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Devoted to the daily goings on with Rutgers football, both at High Point Solutions Stadium and behind the scenes.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Rundown: Rutgers' Mitch Browning's road back, Washington State and more

(AP photo)
By Tyler Barto
Twitter: @Tyler_Barto

Kyle Flood’s mid-December hiring of Mitch Browning raised eyebrows in some circles, but the well-traveled offensive line coach drew praise from one former Big Ten coach that knows a thing or two about him.

In fact, it might have been one of the major reasons Browning is on staff.

“I just think that Mitch Browning, as far as a recruiter and an offensive coach and offensive line coach, is second to none,” Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason, who coached a decade at Minnesota, told me. “I don’t think that Kyle Flood could have hired a better guy, especially at a time when Rutgers is coming into the Big Ten.”

To know Browning and Mason is to come to grips with the unwavering trust assistants place in head coaches. The life of a position coach, after all, is nomadic.

Browning fits the mold. The previous three years of the 34-year coach's résumé list FBS Akron, Division-II Ashland and FCS Davidson — this after spending the last 20 years at power-conference schools.

Mason had been along for nearly all of it. He met Browning, 58, in 1982 when Browning was a graduate assistant at Ohio State, Mason’s alma mater. Mason was a position coach.

He retained Browning when he took the job at Kent State, then led him to separate stints at Kansas and Minnesota, worth 21 years.

“It’s outstanding,” Browning told me at Rutgers’ media day. “Tried to call him this morning, but he didn’t answer the phone.”

He might get better cell reception when the two meet up again in less than a month, when the Big Ten Network hosts its first ever on-site pregame, halftime and postgame show in Piscataway for Penn State-Rutgers.

It will be Rutgers’ first chance to pass the eyeball test within a conference built on size.

Mason’s Minnesota teams offer a reasonable comparison.

When Browning and Mason first arrived, the program knew little of the postseason. Its talent was bare. A winning tradition waned.

They spent the first few years restocking key positions. Then they built a feared run game, led by future pros Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber.

“As we went, we had a Rimington Award winner, a Mackey Award winner,” Browning said. “We had guys at other positions that were pretty talented, too. We had an offensive line that was embodying what we were doing and extremely talented.”

Flood is hoping Browning brings him that final piece.

Rutgers returns all five starters from last year’s team, when it allowed 35 sacks and finished 100th nationally in rushing.

“The ultimate judge of a position coach is, ‘Are your younger players getting better?’” said Flood, a former offensive line coach himself. “I think that group as a whole is getting better, and I think the young players are getting better.”

A turnaround would accentuate quite a career for Browning, who has been with seven different power-conference teams.

He is sure to have Mason’s eye.

The BTN analyst said he hasn’t seen another coach with as extensive ties to Browning’s native Ohio. It is likely why he made hauling Browning from outposts like Kent, Ohio, to Lawrence, Kansas, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a priority.

“There are guys that love to coach and there are guys that love being the coach because of all the salary and perks that go with it,” Mason said. “Mitch is a guy that loves to coach. He’s in the office early, he’s watching film, always watching film, always evaluating. He’s a smart guy that works awful hard at his job. He’s a true coach.”

Spreading the wealth

(AP photo)
Season opener. Western time zone. Spread offense. It's easy to see why many are penning Thursday's matchup with Washington State as this year's 52-51 overtime showdown with Fresno State.

The quarterbacks involved in both, after all, throw and throw often.

But the offenses Derek Carr, now in the NFL, and Connor Halliday run aren't identical, and neither are the signal callers.

Rutgers' Andre Patton out for Washington State game

Carr, for example, ran an offense predicated on line-of-scrimmage throws, taking a simplistic approach. Halliday and head coach Mike Leach will take more shots downfield, which affects both yards per completion and pass efficiency, which takes into account several metrics.

Still, Halliday's ypc is still relatively low. To put it into perspective, Rutgers' Gary Nova finished 31st last year with 13.08. More on Rutgers' opponents:

Passing yards (nat'l rank)
5,082 (1)
4,597 (3)
Yards per completion
10.24 (100)
11.22 (79)
Points responsible
24.2 (1)
15.8 (24)
Pass efficiency
156.1 (15)
126.5 (75)

Uniform watch

Johnathan Aiken laughed when asked why he and Lorenzo Waters, Rutgers' most veteran safeties, are the only ones that wear one white Nike sleeve on each arm.

“We live together actually, so we do a lot of stuff similarly," Aiken said. "We like the sleeves.”

Each sleeve has a small patch of padding to brace collisions.

“If you fall on your elbow, I’m right-handed and he puts it on his left," Aiken said of Waters. "It serves a small purpose, but that’s not why we wear them.”

Missing links

Here are the stories that caught my eye this week:

Who stood out at Rutgers' annual talent show at the end of training camp

Kyle Flood explains his reasoning behind his weekly injury reports

Inside Eddie Jordan's pursuit to reassemble Rutgers' Final Four team

With the microscope closing in, social media can't haunt would-be recruits

This New York Times story puts a face to college preview writer Phil Steele

How Curtis Malone, whose AAU team helped populate Rutgers, landed in jail

Michael Vick is on his last legs with the Jets

The York (Pa.) Daily Record meets up with members of James Franklin's past

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