A thing of beauty, this game was not. However, that is to be expected with a spring game and even more so with a program that is transitioning to a completely different style from the previous coaching regime. This was the first game type atmosphere under new head coach Chris Ash and his coaching staff, and the play was sloppy at times. It was the first chance for fans to see the spread offense and the scoreboard started to light up after a slow start. The second half saw the Scarlet team, headlined by first team players, settle in and make some plays. Overall, there were certainly positives to come out of the annual spring game.
Tonight was much more important for what it represented than the actual results on the field. It is the beginning of a new era under head coach Chris Ash. Both Ash and strength & conditioning coach Kenny Parker commented to BTN during the game that last year is over. (For interviews from coaches and players, click here). The new culture that Ash and the staff have created has marked a turning of the page from the disaster that was the 2015 season. The competition aspect is a major change for the program, as the players are critiqued and scored on virtually everything, on and off the field. This mentality takes time to become the normal mindset of the players, but it's more than that.
It's the detail that Ash has brought to every aspect of the program. The revamped strength and conditioning program is a prime example. One eye opener this evening was seeing how many players looked bigger. Darius Hamilton, who did not play as a precaution in his return from a season ending knee injury, told BTN he has put on 30 pounds since Ash's arrival. The size of both lines was a major concern two years ago when Rutgers jumped from the AAC to the Big Ten. Tonight it was obvious the changes in how the players train is starting to pay off in a big way. There is a lot to be excited about the future of the program.
As for the results on the field tonight, the Scarlet defeated the White by the score of 33-20. The first team Scarlet squad started the game down 17-0, another motivation tactic that have become commonplace from their head coach since his arrival. After a slow start, the Scarlet ended up dominating action in the second half. Janarion Grant reinforced the hope that he will excel in the spread offense, notching 11 receptions for 140 yards, including a 37 yard touchdown sprint down the sideline. His potential in the offense is officially scary good and it's clear that offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer has every intention to get him the ball early and often. As for the passing game, Ash had this to say after the game.
Ash says Laviano and Rettig both started slow, picked it up, but said the passing game overall isn't where it needs to be.— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) April 24, 2016
Ash said the QB battle will still be considered even going into August.— Ryan Dunleavy (@rydunleavy) April 24, 2016
Chris Laviano looked much more comfortable in the second half and finished the game completing 16 of 29 passes for 240 yards and 1 touchdown. Hayden Rettig backed him up on the Scarlet team and completed 13 of 22 passes for 186 yards, including 55 yard touchdown pass to Carlton Agudosi.
Both quarterbacks had highs and lows in the game, although it would seem Laviano is the clear frontrunner. He has the experience and seems to be a more natural fit for the offense. There were several times that Mehringer was seen in Rettig's ear, barking dissatisfaction at his play. For those that point to Ash's comment about the race being wide open, consider his penchant for motivation tactics throughout the spring. The action that reporters saw during practices seemed to indicate Laviano was more consistent and sharper throughout the spring. It would appear the job is Laviano's to lose.
As for the rest of the offense, the wide receiving core looked big and fast, with Andre Patton and Vance Matthews making plays in addition to Grant and Agudosi. Robert Martin looked bulked up and had some big carries as well. Justin Goodwin, almost forgotten about last season, had a touchdown up the gut in the second half. There is no shortage of playmakers on offense and Mehringer should have fun with an assortment of options to choose from next season. He showcased the no huddle all night, as no quarterback took a snap behind center.
As for the defense, the defensive line looked strong as expected. They are the strength of the unit and even without Hamilton and Turay, created pressure all night. The real questions for the defense is who will start at linebacker and will the secondary make significant improvement?
Ash says the starting 11 on defense is starting to become clear.— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) April 24, 2016
Based on Ash's comment after the game, it's safe to conclude that tonight's starting linebackers Deonte Roberts, Trevor Morris, and Najee Clayton are in position to start training camp in the lead. The secondary was much more aggressive tonight and forced two fumbles. They have a lot of work to do still, but tonight you could see progress from last season. If anything, knowing the coaches plan to play a more assertive and pro-active style is comforting.
As for the attendance, it was a disappointing 14,177. That is down from last year's spring game attendance of 15,782. The good news is there were over 100 recruits invited tonight, as the staff looks to continue to build momentum off the recent commitments of top New Jersey recruits Bo Melton and Micah Clark. All in all, a positive night for the Rutgers football program!