A lot went wrong in Rutgers 48-13 loss at Washington. It was simply a matter of being outclassed by a much better team. It was a tough opening game and it’s going to take time for Chris Ash and his staff to turn this team around. However, there were some positive performances in yesterday’s game.
It was a struggle for Grant against a Washington defense that keyed on him early and often. It was certainly frustrating to see him caught several times at, behind, or near the line of scrimmage on screen passes during the game. When he got stuffed on the opening kickoff, it was the first sign this would be a long day for Rutgers. But Grant personified the team’s attitude, never quitting and continuing to fight despite never getting off they way we all hoped he would.
Grant entered the game averaging 10.8 yards per play from scrimmage in his career, but was never used consistently on offense until yesterday. He led the team with 9 receptions for 56 yards and ran it 6 times for 28 yards, including a 10 yard scamper out of the wildcat formation for the only Rutgers touchdown of the game. He followed his short kick return to open the game with two consecutive 32 yard returns, resembling the dynamic returner he has been throughout his career. He finished with 160 all purpose yards in the game, and its clear offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer is making Grant the focal point of the offense. Better days are ahead for #1 this season.
However, the best play of the game for Grant was when he ran down Washington’s Brandon Beaver, who intercepted Chris Laviano at midfield and seemed destined for the end zone. Rutgers was already losing 41-3, but Grant kept fighting, as he sprinted the whole way and tackled Beaver at the 4 yard line. It was the type of effort that was some consolation in such a miserable game. If this team is going to progress and get better as the season goes on, leaders like Grant need to make plays like that one. Ash made a point to recognize Grant’s effort on the play in his postgame press conference and will surely make it an example for the entire team this week.
Entering Saturday, Bonagura had never kicked in a college game and word out of training camp was that he struggled with consistency. It was difficult to know what to expect out of Bonagura in his collegiate debut. Ash did decline to kick a field goal in the 2nd quarter, instead going for it on fourth down. Ash said after the game they have a range they are comfortable to use Bonagura in right now and won’t stray from it until he proves he can be trusted from longer range.
The good news is Ash said he was impressed with how Bonagura ultimately performed, as the redshirt junior was 2 for 2 in his field goal attempts from 23 yards and 38 yards. Although the game was well out of reach when both kicks occurred, and the 38 yarder just snuck in, making those kicks will do wonders for his confidence. Ash commented he looked more comfortable and thought he kicked with more confidence in this game than he saw in camp. He made his one extra point attempt as well. Remember, senior Kyle Federico, who had a very solid career at Rutgers, missed three extra points last season. And going way back to 2004, Jeremy Ito missed three field goals in his collegiate debut, and he is arguably the best kicker in Rutgers history.
There were a lot of issues with special teams yesterday, but Bonagura wasn’t one of them. If he can build off of this game, and Ash continues to use him spots he is comfortable with, Bonagura could be solid all season. Rutgers will certainly need him to be and yesterday was encouraging.
Hester fell behind Saquan Hampton on the depth chart heading into training camp, as well as battled an injury this past month. Still, he recovered and it was expected he would play a decent amount yesterday. Hester responded by leading the team with 8 tackles, 2 of which were for a loss. He also had 1 pass break up. He looked big and tackled well, one trait the entire defense did better yesterday compared to last season. If he can continue to develop, Rutgers will be fortunate to have a tandem of Hester and Hampton in the defensive backfield.
At the other safety spot, Cioffi continued his ball hawking ways, intercepting a Jake Browning pass for Washington’s only turnover of the game. He also had a touchdown saving pass break up in the first half and finished with 5 tackles for the game. Cioffi now has 7 interceptions in his career and is three away from being in the top ten in program history. He is the most experienced member of the secondary and he led with his play yesterday, something that needs to continue all season.
It wasn’t one of Hicks best games in his Rutgers career, but he kept grinding and ultimately finished with his familiar 5.0 yards per carry. He ran the ball 14 times for 70 yards, which included a long of 19 yards. While Justin Goodwin got most of the carries in the first half, Hicks became the focus in the second half and was more consistent. With Robert Martin not seeing any action after nursing a hamstring issue during training camp, Hicks could see his role expand if Martin were to miss additional time. Although Hicks fell down the depth chart for a time during camp, he reminded Rutgers fans of his physical, running down field mentality yesterday. Who knows the game he would have had, if he received more carries in the first half. Credit him for staying ready and playing well when his number was called.
Other Notable Performances
Linebacker Greg Jones made his first career star and played well, finishing with 5 tackles, including a sack, and one pass break up.
Tight end Nick Arcidiacono had a career high 4 receptions for 27 yards. He could become a reliable target in the power spread offense as the season progresses.