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(Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports)

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights opened the 2017 season with a tough loss to the No. 8 ranked Washington Huskies, 30-14 on Friday night.  Rutgers came into the game as underdogs, but left the game with some respect.

The Scarlet Knights came out executing by scoring a touchdown on its opening possession to put a scare into four-touchdown-favorite Washington. But the Huskies took the lead for good late in the second quarter, then routed Rutgers in the second half en route to a 30-14 triumph before an announced crowd of 46,093 on Friday night at High Point Solutions Stadium.

A missed 47-yard field goal off the foot of Rutgers kicker Andrew Harte could have locked the game in a tie going into halftime. But even though Washington wound up widening its margin later in the second half, Rutgers played with them through the better part of the night.

“We were in a really good ballgame,” head coach Chris Ash said afterward. “Last year, you watch that game, and you would have said there was a lot of physical mismatches across the board. I don’t feel that way right now. I feel like we just didn’t execute in some critical situations on some key plays that cost us that football game. Until we learn how not to do that, we won’t come out on the winning end.”

“I feel like we’re bigger, we’re stronger, we’re more athletic and we’ve got the ability to go toe-to-toe with good football teams but again, to beat them, we’re going to have to play better football.”

Transfer Students Made a Solid Debut 

Grad transfer Kyle Bolin showed himself to be capable as a starting quarterback and tossed two touchdowns of his own. Wide receiver Damon Mitchell and tight end Jerome Washington combined for 10 catches. Running back Gus Edwards led the team with 79 rushing yards and punter Ryan Anderson averaged 44.4 yards per punt.

Consider that Rutgers had sixteen players make their collegiate debuts Friday night, nine of them were true freshmen. Five transfer players also made their Rutgers debut. The fact that they made it such a tight game, despite such inexperience playing on this stage and with each other is much more surprising than the mistakes that cost them the game.

“Happy about the fight and the toughness and the improvement that a lot of guys made.” Head coach Chris Ash said afterwards. “A number of players played their first college football game tonight on national television. Did a lot of good things. Made some mistakes and some critical errors, or in critical situations that cost us but we’ll keep moving forward. Keep getting better. But I like the direction that we’re going. You know, if we can keep this team healthy, keep getting better, there will be a lot of fun football games to watch on Saturday nights here, or Saturday afternoons here at this stadium with our football team.”

Kyle Bolin Is Rutgers Quarterback For Better or Worse

New QB Kyle Bolin (24-for-34, 178 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) showed flashes of good play, although he was picked off twice by CB Byron Murphy. For the most part, he followed a conservative script, as offensive coordinator Jerry Kill had indicated would be the case. Bolin said afterward the Scarlet Knights didn’t take shots downfield because Washington’s defense is built to prevent deep balls and keep things underneath. Bolin has a lot of room to improve, but certainly showed he is the best option Rutgers has had at QB since Gary Nova.

“I thought he managed the game well,” head coach Chris Ash said of Bolin. “There were some times when we weren’t in the right formations and he got the formations right. There were a couple times he checked plays against different looks that they were giving us. He got us in and out of the right plays. I thought he had pretty good poise.”

Bend But Didn’t Really Break Defense

The defense played a great first half and despite wearing down in the second half, they battled a potent Huskies offense the entire game. Twice they gave up big plays that led Washington inside the 10 yard line and with a full set of downs, but they were able to hold them to field goals. After giving up 24 points to Jake Browning and UW in the first quarter last season, they only gave up 23 points in this entire game.

The defensive line of Rutgers wrecked havoc at times and Kemoko Turay, the best past rusher on the team, looked like the 2014 version of himself last night. He was second on the team with five tackles and had two hits on quarterback Jake Browning.

The Rutgers d-line and secondary fared well last night, but the same could not be said of the line-backing corps. Starter Trevor Morris missed a host of tackles and starter Ross Douglas quickly gave way to Eric Margolis, who was ineffective. Middle linebacker Deonte Roberts led the team in tackles with seven, although the play on either side of him was very suspect at best.

Building Blocks Are In Place 

Despite the loss, Rutgers looks like a whole new team, based on nothing but scattered moments from its first game. Bolin’s transfer in from Louisville and the addition of former Minnesota head coach Kill as offensive coordinator seem to be nice moves so far, as expected.

If Rutgers can learn from their mistakes and continue to gel as a team, there is real hope that they can win multiple games in the Big Ten this season. The confidence gained in giving Washington all they could handle for a good part of the game, should spark  them to wins in the next coming weeks.

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