(The young WSU offensive line will have a tough first test to stop Darius Hamilton. Photo: Rich Kane/Icon SMI)
We have not yet entered the dog days of summer but we're getting close with only a few Washington State athletes competing in the last remaining NCAA championships. To stave off the summer boredom – and supplement the yeoman's work Vince is doing to find something worth writing about every day – I'm going to start some new series on the blog to prepare for the upcoming football season.
We'll begin today with a Monday Preview, a weekly series of previews of WSU's upcoming opponents in the 2014 football season. Also keep an eye out for some Friday Flashbacks that use the supreme intelligence granted by hindsight to contextualize the 2013 season.
Without further ado, our Monday Preview of WSU's first opponent, Rutgers University, is after the jump.
Last Season: The final season in the American Athletic Conference was largely disappointing for the Scarlet Knights (6-7, 3-5 AAC). After boasting one of the better defenses in the country the previous two seasons, Rutgers was one of the NCAA's worst units last season. The offense was no great shakes as well, and the Scarlet Knights needed timely explosive plays, an easy schedule and a 4-1 record in one-possession games to qualify for a bowl game, which it lost to Notre Dame.
That being said, there were some bright spots that should give RU hope that it won't get completely bludgeoned in its first year in the Big Ten. The team held then No. 8 Louisville to just 24 points – its second lowest offensive output of the season.
First-year offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen was well respected in his decade as Maryland's head coach and compiled a 75-50 record with the Terps. Prior to that he was a highly regarded offensive coordinator and the Scarlet Knights do have some pieces he should be able to get some juice out of.
Players to watch:
-- Paul James, RB, 6-0, 210: As a sophomore last season James averaged 5.6 yards per carry on his way to 881 yards and nine touchdowns, and did it in just eight games. Four weeks into the season James was the national leader in rushing yardage before missing four games with a lower leg injury. He also dealt with a shoulder injury in spring ball. Here is a good story on the walk-on's rapid rise to starter.
-- Leonte Carroo, WR, 6-1, 200: Carroo was one of the most highly-regarded recruits Rutgers signed in recent years, and showed flashes why during his sophomore season. Carroo caught only 52.9 percent of his 51 targets and put up just 467 yards, but showed the ability to dominate a game, catching five balls for 135 yards and three touchdowns against Fresno State and two more touchdowns against Arkansas.
-- Offensive Line: On paper, this should be a fearsome offensive line. All five players have starting experience and have 98 career starts between them. Center Betim Bujari is an all-conference player and he is flanked by a pair of guards – Chris Muller and J.J. Denmon – were both four star recruits. But the line struggled last season in both the running and passing game, so all that potential has yet to be realized.
-- Darius Hamilton, DT, 6-4, 260: A former five-star recruit, Hamilton was a terror as a sophomore last season. He had 34 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, leading all defensive line returnees in each category despite playing on the interior.
-- Red zone offense: The Scarlet Knights struggled to score with a short field, averaging just 3.9 points per trip inside their opponent's 40-yard line.
-- Quarterback: We don't know who Friedgen will line up under center, but the three candidates – Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano – combined to complete just 11 of 33 passes in the spring game.
-- Secondary: Last year the Rutgers front seven actually wasn't too bad. But the secondary, almost all knew players after a stellar 2012 group graduated, was pitiful. This group will be more experienced in 2014, but returning a group that gave up 170 passes of at least 10 yards (no other team had more than 151)isn't necessarily a good thing.
Head-to-Head: Washington State and Rutgers will face each other for the first time in 2014.
Team Ties: There do not appear to be any roster or coaching ties between the schools. Neither school has any players hailing from the other school's state.
-- 2013 Stats