It’s been an interesting week for Rutgers football fans. After receiving the good news that true freshman starting quarterback Artur Sitkowski is okay after getting knocked out of the Ohio State game, news broke that the best player on the team, Blessuan Austin, may opt for surgery and could be out for the season.
The roller coaster stops in the land BBQ and the yellow brick road on Saturday, as Rutgers is set to take on Kansas in the second non-conference game of the season. I was fortunate to speak with Andy Mitts of SB Nation’s Kansas site, Rock Chalk Talk. We spoke about the program’s historic win last week, their outlook overall for the season, freshman running back sensation Pooka Williams, and much more. Let’s kick things off here.
AB: It’s been a bit of a roller coaster to the start of the season after losing at home to FCS school Nicholls State, then breaking the program’s record 46 game losing streak with a strong performance against Central Michigan. What were the expectations heading into this season and what is the general feeling among the fan base heading into this weekend’s game against Rutgers?
AM: Honestly, there were really no expectations for this team, mainly because we have gone into previous years with optimism, only to have our hopes and dreams crushed by compete incompetence. The level of athletic talent isn’t quite as high as it needs to be to compete consistently in the Big 12. However, this disparity has been magnified by the complete lack of coaching ability shown by the staff.
Really, everything you need to know is wrapped up in the fact that when the over/under for Kansas wins came out, nearly the entire rational fanbase collectively yelled “UNDER, EASY MONEY!”
AB: Do you and the fan base still believe that head coach David Beaty can turn things around or is it basically inevitable this is his last season after winning just three games in his first three seasons?
AM: It would take a miracle for Beaty to keep his job. Jeff Long was hired and paid quite well specifically to hire a successful football coach. As mentioned above, we are still seeing the horrible time management and game calling issues that the first-time head coach was dealing with in year one. With no measurable progression in the first three years, it’s hard to imagine anything short of qualifying for a bowl game will save his job.
AB: The offense benefited from the debut of running back Pooka Williams in the win over Central Michigan. The former 4-star recruit did not play in the season opening loss and his presence bolstered the rushing attack in a big way. What made him so effective in averaging 8.9 yards per carry and does his performance raise the ceiling for this offense’s potential this season?
AM: He definitely opens up more for the offense, as his pure speed is something we don’t have anywhere else on the roster. And he seems to have good vision to find the small holes that are being opened up for him.
However, the main issue with the offense hasn’t been fixed. The offensive line still hasn’t been able to pass protect for any decent length of time, and the running lanes have been nearly as large as I would like them to be, so until that happens, I don’t think we can expect many sustained drives.
AB: Quarterback Peyton Bender hasn’t been lights out in two games, but he has limited mistakes and hasn’t thrown an interception. Has he shown enough growth to be a serious threat in the passing game or is he more of a game manager at this point into his second season as the starter?
AM: It all comes back to the OL. I think he is talented enough to pass down field accurately, but he just doesn’t have time to let the play develop. Thus, we have seen a lot of check downs and “game-manager” type plays. I expect it to continue until the offensive line can find a way to get.
AB: The Kansas defense forced six turnovers in last week’s win over Central Michigan. What is the strength of this unit and how much pressure have they generated in the pass rush overall so far this season?
AM: The pass rush has not actually been that great, instead relying on super senior Joe Dineen Jr and the other linebackers to limit the gains on short yardage plays. So far, the secondary has held up fairly well, but we definitely need to see the pressure ramped up if we expect to stay in games moving forward.
Keith Loneker has made big plays to limit runs, and freshman Corionne Harris has provided a big boost in the secondary. The defensive backfield have only been burned a few times, but we’ll see how they handle a more prolific passing attack in the coming weeks.
AB: For Rutgers fans that are attending the game, what are some places and activities they should check out during their visit and on gameday specifically?
AM: I haven’t actually been back to Lawrence in nearly a decade, so I had to reach out to some of our guys who live close for some help here. These are their suggestions:
- Since it’s an early game, breakfast at Ladybird or The Roost. Beers at Lawrence Beer Company. Usually decent live music at Lucia Beer Garden.
- If you are a music fan, hit up Love Garden. It’s the best record store in the Midwest.
- After the game, there are plenty of great restaurants on Mass street to head to for dinner.
AB: Prediction time, how do you see this game playing out?
AM: I’m having a hard time seeing Kansas pulling this one out, even though the crowd should be slightly juiced up due to the induction of Todd Reesing into the Ring of Honor. I’m not expecting the huge turnover differential that we saw last week, and the offense isn’t consistent enough to maintain success for the full game. Rutgers 21, Kansas 17
Thanks to Andy for giving such great insight on the current state of Kansas football. Follow him on twitter here and for full coverage of the Jayhawks, visit Rock Chalk Talk. To read my take and answers to Andy’s questions on Rutgers heading into this game, click here.