Rutgers Football: O-Line Issues in Pittsburgh Have Possible Bowl Game in Doubt
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Coming into the season, Rutgers offensive line coach Kyle Flood knew he had his hands full with an inexperienced unit.
Last week against Pittsburgh, this unit was really exposed. After allowing eight sacks to Army, Rutgers struggled badly against Pitt in pass-protection.
Countless three-and-outs and seven more sacks, left the Rutgers' defense on the field much of the game. They wore down, and Pitt pulled away with the dominating win.
The chief problem was negative plays like sacks and penalties, that turned make-able downs and distances into unmanageable situations.
They were beaten badly in the trenches by a more physically enabled Pitt team.
Schiano has called his team "young" on more than one occasion. Their inexperience along the o-line has been a problem area.
After last season, three starters on the offensive line were lost to graduation, including starting center Ryan Blaszczyk, solid tackle Kevin Haslam and NFL first-rounder Anthony Davis,
To replace three-fifths of the line is a daunting task in and of itself, but particularly when you are talking about the center position and "the blind side" protection.
Another issue was that the the three replacements; Desmond Wynn, Howard Barbieri and Antwan Lowery, all lacked significant experience. Art Forst, who excelled last season at guard, now has to play right tackle and has really struggled in pass-protection.
Caleb Ruch, an opening week starter, has been replaced in the lineup by junior Desmond Stapleton, who has played decently at left tackle.
Of that group, the only senior is Barbieri, who is really a guard playing center. The issue for Rutgers has been a lack of good recruiting along the line since the commitment of Anthony Davis in 2007.
At that time, Flood was considered a hot coaching prospect. The team was at the apex of its success with the 2006 Texas Bowl, a top 15 ranking and the sky seemed the limit for the Rutgers program.
Now, with a dearth of top talent like Davis, Rutgers is forced to mix and match. In fact, in the current group of starters, Lowery was recruited as a linebacker.
To be fair to Flood and the Rutgers coaching-staff, offensive lineman don't grow on trees. There are very few top- tier ones year in and year out. Furthermore, you are always competing with the top schools for their services.
In order to land a recruit like Anthony Davis, a perfect storm of events has to occur. You need an attractive team and a local top-prospect who has a willingness to do something different and take a chance.
Therefore, you cannot rely on top-tier talent every year, if you are a school like Rutgers.
What is the fault of the coaching staff, is the use of the talent Rutgers does have. There are plenty of schools in or close to the top 25, who aren't bringing in top tier offensive line talent.
You need to look no further than Boise State, whose starting line consists of five players with star ratings no higher than 2, according to the scout recruiting service.
It is worth noting that their starting right-tackle Matt Slater was unrated coming out of high school. The difference is experience and the coaching staff's recognition of players fitting into a system.
Rutgers has let its line situation disintegrate to the point where it is plugging in young players out of position.
The coaching staff needs to do a better job stocking its recruiting classes with linemen who can be developed, rather than rely on athletes switching positions.
At this point, the o-line is keeping Rutgers from being consistent on offense. The Dodd/Savage controversy really doesn't mean anything unless this situation resolves itself. Dan Marino could be under center and he would have the same two seconds to unload the ball.
When extra help is left in to block, the Knights are left with a two or three man pattern working to get open against six or seven defenders.
The numbers are downright staggering. The Knights have allowed an eye-popping 33 sacks over the seven games played this season.
The coaching staff needs to figure out what this line can do well and play to its strength. With Deering and Thomas in the game, the Knights ran pretty well at Pitt. Martinek looked good carrying the ball in the I-form as well. I am not saying to become strictly a run team, but it seems the run should be featured more than the passing game, when you consider the numbers.
If the situation doesn't get fixed, Rutgers will struggle to win in the Big East. They need three wins in the remaining five games to guarantee a bowl-bid. That seems like a difficult task with a porous o-line.
Can Ciarrocca swallow his pride as an aggressive passing coordinator for the betterment of the team?
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