Amid the wreckage of a disastrous 2-10 season, the 2016 Rutgers Scarlet Knights are searching for reasons to help explain the meltdown. First-year head coach Chris Ash was at the helm of this sinking ship, though his level of culpability in the disaster should be limited in this matter.
Looking at the scope of the problems involved, five clear indicators can help explain exactly what went wrong. Addressing those will help Ash and the Scarlet Knights wipe away the misery of the school’s worst season since 2002, when they won just once in 12 games.
Playing With the Big Boys
Rutgers has to compete against legacy programs and squads that perennially find a way to attain bowl status every year. That competition was a TKO for their opponents in 2016 after Rutgers lost all nine conference games.
In only three of those games did the Scarlet Knights have a legitimate shot at winning. Three other games were against teams ranked in the Top 10: Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, while another was against 2016 playoff participant Michigan State. In those four games, Rutgers was outscored 224-0, with the lowlight being the 78-0 loss to Michigan.
Lack of Talent
The level of talent that former head coach Kyle Flood brought in was severely lacking in comparison to conference rivals. Flood’s recruits were generally ranked in the 50’s for all major colleges, a steep drop from the rankings in the 20’s that former head coach Greg Schiano enjoyed.
Using that talent base against teams that have perennial Top 10 recruiting classes is a recipe for disaster. That steaming dish was served up to Scarlet Knights fans this year.
When a new coach arrives, he brings with him a system in which he’s comfortable. Drew Mehringer, Ash’s offensive coordinator used the popular power-spread offense, which caused a major problem. That’s because the available talent was brought in because of their ability with pro-style packages, resulting in a very large learning curve.
In the case of Rutgers, the injury hits kept coming once conference play began. Against Iowa, they lost Quanzell Lambert on the defensive line and wide receiver Janarion Grant, two stunning blows on both sides of the ball. Grant’s injury was especially costly since it ended an outstanding campaign.
One week after that injury, Greg Jones was carted off the field after a violent helmet-to-helmet hit. All of these injuries, combined with the depth problems, made the final record easy to understand.
Special Teams Woes
Throughout the year, problems on special teams made life worse for the Scarlet Knights. In the opener at Washington, they allowed two returns for touchdowns and made major mistakes in winnable games against Indiana and Maryland.
Against the Hoosiers, they continually offered up prime field position to help Indiana come away with a 33-27 win. Facing Maryland, Rutgers gave up 10 points and saw a PAT blocked, which dulled momentum in the 31-13 loss.