Rutgers was embarrassed in every phase of the game last night, so badly that our cannon patriots were mocked by Ohio State fans and Brutus the Buckeye. It was even worse considering it happened with the entire college football world watching live on national television and in front of a house full of top recruits. We knew the talent level of Ohio State far outweighed the Rutgers roster, but we all thought the home team would put up a fight. And they did to a degree for the first quarter, but then the wheels not only came off, the car tumbled down the hill and the engine exploded, leaving the team for dead. This type of loss could have long term effects on the psyche of the team as they prepare to face a trio of Big Ten marquee names in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska. If a domino effect ensues, what does it mean for the future of the football program?
A big reason to worry about a prolonged collapse is this team is starting to have injuries in key spots add up. Leonte Carroo was limping all night while giving a gutsy first half effort, leading the team with 3 receptions for 55 yards. Bad ankle and all, he beat his defender on the first drive of the game, only to have quarterback Chris Laviano overthrow him in the back corner of the end zone. That play cost Rutgers a touchdown, which led to the missed field goal, ultimately ending Rutgers best shot at making it a game. They put up a fight a little longer with true freshman Jarius Adams, replacing starting cornerback Blessuan Austin who was out with an injury, forcing a J.T. Barrett fumble on the next drive. Rutgers then punted, Ohio State scored and with a 3rd and 2 on the OSU 40, Laviano threw a pass to Carroo in double coverage that was almost intercepted, followed by another punt that bounced into the end zone. Ohio State drove down for a touchdown and Rutgers punted again on their next four drives, followed by an interception and then another two punts before Hayden Rettig was freed and threw a touchdown pass with 13 seconds left in the game.
Carroo did not play the second half and any extended absence would be devastating to this offense. Starting safety Davon Jacobs sat out the entire game with injury. The updated injury report will be released tomorrow. What the report will not say is this team was physically manhandled by the Buckeyes. However, the mental wounds from this game could be the biggest casualty of all. Rutgers has to march into Camp Randall Stadium and the Big House for two consecutive games against a pair of 6-2 teams, Wisconsin and Michigan. In Rutgers four losses this season, their opponents have a record of 27-4. In Rutgers three wins, their opponents have a combined 6-16 record. They include 4-4 Indiana, 0-7 Kansas and 2-5 FCS school Norfolk State.
This is a major concern, will Rutgers be competitive against average to good teams the rest of this season? After the two week road trip, they come home to face Nebraska, currently at 3-5. It should be said those five losses are by a combined 13 points and Tommy Armstrong Jr. is second in the conference in passing yards and touchdowns. Who knows how thin the Rutgers secondary will be by the time they take on the Cornhuskers. After playing three of the best Big Ten teams in succession, Nebraska is likely the last chance for Rutgers to become bowl eligible. No matter what either teams record is in that game, Rutgers will the underdog at home.
The last two games are against 2-6 Army and 2-5 Maryland. It is looking likely that Rutgers will just be playing for pride and to stop the bleeding on a lost season. Maryland looked rejuvenated and far more creative on offense coming out of their bye with interim head coach Mike Locksley, giving Penn State fits before losing 31-30. Maryland's coaching search is worth tracking, as it will have an impact on Rutgers in recruiting against the Terrapins in the future.
Which leads to the biggest question of them all, does Kyle Flood survive this season? He has survived the countless player arrests and dismissals, as well as his self-induced emailgate scandal. He chose to waste time trying to get a player academically eligible by breaking university policy, instead of game planning for the season. Can he survive a prolonged stretch of losing and a potential 4-8 season? I think most fans would say he shouldn't, not after all the other turmoil from this season. However, it really only matters what the Rutgers administration thinks, between the Board Governors and Chairman Greg Brown, down to President Barchi. I'm not playing along that Athletic Director Julie Hermann has much say at this point, Barchi has intentionally put her on the sidelines. Not having the AD publicly speak about the suspension of the head football coach is unheard of across the collegiate world. Donor Jeff Towers has talked how he and fellow donors strongly oppose a coaching change, potentially putting the university in a bind as they set to move forward to raise more money for the athletic facilities plan.
Rutgers has the largest subsidy for any athletic department in the country. Their full share for being a Big Ten member doesn't kick in until 2021, which is estimated between 30-40 million per year depending on the new conference television contract. That is a long time to wait, especially for a public university that does not have major success at raising funds for the athletic department. The faculty has come out saying Flood deserved more punishment for his previous actions, but do they really want him fired? That would cost the university millions if he is fired without cause, which at this point it would be unless another scandal arose. The fear is the university wouldn't be willing to spend enough afterwards to hire a proven replacement for Flood. In order to bring in an established coach that can bring the football program to the upper echelon of the Big Ten, it will take much more than Flood and his staff are currently being paid.
So what does this all mean? The reality is Flood may survive past this season, even if this team falls apart the rest of the way. It is a young team that will have the majority of their starters returning. Captains Quentin Gause, Paul James and Carroo will be gone, as well as Keith Lumpkin, Sam Bergen, Kaiwan Lewis and Kyle Federico. But virtually every other key contributor returns and Flood has put together a solid yet unspectacular recruiting class. You could argue as the losing continues, the committed recruits could start to leave for greener pastures, but that remains to be seen. It is a young team with some talent, but as we learned again last night, we are far away from competing against the top teams in the country like Ohio State. The players have shown great character and a strong bond in sticking together through this tumultuous season. However, the most important thing is how far away is the team from being consistently competitive in the Big Ten? And is Flood the coach to elevate this program long term? The jury is still out, but they are deliberating, as Flood's body of work has taken a major hit this season.