Rutgers readies for Washington State air attack
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) The opening week of the season certainly changed opinions about Rutgers and Washington State.
Despite winning a bowl game in its first season in the Big Ten Conference, Rutgers seemingly was facing a long season after losing quarterback Gary Nova. But coach Kyle Flood found out he has two quarterbacks, with Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig playing well in the blowout win over Norfolk State. Laviano will get the start on Saturday against Washington State at Rutgers Stadium.
The Cougars under coach Mike Leach face questions after losing to FCS Portland State at home last week.
The game is a rematch of last year's season opener, which Rutgers won 41-38.
''In college football you have to play every game differently and it's the craziest thing ever,'' Rutgers defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick said. ''And I think it doesn't matter who you play, it's going to be hard to win and I think we realized that last Saturday.''
Rutgers led 21-13 at the half before blowing the game open in the second half. Washington State led its game 10-0 at the half before losing 24-17.
''It's a game of execution and we didn't execute well,'' Leach said. ''Guys (were) trying to over-execute and worry about the other guy's job.''
Leach said Rutgers has not changed in its approach, but his concern is getting his own team to perform.
Things to watch for in the game:
Connor Halliday threw five touchdowns against the Rutgers secondary last year with three for more than 43 yards. Luke Falk will face a secondary this year that lost three starters when they were dismissed from the team last week following their arrests. Norfolk State shredded the secondary for two early TDs. Washington State should do more damage with five players who had at least 40 catches back from last year. The Scarlet Knights secondary will add depth with safeties Kiy Hester (injury) and Najee Clayton (late reporting with NCAA clearinghouse issue) expected to play.
After sitting out the first half because of a curfew violation, Laviano and receiver Leonte Carroo put on the show in the third quarter against Norfolk State. They combined on three passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns. If Washington State is going to have a chance, it will have to slow them down. Carroo caught a 78-yard TD pass from Gary Nova on the first play from scrimmage against the Cougars last year.
BALANCED ATTACK: The key to Rutgers' win over Washington last season was a balanced attack in scoring 41 points. Halfback Paul James, who is back, rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns and Nova threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns. In the win last week over Norfolk State, the Scarlet Knights had 539 yards in total offense, including 349 passing. The defense held the Spartans to minus 3 yards rushing.
While Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said he was not posting anything on his bulletin board, the Scarlet Knights are well aware of criticism being attributed to Leach. The Washington State coach said last year that New Jersey ''has good players but bad football.'' He was speaking on a radio show about high school football. Leach clarified his comments earlier this week, but Rutgers' roster is loaded with New Jersey players.
COUGARS O-LINE: Washington State returns all five starts from a line that was among the best in the Pac-12 in protecting the passer.