One week ago from today, Rutgers football opened its season with a 30-14 loss to a top ten ranked team in Washington. After losing by 35 points to the reigning PAC-12 champs last season, anyone who watched the game saw progress in the first chapter of year two in the Chris Ash era. If you are reading this, you likely watched the game. I attended the game and wrote about it here and here. Of course, my positive outlook will be written off by outsiders because I’m a lifer Rutgers fan. However, several national football analysts tweeted about how improved the Scarlet Knights looked, including this one from ESPN’s David Pollack:
Man I owe Rutgers an apology! They are SO IMPROVED! Fighting and playing hard!— David Pollack (@davidpollack47) September 2, 2017
Even a former rival sees our progress, as the managing editor of Syracuse’s SB Nation site wrote this article for The Comeback this week, even stating “The Scarlet Knights didn't get a win vs. Washington, but showed they're moving in the right direction.”
For those that actually follow Rutgers football on a regular basis, it was obvious this team is better than last year's version. While the jury is still out on how much better they will be, several steps forward occurred this past offseason. Through coaching upgrades, several grad transfers now starting, and the best recruiting class in years, plus their performance last Friday, there is real evidence that some measure of progress will take place this season. However, apparently for one "writer" in upstate New York, the loss to Washington was more of the "same old Rutgers". This person either didn't watch the game and has an agenda or they are so uneducated in the game of football they simply have no idea what they are talking about. Time to break down Leslie Monteiro's hack job of an article.
First off, the bag over their face in their avatar is telling. If the writer had a choice, I'd guess they'd probably not use their last name on their work either. I'll be the first one to admit I am not always right and take accountability when I'm wrong. However, I stand by my body of work over the two plus years I've written for this site. When I am critical, I make sure I have facts or reason to back it up. Leslie, on the other hand, has no problem making baseless statements and doesn't mind writing poorly while doing it. Here are some examples:
“This does not count as progress.”
If you know anything about last season, you know this statement is completely false in regards to the loss to Washington. While I do agree with Leslie that winning games in the Big Ten is the key to changing the narrative, this writer didn't seem to give any consideration that Rutgers was playing against one of the top four teams in college football from last season. While they did lose some key starters, the Huskies have a deep roster and have similar expectations this season. The Rutgers defense gave up one less point in the entire game last week than they did in just the first quarter against Washington last season. The deficit went from a five score loss to a two score loss from last season's game to this one. I'm no statistical genius, but that math seems to indicate tangible progress.
“Rutgers defense did the best they could to give their offense a chance to catch up to Washington. They were gassed by the third quarter after being on the field for most of the first half. That’s what happens when Rutgers offense had so many one and outs after an 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter that gave them an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter.”
Um, the Rutgers offense had too many "one and outs" in the game? You don’t have to be a professional football analyst to know that’s wrong, but if you are writing about football, you better not screw up terminology like this. That's a red flag that you either don't know what your talking about or you are just incredibly sloppy.
Aside from using an incorrect term, the statement itself is factually incorrect. The Rutgers offense dominated time of possession in the contest, having the ball for more than 38 minutes overall. Just to make sure Leslie knows, there are only 60 minutes in a football game, so the Rutgers offense had the ball for almost two-thirds of the contest. In fact, Rutgers only had three “three and out” drives out of twelve in the entire game. None of them occurred in the second half, when the defense was “gassed”, which Leslie incorrectly cited as the main reason why.
“It was hard to blame Rutgers quarterback Kyle Bolin or running back Gus Edwards for Rutgers being inept on offense when neither had time to do anything with the offensive line being manhandled by Washington’s defensive line. It was impressive Bolin was not injured while running for his life for most of the game.”
Leslie saying the offensive line was dominated by Washington is something literally no one else thought or has written, including the coaches of both teams. The statement about Kyle Bolin being lucky he didn't get hurt because he was running for his life the entire game is pure fiction. In reality, Bolin only attempted short passes intentionally to limit pressure from the defense and prevent having to scramble much of the game. It was the actual game plan of offensive coordinator Jerry Kill, who said the offensive line played better than expected and spoke about his strategy here. The offensive line gave up only one sack, late in the game, to a defense that was one of the best in the country last season. Leslie’s use of the word manhandled is simply incorrect.
“It would be unrealistic to think Rutgers will get a signature win against Ohio State and Michigan, but beating Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa should not be too much to ask. If Rutgers wants to be taken seriously as a Big Ten team, they have to beat those second-tier teams. That can’t be negotiable.”
Wisconsin and Penn State, the two programs that played for the Big Ten championship last season, are second tier teams, according to Leslie. That is utter nonsense. Both teams are currently ranked in the top ten in the country. Again, Leslie is right that eventually Rutgers needs to beat those teams mentioned, but this rebuild must be viewed from a big picture perspective. I would hope Leslie meant it that way, as Rutgers doesn't even play Iowa or Wisconsin this season.
“Not even winning this game would change things.”
Stupidest comment in the entire article, which is saying something. If Rutgers had beaten Washington, it would have been the program's first win over a top ten team in a decade. The win would have been a national story and would have been considered a strong candidate for the upset of the season in all of college football, even though only one week has occurred so far. The argument from Leslie is that Rutgers must beat Big Ten teams to change the narrative around the program. That's true, but beating the PAC-12 champs and a playoff team from last year in the season opener would have been stunning and generated a ton of positive coverage on Rutgers.
“Friday’s game is the best as it gets for the Scarlet Knights. They will be competitive and maybe entertaining this year, but this is as good as it will get in Ash’s second-year of leading them out of the carcass.”
This game was the best it will get for Rutgers this season? Is Leslie saying Rutgers won't win a game this season? Or a Big Ten game? Does Leslie not realize that being competitive this season would actually mark progress after last year's campaign? The last sentence doesn't even make sense. I'll give Leslie the benefit of the doubt that he or she were trying to refer to Rutgers football as a dead body in the past, but how does Ash lead them out of that context? Poorly written. If you are going to take shots at a program, make sure they're accurate and can be understood in plain English.
“It’s imperative Rutgers makes some sort of progress this year. They need to get at least five to six wins this year to show they are moving in the right direction. They eventually have to beat Ohio State and Michigan to show they are worthy enough to be in the Big Ten.”
A few things to cover here. On Rutgers not proving it belongs in the Big Ten until they beat Ohio state or Michigan is ridiculous. Leslie, just some friendly advice, check out the records of the rest of the Big Ten against Michigan, a team Rutgers did beat in 2014, and perennial national title contender Ohio State. If every Big Ten team was judged by their success against those two programs, not many would be looked upon favorably. And shouldn't a winning record in league play be the goal, not beating a certain program? For perspective, Indiana hasn’t had a winning record in Big Ten play since 1993 and a winning season overall since 1994. We’ve written this before, but even Rutgers winning four games this season would double its win total from last year and would mark actual progress.
“No one is saying Friday night was discouraging, but don’t say this is encouraging, either. Not when same issues continue to plague Rutgers from awful offense to bad offensive line. Not when the other team is celebrating as victors at Rutgers’ football field.
To put it bluntly, it’s another night of Same Old Rutgers.
That label will not change until wins against Big Ten teams take place.”
As Rutgers fans, we are used to the national media and Big Ten fans making fun of our football team the past two seasons. And honestly, a lot of it was deserved. It lacked perspective of the success of the previous decade prior to 2015, but the stumbles off the field made Rutgers an easy target at times. It was also impossible to argue that Rutgers wasn't a very bad football team in the final year of Kyle Flood and the first year of Chris Ash. However, if Leslie hasn't seen the positive changes that have occurred under Ash and athletic director Pat Hobbs, or simply doesn't think they have occurred, then perhaps he or she is living in an alternate reality like special agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks.
Perhaps Leslie missed the chance to get in on the action of piling on Rutgers when it was easy to do so and is trying to make up for lost time. Maybe Leslie just googled Rutgers football to prep for this article or accidentally watched tape of last season's game against Washington. The reality is I don't have a clue what Leslie watched last Friday night, but the observations and opinions made of how Rutgers played last week and the assessment of teams in the Big Ten overall are flat out wrong. This article is not objective, it's a cheap slam piece.
The funny thing is the areas where you could be critical of Rutgers from the Washington game, including special teams play, clock management, and not going for it on 4th and 1 on the Huskies 44 yard line, weren't even mentioned. Instead, fabricated issues were used to make the argument that Rutgers still stinks. It's like it was partially written before the game in anticipation of what might happen and not based on what actually did occur.
If Rutgers doesn't build off of the Washington game and goes 2-10 again or even 3-9 with many blowout losses like last season, plenty of national and Big Ten writers will call them for it. But doing it after a two score loss to a top ten team is ridiculous, especially after last season's 35 point loss to the same team and entering this year's contest as a four touchdown underdog. To write this hack piece one game into the season is an absolute joke. Not only does Leslie make inaccurate statements, but it's poorly written. If Leslie wants to criticize an embarrassing performance, reread your own article.