Rutgers football head coach Chris Ash announced yesterday that Chris Laviano will begin the season as the starting quarterback. As expected, the reaction from fans was about an even split. I previously went into length as to why it’s important for fans to give Laviano a clean slate at the start of this season, but I also understand the reservations of some. Part of the lukewarm response to Laviano being named starter is a natural fear he will not relinquish his spot regardless of performance. However, Ash made it clear yesterday he will be judged on a game by game basis like every other player.
With all that being said, starting Laviano at quarterback makes a lot of sense for several reasons. In fact, here are five key reasons that make it clear our #5 in Scarlet is the right choice to start the season at Washington.
Say what you want about Laviano’s performance last season, but the fact that it was his first as a starter seems to be forgotten by most. Any first time starting quarterback will experience a bit of trial by fire, learning the job on the fly. Unfortunately for Laviano, he was under the microscope for a team that had multiple issues last season. His own issues were magnified, while others like predictable play calling and few adjustments, were less focused on. With the reorganization and positive changes made to the program since Ash’s arrival, Laviano should actually feel more prepared and more confident in games this season.
Facing the #14/#18 ranked Washington Huskies with a veteran defense that was tops in the Pac-12 last season will be a major challenge for any QB Rutgers started. Remember, Laviano is the only one at his position on the roster who has played meaningful minutes in a college football game. Throwing a first time starter in on the road against a tough defense is asking a lot. Laviano has certainly had his share of rough patches to learn from, so it’s fair to assume he will be less phased by the challenge. In addition, his continuity with the high number of returning starters can hopefully help the new look offense get off the ground faster than with a new signal caller.
Laviano had a completion percentage of 60.9% last season, the highest for a Rutgers quarterback since Mike Teel in 2008. It was also good for third best in the Big Ten, only behind veteran quarterbacks Jake Rudock of Michigan and C.J. Beathard of Iowa. Short passes are a big part of the spread offense, and the fact that Laviano was most accurate with those should boost confidence he can be effective in the new system. There is no doubt that he too often threw behind receivers and made too many wobbly passes at times last season. He almost got Leonte Carroo killed a few times for sure. However, he has worked hard in reshaping his body and has thrown countless passing drills this offseason. He also has more short yardage receiving options this season, with Juwuan Harris, Dacoven Bailey, and John Tsimis added to the mix in addition to Janarion the Great. If he can build a comfort level with that group and develop consistency in the intermediate passing game, he will be a greatly improved quarterback. I understand the skepticism, but quarterbacks typically improve their accuracy in their second season.
One thing that Laviano proved last season was that he could take a beating, both physically and mentally. He endured physical punishment week after week during conference play, but kept getting back up. He also endured some mental abuse last season, as he was hurt significantly in how former head coach Kyle Flood managed his position. Fans were especially brutal, rightfully so at times, but it went a bit overboard. Even so, Laviano never quit. Yes, he should have handled the boos in the Maryland game and his subsequent social media post better than he did. He was emotional and needs to learn to keep things closer to his vest. However, I admire the fighter and passion inside him.
Think about the alternative if he acted like a drone with no personality last season during the constant adversity he faced. It would have been easy to criticize him for not looking like he cared and showing no emotion. Laviano was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. Ash has proven early on to be a strong motivator and if Laviano shines this season, a big reason why is how he was inspired to change for the better. Someone with a weaker constitution would have cracked when their spring performance was critiqued so harshly that another quarterback was added to the competition. According to Ash and Mehringer, he handled it the right way and made major improvements. That is the sign of a true competitor and if he continues to build off the base he established this summer, more positive results will follow.
Preacher of the Gospel
Regarding the motivation that made Laviano better, it’s obvious he was a player clearly told after spring ball that he had a lot of work to do in order to earn his spot as the starter. To his credit, he responded. Even if he missteps during the season, you have to be pleased he rose to the challenge that Ash and Mehringer presented him. If he doesn’t perform well, Laviano knows he will lose his starting spot. He was already respected by his teammates, but should be held in even higher regard now that he didn’t give up and got stronger instead. An added benefit of Laviano being successful this season is he can be an extension of Ash on the field. It’s clear that if Laviano remains the starter, he will be leading the way in the manner in which Ash wants for the program. There has been a tremendous buy in from the players with the new coaching staff, but having Laviano as a prime example of performing better due to sacrifices made and philosophy learned, he will be a motivational asset for Ash.
Recruiting Sell on Player Development
Laviano can be the poster child for a player succeeding with the proper coaching and training. The lack of empathy for his debut season as a starter actually makes this a more compelling argument if he does actually improve as a quarterback. Ash can point to his staff’s strong player development skills, and prove that their way is effective. Recruits saw the performance on the field last season, and they will recognize the positive changes within the entire program this year. Regardless of a recruit’s position, they will all be watching Laviano. His success this season would be as good of a selling point for the program on the recruiting trail as any. Whether he leads Rutgers all season or loses his spot, the way he conducts himself both on and off the field will resonate with parents of players as well.
No matter what your instincts tell you regarding the news that Chris Laviano is starting at quarterback for the season opener, rooting for him should be the only option. He gives Rutgers the best chance to be successful this season based on all the reasons stated above. He needs to keep improving, but there is no perfect solution if he fails. Whether it’s Zach Allen, Gio Rescigno, or even Hayden “Free” Rettig, none will likely offer as good an option as Laviano. Don’t expect Troy Aikman behind center either, but expect a better version of the quarterback we saw last season. And if he isn’t, be confident that we now have a coach who will make a change and hold him accountable. Either way, there is plenty of reasons to cheer for Rutgers this season. Hopefully, #5 is one of them.