As you might be aware, the WSU Cougars are traveling to Piscataway, NJ, for a football game with Rutgers University on Saturday. We've looked at the game from a number of different angles. Now it's time to check in with out counterparts at OnTheBanks.com.
What follows is our question and answer with Aaron Breitman.
CougCenter: How has Rutgers been able to withstand the constant disruptions surrounding the program?
On The Banks: It's a combination of strong senior leadership and the family mantra that coach Kyle Flood has instilled within the program. I think he is a great motivator and the team seems to be running with a "us against the world" mentality. The captains and veteran presence on this team has been key as well. I think they recognize the changes needed after their first season in the Big Ten and the focus required to be successful this season. In the past few years, many recruits, former players and current players have lauded the family atmosphere that exists within the program. For Saturday's game the team did not run out on the field, instead walking locked arm in arm, including Flood with the captains. In terms of actual issues within the program, I think reality is much different than the perception.
What does new starting quarterback Chris Laviano bring to the table?
This is his third year in the program and he has been lauded for having a strong understanding of the offensive system. I think he benefited from learning from four year starter Gary Nova and he is ready. It has been a very close competition between Laviano and Hayden Rettig, with the fan base preferring Rettig. While Laviano played a little bit last season, Saturday will be his first career start and everyone is anxious to see how he performs. The perception is Flood always preferred Laviano and the manner in which the quarterbacks were used Saturday was an indicator. Rettig was named the de facto starter due to Laviano's first half suspension due to a curfew violation.
Rettig played well throwing for a touchdown and running for one as well. However, the play calling was generally conservative. Laviano started the second half and the play calling opened up, especially with the Big Ten's best wide receiver, Leonte Carroo, returning from his first half suspension for a curfew violation as well. Laviano threw three touchdowns to Carroo but the first one was on a under thrown deep ball that Carroo made a great play on. He hit Carroo with a strong pass in the open field for the second touchdown and a bubble screen for the third, that again Carroo made a great play on. Overall, Laviano has the ability to run out of the pocket and brings an energy to the offense that Rettig doesn't. He has a ton of confidence and has the respect of the huddle. One thing to look for Saturday, is if Laviano is able to check down to his second and third options on a play. A perceived issue with Laviano is he tends to go to his first read on the play call without scanning for his other options.
Rutgers shoved WSU's defense all over the field last season. Is there any reason to think the Scarlet Knights will be less effective in that regard this time?
No we fully expect the Rutgers offense to physically overpower your defense. Unfortunately for you guys, I think Portland State highlighted the blueprint to beat your team. And Rutgers is built perfectly to execute a running first, grind it out game to slow down your passing attack. Our deepest position group on the team is the running backs. Senior Paul James returns from a torn ACL and played well Saturday, averaging over 5 yards a carry. Sophomore Josh Hicks exploded at the end of last season, rushing for over 200 yards in our bowl win over North Carolina. He rushed for over 100 yards and 2 TD's Saturday. And sophomore Robert Martin has shown flashes and is probably the strongest third running back on most rosters around the country. They combined for 43 carries last week and I would expect more of the same, with a constant rotation throughout the game. Our offensive line is less experienced with three new starters, but they are bigger and stronger than last season and the talent is there. We fully expect to run all over your defense and wear them down in the 4th quarter.
Are you feeling any better about the state of your secondary after Saturday?
Yes and no. There were a few badly missed coverage's that led to two touchdowns against Norfolk State. Of course, some mistakes should be expected to a degree, but facing your Air Raid offense this week definitely makes the fan base nervous. Four of the five players that were arrested and ultimately dismissed from the team played in the secondary. Our two deep at cornerback is comprised of a redshirt freshman and three true freshman. Our starting safeties are both juniors but depth behind them is young and inexperienced. However, there is talent among this group and with more experience, there is confidence they will be good.
The concern is having to play an offense that will throw it 50+ times this weekend in their second game ever for most of them. Overall, I would say I feel better about them going against your offense this year versus last, when Justin Goodwin, currently our fourth running back, was moved to the secondary based on need. He did have a interception in that game, by the way. We will know a lot more about the secondary after this weekend.
If WSU is going to pull the upset, this is how it probably happens:
Falk or Bender come out firing on all cylinders with your talented receiving core running all over our young secondary. Leach pulls out all the stops and utterly confuses them and is relentless, throwing 60+ times because we cannot stop it. Our offense struggles early as Laviano under throws a few balls, as does our inexperienced offensive line, unable to create running room for our backs. We fall behind multiple scores early and have to abandon the run, forcing Laviano to air it out. Turnovers cripple any chance for a comeback and WSU wins big. Thanks for making me write that out as I now realize it's not far fetched at all and will have nightmares until Saturday.