It's the battle of the least, as 0-2 Kansas takes on 1-2 Rutgers (whose only win was against a not-so-great FCS team) in New Jersey on Saturday. To help us prepare for what could be a very ugly game, we chatted with Aaron Breitman over at On the Banks, the SB Nation site covering the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
RCT: If I didn't know any better, I could say that the Rutgers football team was actually the cast of a show that's a cross between Cops and Scandal. What has gotten into the water up there, or how else would you explain the rash of criminal behavior that seems to have washed over the squad up there? How many of those guys were expected to be major contributors and how has their loss affected your outlook on the season?
OTB: No Rutgers supporter is happy with the way these players conducted themselves, involving several different incidents. Five of the players that were arrested and ultimately dismissed, were involved in altercation last spring that left one victim with a broken jaw. There were multiples charges per player regarding this one incident, including inciting a riot. The sixth player, Dre Boggs, was arrested for armed robbery among other charges. He was charged along with a former player, allegedly for robbing several off campus houses last spring.
The seventh player was our star receiver and best player, Leonte Carroo, who was arrested after the Washington State game outside our stadium. His girlfriend and another girl, reported to have had some romantic relationship with Carroo, got into an altercation and he ran into the mix. The other girl claims he slammed her into the concrete, his lawyer claims Carroo was merely pulling his girlfriend out of the fray. He is currently suspended with his court date scheduled for next week.
All of these episodes have compounded into one giant mess. Four of the players dismissed were at the top of our depth chart in the secondary, decimating that position group. We now have one redshirt freshman and three true freshman in our two deep at the cornerback position. Losing Carroo, our best player, is a major loss as well. The other issue is the black eye this has left on the program and more importantly, the university. It's upsetting as there are many good kids on the team, and if you refer to this article from August, Rutgers had less than seven arrested players in the last five years. They were not listed in the Top 50 schools that had players arrested, but the timing of it all now puts us as the poster boy for crime in college football.
RCT: Head coach Kyle Flood was suspended for (of all things) improper contact with a professor about a player's grade. First of all, did the UNC academic scandals really have this profound of an effect on coaches who are trying to keep up with students' grades, or is coach just not liked by the faculty? And how does his absence really affect the team?
OTB: Coach Flood overstepped his bounds in a defiant manner, directly contacting a professor regarding a player that failed their class and was declared academically ineligible for this season. Rutgers has a clear policy that coaches cannot directly contact professors and must go through the academic support team. He spoke with academic support, who told him he could not reach out to the professor, then took it a step further and met with the professor off campus. He was reported to compliance, who launched an investigation and the details were unbecoming of someone in his position. He was suspended for three games but is allowed to coach Sunday through Friday. So in terms of personnel decisions and game planning, nothing changed. Assistant head coach and running backs coach Norries Wilson runs the team on game day. He operated the team in the same manner in which Flood does. The whole thing has been very disappointing, as Flood led the program with class the past few years before this incident. However, his behavior with this incident has raised a major red flag and has embarrassed the program and university. He has lost support both for his performance on and off the field. It should be noted the football program has finished in the top ten percent of the APR for all major college football programs. Flood's actions in this case have muddied the hard work so many players put in over the years for this program.
RCT: Just a few weeks ago, there was some discussion about whether Kansas or Illinois was the worst/most disgraceful team in the land. With Illinois winning a couple games despite having an interim head coach, one writer has made the claim that the loser of this game will already be crowned the "Worst Power 5 team of the year". Do you agree that the loser of this game is automatically going to take that title?
OTB: I don't, and I take issue with said writer saying Rutgers could be the worst power 5 team. No disrespect intended towards Kansas, but our talent base is not close to the worst power 5 team. We have had a ton of issues no doubt, but this team won 8 games last year. We lost our four year starting quarterback Gary Nova and a handful of other key contributors, but the core returns. Obviously the suspensions and dismissals have hurt this team greatly, but the cupboard is not bare.
Our last second loss to Washington State was bad, but it was the worst possible match-up considering it was most of our depleted secondary's second career game. The team fell apart last week against Penn State. So yes, we have been extremely disappointing and an obvious target for the train wreck team of 2015. However, there are 9 games to go and some winnable ones remain. Of course, and I mean this respectfully, if we lose to Kansas after they have lost 33 road games in a row, then we prove the writer correct and the fan base will rightly call for the firing of everyone associated with the program.
RCT: So with all the turmoil on the team, who is left to man the ship? Which players have been key to Rutgers success, and who really needs to step it up still?
OTB: Our running back trio of Josh Hicks, Robert Martin and Paul James is the strength of the offense. They will be rotated throughout the game, although most fans feel Hicks should be given the bulk of the carries. Chris Laviano is just making his third career start at quarterback and has not instilled confidence thus far. It was a tight competition between him and Hayden Rettig, both redshirt sophomores, and most are calling for Rettig to replace Laviano. It will be interesting to see how the 1st half plays out tomorrow and if a change is made if Rutgers is struggling to score. Another key player is Janarion Grant, who has returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdown already this season. He is also a big play threat as a wide receiver.
On defense, our linebacking core is our strength. Quentin Gause is a captain, Steve Longa led the team in tackles the past two seasons, and Kaiwan Lewis has played well as a graduate transfer from South Carolina. Anthony Cioffi has the only two turnovers for the defense this season playing in the back as our free safety. Our best defensive player, Darius Hamilton, has been hobbled all season by a knee injury. He heroically tried to play last week for the first time, but could only manage 15 snaps and was a non-factor. He is questionable to play tomorrow. Kemoko Turay is the player on defense we desperately need to step up. He had a breakout season last year with 7.5 sacks and 3 blocks on special teams. He only has 1 sack so far and hasn't impacted any game so far. Our defensive line's inability to generate pressure on the quarterback has been a major issue.
RCT: How do you see the game going tomorrow? What matchup do you see being key to the game, and who do you think is the MVP of the game overall?
OTB: This is as about as good of a match-up as is possible for Rutgers, after the past month this football program has experienced. And yet I don't think this will be a cake walk by any means. With the up tempo, no huddle offense that Kansas runs, it will keep our defense on its heels. The play of our defensive line in stopping the run and putting pressure on your quarterback is the key on defense. I have zero confidence in defensive coordinator Joe Rossi right now. Maybe that is unfair with all the losses in personnel due to suspensions and injury, but for me it's the lack of in game adjustments the defense has made thus far.
The key for Rutgers is to establish the run early and often, taking time off the clock and keeping your offense off the field. I do think there will be moments throughout that leave us utterly frustrated and fearful of whether we can pull this game out. I think we run the ball all day and grind out an ugly but much needed victory. I would expect a big special teams play at some point as well. Josh Hicks is the MVP as he rumbles for over 200 yards and 3 scores and we pull away with a late score in the 4th quarter. Rutgers 48-35
RCT: BONUS - We get the feeling that Kansas Football fans are in for a rough season. To do our part to help, we are taking up collections. What alcoholic beverage would you contribute to the storehouse to help our fans drown their sorrows after a loss?
OTB: River Horse Tripel Horse, a Belgian Style Triple Ale, brewed in New Jersey. It has 10% ABV so you only need a few to numb the pain of a bad season.
A special thanks to Aaron for taking the time to chat with us. You can check out the questions I answered for him over on On the Banks.