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Rutgers Football: The Lost Boys

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This team has lost touch with reality and it starts with the head coach.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There is an attitude problem with the Rutgers football team.  After reports that Rutgers players were "trash talking" Michigan players in the tunnel walking off the field at halftime, there is no other explanation.  After kicking their third field goal of the first half and with Michigan leading 35-16, the fact that some players thought it was appropriate to say things like "these guys can't finish games" is mind boggling.  It is important to be confident, something Rutgers hasn't shown to be in recent games. But arrogance is not only unacceptable for a 3-6 team that has been blown out three consecutive weeks now, it's plain dumb.

If this was an isolated incident of the team not having a grip on reality, it would just be disappointing. However, when you examine comments from head coach Kyle Flood and other player comments from the past week alone, a bigger problem is uncovered.  Tone and attitude is set from the coaching staff down. When the head coach doesn't effectively communicate the issues and problems the team is experiencing, a false reality exists. These are actual quotes from Flood this week:

  • In discussing defensive coordinator Joe Rossi this past week, Flood said, "Joe gives us continuity along with our staff."  He later states, "Joe has allowed us to keep a system in place that we believe in as a program and that's exciting". This system has yielded 198 points in the past four games. The defense is performing historically bad in multiple areas and has so since Rossi took over.  Continuity has no value when quality is not present.
  • In discussing offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels this past week, Flood said, "But Ben is doing an excellent job of coordinating the offense, working with the offensive staff, calling the games. I understand when I say that people will say, 'Well, coach, what about the results the last two weeks?' I get that, but it's a lot more than just that two games." Personally, I like McDaniels but for Flood to say he is doing an excellent job is a reach by any standards.  Flood is correct in saying results are more than just two games, as he was referring to games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.  If you pair results from those two games along with results from the Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan games, the offense has scored a total of 46 points.  That's four touchdowns, three of which were Laviano to Carroo in the Michigan State game and one from Rettig in the last minute against Ohio State.  Add on six Kyle Federico field goals and that is the only scoring for the McDaniels led offense.  In fairness, Carroo has been absent for three of those games and I do think McDaniels has potential. However, injuries happen to every team and Rutgers has not found a way to operate on offense without Carroo and that is a problem. Flood's use of the word excellent is not based in reality.
  • When asked about if he is concerned about the propensity for blowouts, Flood answered,"I think we've come out of it a better football team. I think now, just by going through the experience of it, and going on the road and playing some of the best teams in the country, we're going to be a better football team because of it." He later went on to say, "We evaluate the film and then we evaluate everything we did and then we move forward. We make the corrections and we work toward being better." If Flood actually believes Rutgers getting blown out and failing to be competitive week after week will make them better as a football team, he should have his head examined.  I agree that the value of a bad loss at times can benefit a team in the long run.  But in the past three seasons, Rutgers has lost by 24 points or more ten times. That shows blowouts aren't making them a better football team as they continue to happen, and whatever corrections Flood refers to is not translating on the field.  As a comparison, Maryland is 2-7 and in transition after firing coach Randy Edsall.  However, the past two weeks they lost to Iowa and Wisconsin, teams with a combined record of 17-2, by a total of 23 points.  Of course a loss is a loss, but downplaying how badly they lose is part of the problem.
  • The thinking of the head coach is trickling down to how the players are approaching the problems that exist in a negative way.  Here is Julian Pinnix-Odrick discussing the recent blowouts this week, saying  "We made the corrections and now we're going to move on. When you look at the tape, it's just little things. It's not like we're out there getting pushed around. It's little stuff. The little things obviously make a difference in football games and they're extremely important and they're enough to say, 'Wow,' but at the same time, when you fix those and correct those, we can play good defense. That's the main thing. It's really crazy how it reiterates itself week-in and week-out. It's just the little details and the things with our assignments. As we start to play more cohesively as a team, we're going to have a little bit more success." JPO repeats Flood's weekly script on making corrections and moving on.  He is correct that the little things make a difference, but when the same little things are continually an issue, what corrections are actually being made?  Week after week, we watch opponent's receivers wide open in plenty of space, defenders blowing assignments, and no pressure being put on the quarterback.

What happened in the tunnel in the Big House at halftime yesterday was no accident.  It's a signal of a larger issue that this team has a lack of discipline in multiple areas.  This program has experienced multiple off-field issues this season with six players arrested and dismissed from the team.  It is experiencing discipline issues on the field, continually making mental mistakes both with penalties and blown assignments. And yesterday, they displayed a lack of discipline with their attitude.  No right minded team would be chirping at the other team down 19 points at the half.  They should be focused on regrouping in the locker room and coming out aggressive in the second half.  Attempting to play mind games with the opponent does not work when you are incompetent on the field.

The lack of self-awareness is both appalling and embarrassing.  And it all starts at the top with the head coach.  Week after week we hear about corrections being made, bad losses being good in the long run, margin of loss being irrelevant and how the coaches and players are working hard to improve.  Still, nothing has changed and it has become clear nothing will until the person in charge of the program is removed.  Ultimately, that is the most important correction that needs to be made.

*Watch the postgame press conference to hear Flood say he thinks Laviano is "doing a good job" operating the offense!