I was at the game and am currently in transit, but I wanted to give quick takeaways after a hard fought 30-14 loss to the reigning PAC-12 champs.
This game certainly showed that this team is much improved from last season. How good Rutgers will be in 2017 remains to be seen, but they certainly competed and held their own at times against Washington.
The defense played a great first half and despite wearing down in the second half, they battled a potent Huskies offense the entire game. Twice they gave up big plays that led Washington inside the 10 yard line and with a full set of downs, but they were able to hold them to field goals. After giving up 24 points to Jake Browning and UW in the first quarter last season, they only gave up 23 points in this entire game.
Special Teams was a mixed bag. Surrendering that punt return right before halftime was a momentum killer. The positive was that Ryan Anderson looked good and had a big leg. He did boot it 60+ yards on the score that was returned, which did cost them by outkicking the coverage. Justin Davidovicz also showed off a strong leg with his kickoffs. New placekicker Andrew Harte didn't fare as well, missing badly on a 46 yard attempt right before halftime.
Janarion Grant was neutralized for the most part in the return game. Washington even pooched two kicks in the second half to prevent any big plays from him. It was great to see him grab the touchdown early in the game and he had another nice run down the sideline on a screen pass later on. Definitely would have liked to see him more involved in the offense, but overall not a bad first game off his injury.
The Darnell Davis hit on Jake Browning was tremendous and set the tone for the strong play of the defense. It was a big moment for the captain and former walk-on.
Trailing by the score of 10-7 at the half was both encouraging and disappointing. Rutgers was leading for most of the half, which was surprising. However, they couldn't get anything going after getting pinned near the goal line three separate times in the second quarter. Then the punt return was given up and it was deflating. Still, it major progress compared to last year's game against Washington after never being in that contest at any point.
The offensive line did a better job than expected, keeping QB Kyle Bolin upright all night and helped Rutgers outrush Washigton by a significant margin.
I do think a key moment in this game was the conservative play calling on offense in the third quarter. With Rutgers on the Washington 44 yard line on 4th and 1, head coach Chris Ash opted to punt with his team down 10-7. I understand just having the game this close was progress, but Rutgers had a real chance to put together a scoring drive and either tie the score or take the lead. They never got that close again, as Washington scored on the next drive. As for the other 4th and 1 on their own 44 later that quarter, I don't have an issue with that and no one should have been surprised after punting the first time.
The crowd emptied significantly after Washington built a 27-7 lead early in the 4th quarter. It was disappointing, especially when Rutgers scored just a few minutes later. This team fought their hearts out and deserved to have fans see the game through longer. At the same time, I also think the conservative play calling helped put the crowd to sleep in the third quarter and most assumed it was over. Still, fans can do better than that.
Kyle Bolin was accurate as advertised and had a solid game. He did throw two picks, but also threw for two scores, including an under thrown toss and catch to Dacoven Bailey on 4th down late in the game. He has a lot of room to improve, but certainly showed he is the best option Rutgers has had at QB since Gary Nova.
Overall, It's tough to be too upset about a two score loss to a top ten team after being four touchdown underdogs. I do think the offensive play calling was too conservative, but I think it's fair to expect improvement in that area as the season goes on. It was just the first game and there is no doubt this team has a chance to be much improved in 2017!
On why lessons learned from this game can benefit Rutgers in Big Ten play, click here.