PISCATAWAY, NJ–On April 23, Rutgers fans finally got their first glimpse of new football head coach Chris Ash in action, even if it was just an intrasquad scrimmage.
After months of discussion and speculation on how the team will look under the first-year head coach, the annual Scarlet-White game gave the Scarlet Knights faithful an idea of what to expect when the 2016 season kicks off in a little more than four months.
Gone is the classic, pro-style offense Rutgers ran under former head coach Kyle Flood. Now, the Scarlet Knights offense is operating as more of a spread offense, an offensive philosophy new offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer is well-versed in from his days at Houston.
While much has been made about how well the players on Rutgers’ current roster fit the new scheme, Saturday night’s scrimmage should silence any debate on whether or not senior wide receiver Janarion Grant is a fit.
As a part of the Scarlet Team, which was primarily comprised of the projected 2016 starters, Grant dominated the opposing defense, catching 11 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. He also added two carries for six yards.
Grant routinely showed off the speed that should make him such a dangerous weapon in the Mehringer offense. The highlight of his evening came in the third quarter when Grant caught a bubble screen from quarterback Chris Laviano and turned on the jets to outrun defenders on his way to a 37-yard touchdown.
While Grant is a no-doubt starter for Week 1, the same can’t be said for junior signal caller Laviano.
The New York native started the Scarlet Knights’ final 11 games in 2015, but the new coaching staff is having Laviano compete with redshirt junior Hayden Rettig and sophomore Gio Rescigno for the starting gig in 2016.
Laviano received the first look in Saturday’s exhibition, completing 16-of-29 passes (55.2%) for a team-high 240 yards and one touchdown. After a shaky start, he found his groove in the second half, where he completed 8-of-11 passes for 167 yards.
Rettig was next up, and while his 186 yards were fewer than Laviano, Rettig was a tad more efficient, completing 13-of-22 of his throws (59.1 percent). He had a long touchdown of his own, connecting with redshirt senior receiver Carlton Agudosi on a 55-yard score in the second quarter.
Rescigno had a night to forget on Saturday, as he completed just 3-of-11 passes (27.3 percent) for eight yards and no touchdowns.
Other notable performances included those of senior wide receiver Andre Patton (nine catches for 112 yards), senior running back Justin Goodwin (12 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown), and junior running back Robert Martin (12 carries for 49 yards and a score).
Since tackling and contact are fairly limited in the spring game, big defensive plays were rare. Still, redshirt senior defensive tackle Julian Pinnix-Odrick managed six tackles and 1.5 sacks for Scarlet.
Overall, the Scarlet team predictably dominated. The White team received a handicap in the form of a 17-0 lead to open the game, but even that wasn’t enough, as the starter-filled Scarlet team 33-3 in the abbreviated 40-minute matchup.
White’s lone score came when junior kicker David Bonagura made a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter.
While the spring game is far from a comprehensive preview of how a team will look in the fall, it is clear this will be a different-looking Rutgers team than fans have seen in recent years, and it will be interesting to see how this year’s Scarlet Knights respond to the big changes.
The Scarlet Knights will return to the practice field this summer, likely late July or early August, to prepare for the 2016 season, which kicks off in Seattle on Saturday, September 3 when they take on the University of Washington.