Even though playing Ohio State would have been a daunting task even if Rutgers was at full strength, missing starting receiver Janarion Grant and starting defensive lineman Quanzell Lambert certainly didn’t help. Both players are out for the season due to injury and NJ Advance Media reported after yesterday’s practice that two more starters may miss the Michigan game.
Ryan Dunleavy reported in his practice report here that starting left tackle Tariq Cole injured his leg in the Ohio State game and was on the sidelines riding an exercise bike during Tuesday’s practice. Dunleavy spoke with offensive line coach A.J. Blazek about Cole and the overall depth of the unit.
"If Tariq is not good to go, Zack Heeman has been practicing fine," offensive line coach A.J. Blazek said. "We've got some guys who can go. The nice thing is we've been building depth as time has gone. Jonah Jackson, Kamaal (Seymour) on the other side. It's been good to get those guys in it sometimes. Now they have to step up and play and use this week to get ready."
Heeman battled starting right tackle J.J. Denman during training camp and started two games at left guard last season. His versatility is invaluable to the offensive line and at least Rutgers has an experienced replacement if Cole is unable to play. Still, facing a stout defense like Michigan without your starting left tackle is certainly less than ideal. The Wolverine defense has 20 sacks on the season through five games, which is third best in the FBS.
On the other side of the ball, starting free safety Kiy Hester is questionable to play Saturday, which would be a big loss for the defense. Hester currently leads the team with 36 tackles and is tied for the most tackles for a loss at 5 with defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick. He is also second on the team with 3 pass break ups. Hester actually replaced starter Saquan Hampton, who was injured after the season opener against Washington, but was in line to play a lot regardless. His performance has improved throughout the season and his closing speed and tackling ability has become an asset for the defense.
Dunleavy did mention in his report that it’s possible Hampton could return Saturday, but did not confirm how much he has been practicing. It would be a huge lift for the defense if Hamption did return. Dunleavy also mentioned Michigan graduate transfer Ross Douglas, who was injured during the Howard game but returned to play on special teams last week, is a possibility to replace Hester in the secondary. While Douglas told Dunleavy earlier this week that he left Michigan on good terms, there is no doubt he will have extra motivation to play well against his former teammates.
While it would be unfortunate for Rutgers to miss another two starters for this weekend’s game against Michigan, it might make sense to have Cole and Hester sit in hopes of them returning to full strength sooner. Of course, it depends on the extent of their injuries, but considering that the schedule becomes much more manageable after this game, having them in better shape for the second half of the season would be a benefit. Another factor to consider is that Hurricane Matthew may impact the weather for Saturday’s game, making for wet and slippery conditions. New Jersey is currently considered in a “cone of uncertainty” regarding the impact the Hurricane may have weather wise for the Garden State.
Saturday’s game is set to be the first ever “Stripeout” for Rutgers and set to air at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. The Big Ten and Rutgers have not made any statements regarding the possibility of the start time being moved due to the weather. Stay tuned for any updates as the Hurricane moves up the east coast.