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Five Things To Know About Rutgers: Quarterback, Offensive Line Are Weaknesses

Rutgers has some solid athleticism, but the challenges for Chris Ash and his team are very concerning.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

You won’t get to see Janarion Grant, and that’s sort of a shame.

As someone rooting for Michigan’s complete domination over Rutgers, the fact that Grant is out for the rest of the year is good news. But as a general football fan, Grant is somebody you can use to get your friend-who-really-only-pays-attention-to-the-NFL interested in the college game.

In fact, he had become something close to a Denard-like presence for the Scarlet Knights at the time he was injured. In his three and a half games of 2016, Grant accumulated 676 total yards with a heavy influence on special teams. This is a perfect highlight to encapsulate his elusiveness in traffic, but he was also a natural at giving himself room to operate, and even threw a 21-yard bomb for a TD against New Mexico.

Last year, he ran for a 98-yard kick return touchdown against Michigan. That wasn’t even the longest kick return of his career; he had one for 101 yards against Washington State. Basically, the guy can ball, and he’s a walking highlight reel whenever he’s on the field. Fun to watch, great player.

Technically, Janarion is eligible for a medical redshirt, but I’d be surprised if we saw him in a Rutgers uniform again.

Michigan’s defensive line is going to have a field day against these guys.

In general, fans pay less attention to the offensive line than they do the skill positions. But if you get a chance to watch a really, really good offensive line, it feels strangely like a bunch of vacuum cleaners sucking in defenders and not letting them escape.

As for Rutgers - well, they’re kind of the opposite of that. They don’t always hit their targets, and when they do the defender can usually break free pretty quickly. There’s decent size along this offensive line, but the speed and strength are definitely below-average. I’d expect some monster games out of - well, everybody who’s suiting up for Michigan.

This team is trying desperately to avoid a funk.

There aren’t concrete stats that can back this up, but living through the Hoke era did help me pick up on that general feeling of defeat that can settle on a football team. Right now, Rutgers is struggling with something that goes beyond “talent.”

As an example, starting left tackle Tariq Cole got benched a few weeks ago for part of a game because of effort concerns. To his credit, I guess, “I wasn't playing as lazy as I was in the first quarter” after they put him back out in the second half. This week, both Cole and safety Kiy Hester might not play, which led to this rationale being uttered by On The Banks.

Of course, it depends on the extent of their injuries, but considering that the schedule becomes much more manageable after this game, having them in better shape for the second half of the season would be a benefit. Another factor to consider is that Hurricane Matthew may impact the weather for Saturday’s game, making for wet and slippery conditions.

It’s not just the media beating a solemn drum of cutting the team’s losses for 2016. Greg Schiano was asked about Chris Ash’s struggles after Schiano’s Buckeyes beat Rutgers last week, 58-0. Schiano said, “I know Chris is such a veteran, experienced coach. He knew exactly what he was walking into, and it's not going to be fixed overnight.”

Ash himself said this: "Any program that plays three top-five schools in the first six weeks, that's a challenging schedule. I don't know if there's a lot of coaches out there that would say, 'Hey, I'd like to sign up for that. Let's put that together.'" Attendance is down this year, which means enthusiasm is down in the stadium.

I’ve also noticed more than a few half-attempts by the wide receivers to catch balls that are just outside their catching radius. Some Rutgers players have spoken out about embracing the various challenges this season has brought, and there are certainly guys who are giving 110%. But it’s been an uphill battle, and there are no more gimmes left on the schedule.

NCAA Football: Howard at Rutgers
True freshman Tylin Oden is already #2 on the depth chart at quarterback, despite not being able to pass well.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Keep an eye on the quarterback carousel.

Last year, the most laughably bad quarterback position in the conference belonged to Maryland, which suffered from 29 interceptions and a 47.3% completion rating. This season, Rutgers is putting its best foot forward in the “entertaining, but awful” category.

The starter, Chris Laviano, has been responsible for five touchdowns in his first five games, bolstered in large part by non-conference foes Howard and New Mexico. In his three contests against Washington, Iowa, and Ohio State, Laviano averaged 137 total yards of offense with more turnovers (two) than scores (one).

Credit to Laviano for keeping his turnovers to a relative minimum, at least when compared to what Maryland did last year, but scoring just one touchdown in three games is not going to get much done against anybody. And that was with Janarion Grant on the field, a luxury they won’t have as Big Ten season ramps up.

Chris Ash has played three (!) other quarterbacks, as well, but they have accounted for zero completions in six attempts. The early returns from Rutgers’ dual-threat options is discouraging, and it’s a bad sign when things like this are being written about the quarterback guru you’re entrusting your players and your scheme to.

While Drew Mehringer is getting grief from anonymous Rutgers fans on Twitter these days, it's not long ago that he was getting difficult assignments from one of college football's all-time winningest coaches.

The 28-year-old Rutgers offensive coordinator is only three years removed from the second of two seasons as a graduate assistant coach at Ohio State under then-play-caller Tom Herman, whose boss was head coach Urban Meyer.

Meyer has seen hundreds of graduate assistants ... But he remembers Mehringer stuck out from the crowd.

"He's unique," Meyer said when asked by NJ Advance Media. ... “I trusted Drew with a lot of things that I usually don't trust with young people."

Look past the extremely positive spin, and there’s not much there. It’s safe to say, at least, that he’s not Jim Harbaugh in terms of developing his QBs.

Collectively, this team is stuck with a 47.4% completion rating and 701 passing yards through five games. The hard part is only beginning.

Chris Ash has emphasized in-state recruiting, but he’s not keeping the best talent around.

Yes, Rutgers has gotten 20 commits so far in the 2017 class - fourteen of whom are Jersey kids, and all of whom are from the DMV area or the Northeast. However, a quick look at how Rutgers’ in-state commits stack up within the state of New Jersey leaves a rather discouraging takeaway for Rutgers fans: they haven’t managed to secure home turf.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Those fourteen in-state commits are currently ranked #2, #6, #12, #17, #18, #22-24, #27, #29-32, and #40 among all 2017 prospects in the state. It seems likely that they land a couple more, but a losing season could dampen those efforts.

And, this is where you could reasonably point to the injury of Janarion Grant and talk about a lasting, wide-spread impact on the program. Losing Grant for the season affected the Scarlet Knights’ production, but it also impacted the excitement of the team, as well as the optimism that comes from a future high-round draft pick playing every week.

It will take a large amount of work to keep this ship from sinking as Big Ten season gets underway. There is a lot at stake, even if it doesn’t feel that way to anyone outside of Piscataway.