Alright, here we go again for the 11th straight week. Your Nebraska Cornhuskers look to make it 2 wins in a row as the team that is farthest West in the Big Ten Conference heads as far East as they can to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a mid-afternoon affair.
I wanted to know more, so I got a hold of Aaron Breitman, manager of the Rutgers SBNation site On The Banks. He answered our questions fair and square, and we sent him some answers to his, which you can check out on his site right here.
Thank you, Aaron, and we invite you to check out OTB for their pre and post game coverage.
1. Well, probably a season to want to forget for Rutgers fans, as a 3 game losing streak & issues at the top of the program have made it seem like a long year. What’s the feeling between the team and the fan base as Nebraska heads to Jersey?
The majority of the fanbase is frustrated by the big losses, lack of team discipline, bad coaching and hope is bleak at the moment. My friend summed it up perfectly, Rutgers is playing joyless football. We had high hopes headed into this season after a surprise 8-5 campaign a year ago. The wheels have come off completely and the truck has crashed into the mountain and burst into flames. There is some hope they can now rebound and win their last three games to become bowl eligible. I just think this team is out of touch with reality and not sure they can recover. A 4-8 finish would not surprise me at all.
I will say this, Laviano should get more credit for his toughness. He has taken many shots this season both on and off the field and he picks himself up every time and manages to keep going. That being said, Laviano looks shaken and incapable of putting together a winning offense for the time being. In fairness, Leonte Carroo has missed multiple games this season due to suspension and injury. Carroo is far and away Rutgers best player, and Laviano has had dramatically different results based on Carroo's status.
Regardless, Laviano has struggled all season with the intermediate to deep passes, often throws to his first read and has now fumbled a snap five consecutive games. Of course, there is also the infamous fourth down spike play in the closing seconds of the loss to Michigan State. He has had his moments, playing well against Michigan State and the comeback win over Indiana. But against Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan, Laviano has led the offense to zero touchdowns.
In those same four games, the defense has one touchdown, special teams has one touchdown, and the backup quarterback has one touchdown, albeit in garbage time. So in terms of what Laviano brings to the table, I would say guts and perseverance. He is only a redshirt sophomore in his first season as the starter, but confidence in his ability is waning.
Hicks is a big back who broke out at the end of last season, rushing for 202 yards in the bowl victory over North Carolina. He has more of a punishing style of running that benefits with multiple carries to wear down a defense. He started this season as the most effective of the three backs until he started fumbling the ball, including a critical one in the loss to Washington State. Hicks was averaging over 6 yards a carry until he became a non-factor mid-season. He led the team in rushing for the first time in a month against Wisconsin with 72 yards on 15 carries. Last week though, non-factor.
Robert Martin offers a contrast in style, a smaller back who slashes and can cutback better than the other two. He has been the only back who has broken the rotation, as Flood rode the hot hand with Martin in the 4th quarter against Indiana. He has excellent footwork and is the only running back to break a long run against Michigan's defense all season, taking one 54 yards last week.
The frustration has been the rotation of three running back, which includes senior captain Paul James, has made it difficult for any of them to get enough carries to get in much of a rhythm during games. They all have potential to break a big gain but due to the ineffectiveness of Laviano, most teams are stacking eight in the box, daring him to beat them with the pass. That has yet to happen.
Coach Flood indicated on Thursday that Carroo has been upgraded to probable and he has practiced all week. They have been preparing him for the final three games since he left the Ohio State game injured. Wisconsin and Michigan on the road were daunting enough with Carroo, but once it was clear he was not healthy they rested him in hopes he would be ready for this game. Rutgers needs to win their final three games to become bowl eligible. Before last week, the thought of playing Nebraska at home after they lost to Purdue and possibly without Armstrong Jr, winning this game seemed possible. Army and Maryland are the last two games, so this game is the toughest of the three.
The offense desperately needs a boost as quarterback Chris Laviano has been lost in blowout losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan. Carlton Agudosi, Andre Patton and Janarion Grant are the three top receiving options after Carroo. They have each had their moments this season but Laviano has not been consistent enough for them to come close to replacing Carroo's production. While I am not confident about our chances on Saturday, anytime Carroo is on the field, every Rutgers fan believes we have a chance to win.
5. This D has been brutalized the last few weeks, giving up 48 or more points in the last 4 games. Do you see any chance of them putting a slowdown in a Nebraska Offense that has seemed to get better as the season goes on?
I don't see there being any chance the Rutgers defense will be able to stop the Nebraska offense. They gave up 48 points to Wisconsin with Joel Stave at quarterback and 49 points to Michigan with Jake Rudock at quarterback. They aren't at the level of Tommy Armstrong Jr. Seeing Armstrong Jr on the field makes me fearful he will put up even more points this week.
Our defense is not healthy, our pass rush has been ineffective all season, and our secondary is woefully thin and inexperienced. We would need Armstrong's worst game of the season combined with our defense's best game of the season to win. I have taken a little heat for being negative lately, but I think that is the reality.
I think Flood will be back but I don't think it is the right decision. Flood is stubborn and believes in his gut decisions to a fault. The fanbase is frustrated that Flood will not give backup quarterback Hayden Rettig a chance to play in meaningful action. It was a tight race between him and Laviano in preseason, but Flood has remain steadfast in his decision that Laviano is the starter and he is fully committed to him. The worry now is he might actually be causing harm to Laviano's confidence and development, as he has taken a beating against top competition.
Also, the lack of tactical adjustments from Flood and the staff during games has become laughable. You will see our defensive backs play off the receiver at the line of scrimmage more than any team in the conference. We rarely shift out of a zone defense despite getting shredded in open space week after week. Laviano rarely looks downfield and throws farther than 5 yards on any given play. There is no aggressiveness or creativity in play-calling on both sides of the ball.
Flood lost a lot of support from the wrongdoing that was found regarding improper conduct with a professor. It wasn't just that Flood acted above the law, acted in an unethical manner and his motivation to help a student was questionable at best, it was that his actions were plain dumb. His calling card during his tenure was he was a man of integrity and ran a clean program. Rutgers consistently finishes in the top 12 for APR in the country and has high graduation rates among players, which has been earned over the past decade. His actions put his integrity into question and jeopardized the reputation of the academic accomplishments of the program. In my opinion, it was inexcusable and he should have been fired.
Another issue is the team's propensity for losing big, having lost by 24 or more points ten times in the past three seasons. And it's only getting worse, as highlighted by the past three weeks. Rutgers fans are realistic that we are not close to the level of the top teams in the conference. However, we expect to be competitive and not get embarrassed week after week.
Whether Flood will be retained or not involves a lot of different factors. Rutgers is six years away from their full share from the Big Ten, the athletic department has the largest subsidy in the country, Flood is the lowest paid coach in the conference and our President is set to retire in 2017 without much interest in athletics. My bet is Flood is the coach in 2016 for reasons that have nothing to do with football. The majority of the fanbase will be disappointed by that, if that is the case.
Hard to say but I expect a few thousand fans, knowing you traditionally travel well. In fact, I will be attending a tailgate that over 10 Nebraska fans will be at. I am more interested in seeing the turnout of Rutgers supporters, as the fanbase has grown more disgruntled as each game goes by this season. If Rutgers gets down by two or more touchdowns early, expect plenty of groans, boos and if the game gets out of hand, plenty of empty seats.
8. Tell us about anyone else that we have not mentioned above that you see making a difference in the game Saturday.