One of the quickest ways to get competitive in college football when you are short on talent is special teams play.
Coach Ash has addressed that this season and for the most part it has worked. Rutgers has a reliable kicker in Andrew Harte. I have joked, but been quite serious, that Rutgers’ best offensive player may be punter Ryan Anderson.
Anderson was probably the lone bright spot for Rutgers on Saturday against Indiana who averaged over 50 yards a kick, including a 70 yard boot, and only allowed two returns despite windy conditions.
Kick coverage wasn’t bad, allowing just one return of 22 yards.
However, with any improving program, depth is a major challenge.
Once again, Rutgers was without Senior Mr. Do-Everything, Janarion Grant, and was forced to go down the depth chart for punt returns and kick returns.
At first, the responsibility fell upon true freshman Wide Receiver Hunter Hayek.
After the defense held Indiana in its first possession, Hayek stood back deep in his own territory to field the Indiana punt. He drifted back for a fair catch, struggled with the wind, and allowed the ball into his chest and the result was disastrous. Hayek muffed the punt and Indiana was in business inside the Rutgers’ 10-yard line set up first and goal.
The play set the tone for the game and forced Rutgers out of its comfort zone running the ball, and keeping the game tied.
While ultimately the special teams unit is light years ahead of where they were in 2016, the play serves to highlight the group still has progress it needs to make for 2018; chiefly, figuring out what to do when you can’t rely on Janarion Grant.