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Rutgers football midseason awards: Highs and lows after six games

Handing out awards for the best of the best on offense, defense, and more.

Alex Goodlett

Six games played. Six games left. Rutgers is sitting at 5-1 on the season with a B1G win and loss heading into bye. It's time to reflect on what we've seen from the Scarlet Knights at midseason, so gather 'round OtBers, and don't forget to give us a piece of your mind in the comments section.

Breakout Offensive Player

John Tsimis - Coming into camp, Tsimis was one of those players you didn't really get. He wasn't the Brandon Coleman/Kenny Britt-style physical specimen. He wasn't the Tim Brown/Tres Moses-style speedster. He wasn't the burly Sanu/Carroo possession monster. Yet, he's carved out a role for himself in this offense that is just exceptional. He plays on the outside, he plays in the slot, he blocks downfield and he hustles everywhere. He doesn't just play either, he makes huge plays all over the field. Short completions to move the chains. Monster touchdowns that change games. Pancake blocks that spring runs and screens on the outside. Given that he's surrounded by some incredible playmakers in Carroo, Terzulli, Grant and the backs, the fact that he's been so productive is a testament to the swarm and finish mentality that endeared him to the coaches in the first place. -Ray Ransom

Desmon Peoples - With Savon Huggins out and Justin Goodwin initially moved to corner, the door was open for Peoples to make an impression as the backup running back. Through six games, he's definitely delivered. He serves as a nice change of pace runner with his quick burst of speed, and his low height and high agility give Rutgers a weapon in the mold of Darren Sproles. Ralph Friedgen has found ways to get him involved in the passing game as well, giving him a dual-threat role in the offense.

Andrew Turzilli - The Kansas transfer has been spectacular the past couple of games, making big plays for Gary Nova on play-action. He had his big breakout during Tulane, when he caught a dig-route pass and used his speed to outrun the Green Wave defense for 93 yards. Against Michigan, he took a deep ball from Nova straight to the house for 80 yards. He could possibly be the x-factor that the Scarlet Knights have been waiting for since Tim Brown graduated.

Janarion Grant - He's been bottled up lately on kick returns, but the Fridge has been desperately trying to get the ball to this explosive playmaker. He still needs work on his catching, but when he has open space - watch out. Grant shows the kind of speed that even SEC teams would kill for.

Chris Muller - Gotta give a shout out to the offensive line here, and Muller is the newest of the bunch. He first got a taste of starting a game last season, but he was thrown in to the mix for good this year. As one of the acclaimed offensive line recruits of the 2012 class, he's delivered on his promise to restore dominant play to a line that has struggled in the recent pass. With Paul James out with an injury, Muller has been an integral part in opening up holes for Goodwin and Peoples.

WINNER: Andrew Turzilli - I don't think there were any expectations when he arrived on campus, and now he's one of the most explosive weapons on offense.

Most Disappointing Player (so far) - Offense

Tyler Kroft - He was Gary Nova's favorite target last season, but has been almost non-existent through five games. He finally got in the mix against Michigan, making plays on key third downs to keep the chains moving for the Scarlet Knights. Kyle Flood noticed that teams were sending extra coverage to account for Kroft, so it might be a bit harsh to say he's most disappointing. Still, he has an excellent skill set that should serve him well in the second half of the season.

J.J. Denman - It's always important to get reserve offensive linemen experience in real games, so it's good that Denman has seen time this season. However, his play has left quite a bit to be desired. He's been a consistent target of holding penalties, and he was beat by defenders in multiple games he's played in (Washington State comes to mind). No doubt more playing will help him, but he better learn quick as four of the five starting linemen for the Knights are sure to be gone in 2015.

Carlton Agudosi - Height is overrated. At least for Scarlet Knights wide receivers, anyway. Agudosi has a similar frame to Brandon Coleman - 6'6" but a little lankier at under 220 pounds. He has measurables that could make any offensive coordinator swoon, but he's failed to crack a depleted wide receiver corps.

Kyle Federico - K-Fed remains one of the most enigmatic placekickers for RU. He can boot a perfect kick from over 40 yards out, then get a kick blocked on an extra point attempt (which, admittedly is not always the kickers fault). He remains incredibly inconsistent but can come through in the clutch when you least expect it. For better or worse, he's always good for increasing your heart rate.

WINNER: Kyle Federico - It's been ages for Federico to get better, yet it's still an adventure on every kick.

Mid-season Offensive MVP

Paul James - It was shaping up to be a promising year for James, as he reached the endzone seven times (five rush, two receiving) and was on pace for a 1000 yard season. Alas, he fell victim to an ACL tear after his knee collided with an opponent's helmet. Despite missing two games, it's hard to believe Rutgers would have been as successful without him during the early part of the season, especially the opener against Wazzu. Lose that game, and the first six games may have played out very differently.

Gary Nova - Against Penn State: five interceptions, no touchdowns. Against everyone else: 65% completion percentage, 1,409 yards passing, 13 touchdowns, and two interceptions. Sure, he was maybe one or two picks away from beating the Nittany Lions and an undefeated 6-0 record at this point. The hardest part of the schedule remains, but it's hard to argue that he's had an MVP performance through the first act of 2014 and that he's much improved from years past.

Leonte Carroo - Have we ever seen better hands on a receiver than Leonte Carroo? No matter how many defenders are on him in coverage, Carroo makes the catch, sometimes in the most dazzling way possible. He's been Gary Nova's safety net, his favorite target, and his big-play receiver, all in one. Take Carroo away from the passing game, and Nova might not be in the running for this award.

WINNER: Gary Nova - He's delivered in six games. In a capsule, he's been a rock for this team.

Breakout Defensive Player

Kemoko Turay - This guy is unreal. Freak size/speed/agility/strength. Great work ethic. Great football mind. He's already making huge plays to define the season; it seems like he's in the backfield every time he's on the field, sometimes just missing sacks because Hamilton and the rest of our hyper-speed defense is getting to the QB first (you know, that whole leading the nation in sacks thing). He has some of the coolest hair on the team and is one of the team's most visible players and ambassadors. He plays defense, he plays special teams, he hustles on He's a player who's so easy to root for and someone who should be an important part of this team moving forward. The crazy part? This is still his Freshman year. The crazier part? This is only his third year playing organized football on any level. The future is bright for Turay....less so for Big Ten quarterbacks... -Ray Ransom

Andre Hunt - Who doesn't love a walk-on success story? Hunt tore his ACL at the end of sophomore season, which led to programs like Wisconsin and Minnesota to lose interest and move on. After enrolling at Hargrave Military Academy, he took classes at a community college in Minnesota, hoping to make the team at Iowa as a preferred walk-on. Iowa rescinded the offer, and he found his way to Rutgers. After originally signing on as a running back, Hunt may have found a long-term home at safety. He potentially saved the Knights from a loss by sacking Keenan Reynolds in the final quarter against Navy. Rutgers has had success with walk-ons before, and Hunt could just be the next one to leave a lasting legacy.

Quentin Gause - The unheralded of the three starting linebackers, Gause is a player that wears his emotions on his sleeve, as you can see on every play. He brings intensity to the game, and has been a longtime stalwart of the program. Through six games, Gause has 26 tackles, including five tackles-for-loss and a sack.

Johnathan Aiken - The secondary hasn't been the strongest unit this season, but they've had their moments. Aiken's moment was possibly the most important one. On fourth and long for the game against Wazzu, after giving up a mile of passing yards to Connor Halliday, Aiken made the play when it mattered most. He broke up a pass intended for River Cracraft to seal the victory for the Knights. If that didn't do it, it could have been his forced fumble on Cracraft to give the Knights excellent field position en route to a go-ahead score.

WINNER: Kemoko Turay - Much respect to all other candidates, but I don't think there was any question.

Most Disappointing Player (so far) - Defense

Anthony Cioffi - He bulked up in the offseason so that he could avoid another situation like this. He's had some good moments this season like the fumble recovery against Washington State, but it's mostly been an inconsistent year for Cioffi. He was badly exposed against Navy, which isn't a fearsome passing team.

Nadir Barnwell - You'll be seeing a lot of secondary players in this category, and that was probably to be expected. Nadir Barnwell isn't a terrible player by any means, and he's actually improved somewhat compared to last season. But he has yet to live up to his four-star, ESPN 300 billing as a top recruit.

Lorenzo Waters - As a team captain, it's hard to put him here in the disappointing category, but I'm not sure there's any other way to describe Waters so far. He's good for a big hit, but his coverage skills are not what you would expect from a veteran player. He got burned badly by Devin Gardner on a QB scramble against Michigan as well.

WINNER: Nadir Barnwell - He should be better. He has good speed and good size, just needs to put it all together.

Mid-season Defensive MVP

Darius Hamilton - Hamilton is the heart and soul of Rutgers' rapidly-improving defense. While Kevin Snyder might be the brains, Waters might be the hammer, and Turay might be the revelation, the defense lives or dies based on Hamilton's production in the trenches. Fortunately for us, Hamilton has been incredibly productive. With 17 tackles, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks and a FF through six games, he's on track for a great year for a DT. The fact is however, these numbers are reflective of a much bigger impact on the game. Hamilton's lightning-quick first step puts him in the QB's face right up the gut - the worst possible situation for a QB to be in, as he can't step into his throw or move into the safety of the pocket - which disrupts the entire flow of passing plays and disrupts inside run plays before they get a chance to develop. It's crazy to think about Hamilton as an unsung hero of the defense, given his lofty 5-star recruitment and his future as an NFL blue chipper, but it's hard to truly grok this guy's contributions to the defense. -Ray Ransom

Steve Longa - The weakside linebacker position is an important one for Rutgers, and Steve Longa might be the perfect fit for the position. He has strength to stop the run, speed to drop into coverage, and the ability to close laterally from east to west. Khaseem Greene was a defensive playmaker at the WILL during his time on the banks, and Longa is well on his way to following in Greene's footsteps (maybe even surpass). With the struggles in the secondary, Longa is such an important player on passing downs because he can help take away at least one portion of the field. Not only that, he is a force when rushing the quarterback. He seems to have an innate ability to break through the opponent's offensive line, and his burst into the offensive backfield is tremendous. Longa's talent is undeniable, and he's one player who I completely believe will not be slowed down as Rutgers enters the meat of B1G play.

Kevin Snyder - Snyder may not have the gaudy numbers or sacks, but his leadership is a quality that cannot be understated. You can see it through the coaches. When he was out during the Tulane game, they had Snyder stand by them on the sideline, breaking down the opponent's offense to help the players on the field. Coaches who have years of experience are relying on a college kid to break down the opponent. That's absurd, and it just shows the type of mental fortitude that Snyder brings to the Rutgers defense.

WINNER: Darius Hamilton - If the bye week had a quarterback, Darius would have sacked him.

Mid-season Special Teams MVP (aka the Kemoko Dragon Award)

WINNER: Kemoko Turay - Could it be anyone else?

Mid-season coordinator MVP: Rossi v. Fridge

Joe Rossi - It wasn't quite the turnaround #CHOPNation wanted, but there is no doubt the defense is playing on another level this season. The intensity is higher, and the defense is playing with a more aggressive mentality. Something that has been missing the past couple of years are the unorthodox blitz packages that were a staple of Schiano-led defenses. Rossi has brought that back to RFootball, as we've seen corner blitzes and safety blitzes in games against Penn State, Navy, and Michigan. Watch any Rutgers game this season and you can just sense the confusion in the opposing quarterback's head. Last year's debacle was hard to recover from, as Dave Cohen ran the defense into the ground on his way out the door. It's a testament to Rossi that he was able to get his players to return to swarm and finish.

Ralph Friedgen - It's almost hard to remember the past few years of under-performing offenses, terrible game management and frustrating play-calling. The Fridge has, in less than a season, made us forget the ineptitude of the past and has done a wonderful job with the talent at hand to put Rutgers in position to win every one of its games this season. While everything hasn't been perfect, the fact is that Rutgers has one of the more dynamic offenses in the Big Ten despite losing star running back Paul James (who still leads the team in rushing, by the by). Like Turay however, we're only seeing the beginning of Ralph's contributions to our team. If we can get him to stick around, he'll shape the careers and development of every prospect that comes through these doors. Imagine - just imagine - if Ralph Friedgen was Gary Nova's offensive coordinator for 4 years. The future is bright for Rutgers and a big part of that is The Fridge. -Ray Ransom

WINNER: Ralph Friedgen - I shudder to think where the Scarlet Knights would be without him calling the plays. Thanks for firing him, Maryland!

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We've made our picks, now it's your turn. Did we get it right? Did we drop the ball? Let us know and leave a comment below!