Leonte Carroo’s first-play, 78-yard touchdown reception against Washington State in the 2014 season opener in Seattle became an iconic moment, not only for the 41-38 loss but also for the Cougars’ struggles defending passes all season.
It was a routine play for Carroo, practically a tradition now because he has scored a touchdown on his first catch in each of the past three seasons. All three of his receptions have ended in touchdowns this season, giving the senior a school-record 22 scoring catches over 24 games.
That’s not to say the Scarlet Knights will force-feed passes to Carroo or their other receivers when the teams meet Saturday in Piscataway, New Jersey. Rutgers has a decidedly run-first offense, a stark contrast with the pass-happy Cougars.
The Scarlet Knights pound defenses with running backs Josh Hicks, Robert Martin and Paul James, who rushed for 173 yards against the Cougars last year, softening them up with blow after blow as the secondary creeps closer to the line of scrimmage.
And then Carroo follows with the haymaker.
Although quarterback Chris Laviano is making his first start, there’s little doubt he has a rapport with Carroo. The two were suspended for the first half of Rutgers’ 63-13 win over Norfolk State, then hooked up for three TDns in the third quarter.
WSU safety Taylor Taliulu said during WSU’s weekly press conference Monday that the Cougars won’t give Carroo any special attention.
“I don’t remember his name,” Taliulu admitted. “Obviously, he’s a good athlete, he scored three touchdowns last week. We’re going to treat every receiver on the team as a weapon.”
Before worrying about all those receivers, the Cougars will hope to stifle that dogged rushing attack.
“Coach (defensive coordinator Alex) Grinch has something called the Cougar Advantage,” linebacker Jeremiah Allison said. “If you can stop the run then you’ll have the advantage.”
Making the Scarlet Knights offense one-dimensional would be a good start for WSU’s defense. But it might not be advantageous if it leads to more catches for Carroo.
SATURDAY: WSU (0-1) at Rutgers (1-0), 12:30 p.m., ESPNU, 710-AM