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Season review: Disappointment on and off the field brings change to Rutgers

The gap became too big to ignore. Even worse, Rutgers wasn’t showing many signs of being able to close it by the end of its second season in the Big Ten.

With or without the issues away from the field for Kyle Flood, it was clear the program needed to make a change before the rest of the conference put even more distance between themselves and the Scarlet Knights. And in tapping former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash to lead the rebuilding job, Rutgers is leaning on somebody who has first-hand experience with what it takes to get to the top of the heap in the league.

The first order of business for Ash will be upgrading the roster through recruiting, not least in the New Jersey area, but there is still some talent on hand who at one time made it seem reasonable to project Rutgers in the postseason this year.

That obviously didn’t happen, for a number of reasons, but a fresh start might be exactly what the Scarlet Knights need.

Grading the offense: C+

The points came in bunches, but not usually against the best defenses on the schedule. Scoring also got a little harder when Leonte Carroo wasn’t around to slice up defensive backfields, with Rutgers defeating only Kansas while going 1-3 and averaging only 14 points when the star wide receiver wasn’t available. The Scarlet Knights largely stuck with Chris Laviano at quarterback despite 12 interceptions, and the best case for Ash down the road is that he has learned from some rough experiences.

Grading the defense: D+

Despite the relentless effort and incredible individual production from Steve Longa at linebacker, the Scarlet Knights struggled mightily to slow teams down and keep opponents off the scoreboard. Longa was an obvious bright spot, racking up 117 tackles, but it’s clear that Rutgers will be expecting an instant defensive upgrade from Ash after he quickly turned around an Ohio State unit that had issues prior to his arrival in 2014. Finishing No. 13 in the Big Ten in total defense and allowing nearly 35 points per game simply won’t be good enough again for the Scarlet Knights.

Grading the special teams: A-

If there was one place Rutgers could usually find an edge on opponents it was in the kicking game -- specifically on kickoffs. Janarion Grant was electrifying fielding the football for the Scarlet Knights, and only one player in the country topped his three kickoff-return touchdowns. (He also returned one punt for a TD.) Rutgers too was second only to Ohio State in kickoff coverage, and for the most part kicker Kyle Federico was solid and consistent from inside 40 yards.

Grading the coaching: D-

There is simply no sugarcoating Flood’s job performance in his final season with the program, and he gave Rutgers reasons to move on with issues both on and off the field. His academic meddling and the run of arrests in the program were embarrassing enough, and quite frankly, it was something of a surprise he was allowed to return from a three-game suspension after his attempts to change a player's grade were discovered. But Rutgers also was anemic on defense, couldn’t find any consistency at quarterback and were once again blown out by the best teams in the Big Ten down the stretch.

Game of the year: Epic comeback win at Indiana

Rutgers didn’t actually capitalize on one of the wildest comebacks of the season, but at the time the furious 22-point, fourth-quarter rally on the road looked like it could be a turning point for the program. The Scarlet Knights forced three turnovers down the stretch, running back Robert Martin and Carroo both finished with three touchdowns and Federico capped the victory with a 26-yard field goal as time expired. It would be the only conference win of the season for the Scarlet Knights, but they certainly made it memorable.

The season turned when: The traditional powers showed up

There was reason for optimism that Rutgers was starting to catch up with the Big Ten’s best after losing a tight battle with Michigan State the week before the comeback over Indiana, but that turned out to be an outlier when the meat of the schedule arrived in the middle of October. Starting with a bludgeoning at the hands of Ohio State, Rutgers was outscored by a combined 177-47 during a four-week span that dropped it out of bowl contention and made clear just how far the program had to go to be a factor in an East Division that only figures to get tougher over the next couple seasons.

Unsung hero: LB Quentin Gause

What little spotlight there was for the Rutgers defense was mostly directed at Longa, but Gause was every bit as reliable, and actually set himself apart by playing a more significant role as a disrupter in the backfield. The senior captain was the only player on the team to finish in double figures in tackles for loss, posting 12 among his 96 total hits, and never missed a start.