By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 29, 2014) – Improvement in football can be a tricky thing to gauge at times and Rutgers’ first two games this season will probably underscore that point.
Did the Scarlet Knights make strides with their pass defense from 2013 in Thursday’s 41-38 opening game victory over Washington State? From a statistical standpoint, no. They allowed a school-record 532 yards.
But they won’t play another team as dedicated to the pass as the Cougars are, and the indications schematically and from a tackling standpoint were more encouraging than last year.
An old college football coaches’ axiom maintains that teams generally show their most improvement from game one to game two. But will that be the case on Sept. 6 at home for Rutgers against a Howard team that lost its opener 41-0 to Akron?
That’s essentially a leg-stretching exercise before the highly-anticipated visit by Penn State in the Scarlet Knights’ first Big Ten game on Sept. 13.
So here’s what head coach Kyle Flood had to say on the topic today, after reviewing film of the Washington State game:
“That (the Cougars’) style of offense, the lack of priority or emphasis on the run game, I think the passing yards are going to be inflated. I think that is just the reality of it. I think you see that all around the country with different teams that are trying to defend that style of offense.
“Do I think we can play better in the secondary? I do.
“Do I think I some ways did we make some improvement from last year? I think we did. I think that’s a very explosive offense we played against. But I did see us make some plays on the ball that I didn’t see last year. I’m excited about that.”
Flood’s assessment of the offense, meanwhile, might as well have been a general critique of the team as a whole.
“I think we performed well, but I think there was a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “There are a significant number of plays on the field when I look at it and I say `we could have blocked that better in the run game. We could have blocked that better in protection.’
“I think we really have some room for improvement. I’m pleased with how they played. I think for a first game it’s pretty good but I think we can do much better. My standards for them are very high because of the experience level we have there.”
Flood gave quarterback Gary Nova (16 of 27 for 281 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception) high marks “from an operational standpoint,” though he said the senior “can throw the ball better.”
He assigned Nova and the offense, which produced a 100-rusher in Paul James (173 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries) and a 100-yard receiver in Leonte Carroo (six catches for 151 yards and a touchdown), the same overall evaluation.
“It applies to Gary and it applies to everyone on offense: I think we can play better,” he said. “I think there are going to be a lot of things we’re going to look at on film with the players where we say `wow, we were effective scoring 41 points and we ran the ball well and we had some decent yards passing.’ But we really had a lot more opportunities than that and that’s exciting to me.
“I’m not disappointed by that because they’ve got a good football team and they’ve got good players too. So some of the reasons we weren’t effective at times you’ve got to give credit to them and what they do.
“But to me that’s exciting when I look at the film and say `wow, not only were we effective but we can be more effective,’ and we have a chance to make a big improvement from game one to game two.”