games. This doesn't bode well against a roving band of humanoid ninja stars.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Chris Ash is trying to turn Rutgers into Jersey Ohio State; OC Drew Mehringer is a Tom Herman disciple. This is very much a spread after being more of a hybrid under Kyle Flood.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Rutgers doesn't have the horses up front to run OSU's power read stuff with much success at all. They'll mix some of that in, but for now they're mostly an inside zone team.
Hurry it up or grind it out? Right in the middle. Rutgers is 67th in adjusted pace. They go no-huddle but aren't fast enough to truly tempo defenses.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Chris Laviano is averaging 4.5 yards per non-sack carry this year. He's not a huge threat on designed runs—OSU shut down read options in this game—but he's dangerous if the pass rush loses contain. He picked up a couple first downs after looking dead in the water, with this one the most impressive:
Michigan's pocket-crushing DEs should keep this from happening too often, but if a rusher loses his lane Laviano will take advantage—with the amount of pressure RU's OL lets through, he's pretty skittish in the pocket. He gets a 6 here; he can make some plays with his legs when things break down but he's not a guy who's going to break a read-option keeper for a big gain.
Dangerman: I'll be honest: nobody struck me as particularly dangerous. Under the circumstances, however, I thought running back Robert Martin did quite well with what he was given—which, for the most part, wasn't much. OSU held him to 40 yards on 13 carries with a long of 13. When provided a sliver of space, though, Martin made the most of it:
Martin also had a couple nice backside cuts in this game. He's not a make-you-miss guy in the open field, but he has solid vision and grinds out yards after contact.
After missing the Washington game with a sore hamstring, he put up 358 yards on 58 carries (6.2 YPC) in games against Howard, New Mexico, and Iowa. Unfortunately for him, Michigan's defense is far closer to OSU in quality—better, in fact—than that trio. He also doesn't strike me as a major big-play threat, which is something RU probably needs to score in this game.
RU does have a lone offensive lineman grading out well on PFF. That would be left tackle Tariq Cole, who... left the OSU game with an injury and was spotted sporting crutches and a knee brace after practice yesterday. Assuming Cole doesn't go from crutches to starting in four days, his replacement is Zack Heeman, who has a -2.3 PFF grade in only 53 snaps this season. While this isn't totally fair, if you extrapolate that out to the 360 snaps played by guard Dorian Miller, Heeman would have a -15.3 grade, which would be second-worst on what's already a bad O-line.
Zook Factor: There wasn't anything too glaring from a punt decision category since Rutgers didn't finish a single drive inside OSU territory.
I thought Ash played the end of the first half far too conservatively. Down 23-0, RU got the ball on their 20-yard line with 2:22 left and two timeouts. They proceeded to run inside twice for a total of four yards, screw up an RPO on third down (more on that later), and punt. This both gave them little opportunity to score—not that it was likely, but at least try—and allowed OSU enough time to go 53 yards in nine plays and add another touchdown just before halftime.
HenneChart: This is every Laviano dropback from the OSU game; there are only 19 because he got benched for all-run, no-pass backup Tylin Odin after the Buckeyes went up 44-0 in the third quarter. In the time he was on the field, half of Laviano's successes were scrambles away from heavy pressure:
|Ohio State||1||2 (1)||1||3* (1)||3**||--||1||3||3||46%|
As a passer, he underwhelmed; the traditional stat line looks even worse, as he completed 3-of-12 passes for 33 yards. Laviano did have an early DO when he took a sideline shot to Andre Patton on 2nd-and-27 that dropped into Patton's hands at the first-down marker despite excellent coverage; Patton didn't hold on. Laviano's other two catchable downfield throws were on short crossing routes. While the receivers weren't breaking free with regularity, Laviano missed a couple opportunities to pick up easy yardage.
For example, here's a third down on which RU came out in a trips bunch set, which they did on several passing downs in this game. The two successful short crosses came from this look. They run it again on third-and-five, and once again the middle of the field is wide open:
HOWEVA, Laviano is not throwing to the open guy. Instead, he threw this at Patton, the receiver running a one-hard hitch at the very bottom of the screen that OSU's CB is already breaking on—he'd knock it away to force yet another punt.
Laviano is grading out at -7.5 as a passer on PFF and slightly negative as a runner. This checks out.
All gun, all the time:
Even though it didn't work, Rutgers rarely went away from the run-run-pass pattern:
Two of those five play-actions were bubble screens, so this was even more skewed towards picking up yards on the ground on early downs than it looks at first glance.
I'm at a bit of a loss for insightful things to say here. The combination of bad QB and bad OL is almost impossible to overcome, especially in the first year of a new system. This was not an unusual sight:
Nor was this:
Sometimes you can get around one OL screwing up an assignment. When there are multiple breakdowns on the same play, however, you are dead, and that was often the case with RU. Their guards are especially bad: RG Chris Muller holds his own in pass-blocking but is a -9.8 on the ground this year, while LG Dorian Miller has an astonishing -19.6 overall grade—and Miller has played the most snaps of any Rutgers lineman. RT JJ Denman is a turnstile in pass protection and worse as a run-blocker; he's at -10.8 on the year. Only C Derrick Nelson ekes into the positives at +0.6, and according to PFF his most positive attribute is not taking a penalty yet this year—he's allowed five QB hurries from a spot that doesn't normally give up much pass rush.
Because of all of that, it's hard to get a good read on the RBs. Martin did what he could. Josh Hicks only touched the ball as a (very underwhelming) kickoff returner in this game. Justin Goodwin, last year's third-down back and the opening-game starter in Martin's absence, had three carries for eight yards. It probably doesn't matter who lines up in the backfield given what's up front, regardless.
The receivers also didn't have too many opportunities to show off their skills. What I saw when not in the dark—because, once again, Idiot BTN Director loved to zoom tight on the backfield even on passing downs—was not impressive. Andre Patton, the nominal #1 receiver with Grant out, had a tough time getting separation on his routes and dropped his lone catchable target. John Tsimis didn't even get that much; I don't think he had a target. The only Scarlet Knight to catch a pass was slot bug Jawuan Harris, who looked quick on those crossing routes but didn't exactly have to do much to get open on them.
This team will be lucky to score.
Despite being terrible at offense, Rutgers doesn't look poorly coached. They should've had a huge play on a third-down RPO on the aforementioned late first-half drive. Here's the setup—OSU is showing blitz, and RU comes out with two backs, one of which is actually a receiver:
Before the snap, the receiver in the backfield loops around the QB and goes into motion for a potential bubble screen outlet. Nobody from OSU follows, leaving seven in the box while only two defensive backs are over the three receivers at the bottom of the screen:
At the snap, the left guard pulls like he's blocking for a QB power—which he is—but Laviano is checking the receivers. The slot has a screamingly open path up the seam as the outside receiver carries the corner to the perimeter and the motion man provides a bubble outlet:
OSU hasn't actually brought much of a blitz, which gives Laviano time to let the slot get up the seam. He is WIDE OPEN. Instead of throwing the ball for a first down and much, much more, Laviano bugs out at pressure that isn't there—you can see his head has turned and he's now looking to follow the RB acting as his lead blocker:
Realizing he's made a grave error and the QB power isn't really there, Laviano retreats as the contain defender who probably should've followed the motion man starts to close in:
This is how you wind up recording a throwaway on a run-pass option. Even now, Laviano has a chance to salvage the play, as Martin has aborted his block and turned around at the 25 to provide a dumpoff option. Instead, Laviano chucks it into the OSU bench:
They're gonna die.