Just like last season, each day following the Washington State game I'll be posting letter grades for each position unit based on my observations of how it did during the previous game. To answer an oft-asked question: No, I won't be grading the coaching staff. We're not privy to what's going on in the minds and headsets, and these grades are simply a reflection of what I can see playing out on the field.
So with that, the Rutgers position grades are after the jump.
Quarterback: WSU fans should be very happy with Connor Halliday's play yesterday. With the exception of a couple miscues early he was almost perfect for most of the game. He took a couple big hits and got right back up, throwing a touchdown pass just moments after coming up limping following a sack at one point. He made throws across the middle to River Cracraft, found Rickey Galvin behind the defense twice and, most impressively in my opinion, lasered a throw to Isiah Myers on a field-side out route for a touchdown from the opposite hash. He led the Cougars to touchdowns on four of five drives at one point and looked every bit to be "Good Connor." Grade: A
Receivers: Could Jerry Rice have held onto that final pass that was knocked away from Cracraft? Probably, but maybe not. While it would have been a game-saver I don't think it's fair to expect the sophomore to haul that in with three defenders converging at once, even though it was great placement by Halliday. Overall it was a very good day for this group, one that affirmed our suspicions from the spring/fall that Vince Mayle and Myers are going to have big years, and Galvin did a nice job getting open, too. Grade: A-
Running backs: Besides a 13-yard scamper from Jamal Morrow on a delayed handoff, the running game didn't look much like it would be too much more of a factor than last season, collecting a total of 23 yards on nine carries. So, besides the one Morrow run the Cougars ground game went for 10 yards on eight carries. Granted, the way the offense was passing the ball it didn't make a lot of sense to run, and Rutgers had one of the country's best run-defenses last season. Still, WSU's second and third drives ended inside the RU five-yard line and came away with three points. A rushing touchdown sure would have been nice there. Grade: D+
Offensive line: Consider the question mark it was entering the game, I didn't feel that the offensive line played particularly poorly, and in the passing game it was pretty good. Rutgers' stout defensive line did break through for three sacks, including a very timely one at the end, but considering the fact that Halliday dropped back to pass 61 times I thought they held up OK. The line was also responsible for some penalties as the game wore on, but again, not what cost WSU this one. Grade: B
Defensive line: Because of returning experience and some successes last season the defensive line was expected to be the strength of WSU's defense. Instead, it now looks like one of the team's biggest question marks. Xavier Cooper did some nice things and he and Ivan McClennan combined for WSU's only sack, but he hardly had the impact one would expect from someone who NFL scouts project to be a mid-round draft pick and the Cougars never pressured Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova enough to make a difference. The linemen never set the line of scrimmage, according to Leach, and that allowed the Rutgers offense to keep every drive alive because running back Paul James could always get enough for a first down. Grade: C-
Linebackers: Cutbacks and trap plays by the Rutgers running backs worked all game long because the WSU linebackers were continually tricked into going the opposite way. Mitch Peterson was thrust into a starting role with Cyrus Coen limited and he performed admirably, leading the team with 12 solo tackles, but it was apparent the Cougars missed Coen. Tana Pritchard made two big plays – an interception early and a nice stick in the backfield – but this was a disappointing performance from an experienced group. Grade: D+
Secondary: Tracy Clark and Teondray Caldwell had a "welcome to starting defense" moment on the first play of the game, giving up a 78-yard touchdown to big play specialist Leonte Carroo. After that, though the secondary was hardly a shining beacon on defense, they really didn't play too poorly. Caldwell and Clark appeared to be willing tacklers and Caldwell in particular was able to end some runs that the linebackers could not before they became big gains. Aside from the first play Nova had a good game passing the ball, but not a great one, and the secondary was arguably WSU's best defensive unit on Thursday. Grade: B-
Special teams: The Cougars had one glaring special teams blunder at the end when Cracraft probably should have called for a fair catch, securing the ball for WSU, which already had the lead with just a few minutes left. But kicker Erik Powell looked solid on kickoffs and nearly made a 50-yard field goal, hitting the right goal post. He also hit the goal post a few times in practice this last week. Aim slightly to the left, Erik. The Cougars also appear to have their punter in Jordan Dascalo, who had punts of 53 and 28 yards. He had to sidestep a defender that was in position to make the block on the 28-yarder, however, so that was actually a pretty solid play. Grade: B-