Players to Watch: Rutgers Edition
The Rutgers football program has been hit with a series of events in the opening weeks of the 2015 season. Embattled head coach Kyle Flood has either dismissed or suspended seven players for multiple incidents off the field. Most notable among those being disciplined is wide receiver Leonte Carroo, who’s one of the best receivers in the Big Ten. With Carroo not currently with the program, coach Flood will look for several players to step their game heading into their Saturday night matchup against the Nittany Lions. We’ve highlighted some of the players James Franklin and his staff will be game planning against for their under the lights matchup at Beaver Stadium.
Janarion Grant, KR/WR
With Daniel Pasquariello’s difficulties punting the ball down field, an emphasis will be placed on containing Janarion Grant. The speedy receiver was named the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week following a two return-touchdown performance against Washington State. The junior donning the #1 brought back two balls: a 100-yard kick return and a 55-yard punt return within an 11-minute span to help bring Rutgers back into the game.
With Carroo’s suspension, Grant became the team’s leading receiver last week. He brought in five catches for 65 yards, as well as a 21-yard run. A potential candidate for the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile college player), Grant broke a school record with 337 all-purpose yards in a single game. With excellent downfield vision and deceptive breakaway speed, Grant will surely be on Jordan Lucas’s radar.
Anthony Cioffi, Safety
It’s time to take a look at the Rutgers defense. Namely, free safety Anthony Cioffi. Transitioning from cornerback to safety, Cioffi has appeared to handle the move well. In Rutgers’ first two games, Cioffi has made seven tackles, an interception, and three pass breakups. At six feet tall, he’s not a bad downfield matchup against DaeSean Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins. Cioffi’s nine passes defended are key, as he sits in the NCAA’s top ten in that category. With Hackenberg’s ability to make those deep, downfield throws, Cioffi will get his chance to make plays.
The Running Backs
The Rutgers running backs have been called one of the best corps in all of college football. Led by redshirt senior Paul James, the four Rutgers running backs combine for over 3,400 career rushing yards. In last week's loss against Washington State, Harrisburg native, Robert Martin had a 15-yard touchdown that helped bring the Scarlet Knights back into the game late in the third quarter.
As for the veteran Paul James, a lower body injury limited the back to just six carries. Unfortunately, that seems to be a constant theme. He lost four games of his sophomore season with a broken leg, but still managed to rack up nearly 900 yards. In 2014, he suffered a season-ending ACL tear just four games into the season. James draws comparisons to Eagles running back Ryan Matthews with his aggressive, downhill running style and decent breakaway speed. His tendency to run high makes him vulnerable to easy take downs, which will surely be something coach Franklin highlights to the defense during film study.
Chris Laviano, Quarterback
Now to arguable the most important player Penn State fans should be keeping an eye on. After backing up Gary Nova last season, redshirt sophomore Chris Laviano won a tightly contested quarterback battle. An accurate, short game passer, Laviano got off to a rocky start to start his 2015 campaign. The slew of off the field issues Rutgers is dealing with stung Laviano, leading to a half game suspension. In the half Laviano was able to play last week, he was 4-4 with three touchdowns. While the receiver, Carroo, did use some of his incredible athleticism on some of those run after the catches, it’s hard not to applaud Laviano for his play.
Despite all of Rutgers' troubles this season, don’t assume this is a gimme win for Penn State. We’ve learned that the hard way. An emphasis on special teams will have to be made by Franklin with the dangerous Rutgers return man lurking downfield. Another botched Pasquariello punt like the one’s we witnessed last week could lead to a long night for players and fans alike. The continued maturation of the offensive line needs to be seen. Rutgers defensive lineman Darius Hamilton is out with an injury, which could spell for a big break. Defensively, Carl Nassib needs to continue his dominance and leadership displayed over the first two games. He’s building a name for himself around the scouting community and will need to maintain a level of excellence moving forward. Finally, Christian Hackenberg needs to get the ball down the field and out of the hands of Cioffi. If the Nittany Lions can do those things, expect them to fight on to victory under the first ever “Stripe Out” at Beaver Stadium.
George Stockburger is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism, to contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: NJ.Com