This is going to be a very difficult recap to write considering present circumstances, and I will try to bounce back next week.. Sunday's post pretty much covered the gist of what went wrong on offense. The defensive performance was partially attributable to the inherent schematic difficulties in defending the triple option, and partially to offensive ineptitude leading to poor field position and time of possession in the first half. Army knew well that Rutgers had the speed outside to shut down their slotbacks, and wisely ran it inside with their quarterback and fullback.
On that long run before halftime, watching the replay it appeared that an Army blocker opened a hole by diving right at Antonio Lowery's knees. Keith Sargeant says that's how Manny Abreu went down. They obviously have to cut block to run an effective offense with 250-lb linemen. That strategy is extremely dangerous, and represents another reason why it is unwise to schedule the service academies.
The Rutgers defense played better in the second half after the offense started moving the football. It still was not ideal to have to be dependent on turnovers. However, if you look at how Army fares against other opponents, any defensive woes had more to do with their superior execution than Rutgers mishaps. The defense looked bad at times and should have performed better, but an end result of only surrendering 20 points was once again well below Army's season averages, and the box score does not look as bad as things appeared during the game. The defense essentially did its job, and made many critical second half stops to keep Rutgers in the game. Fortunately, nothing defensively from this game is applicable to the rest of the season. That is, unless Doug Marrone decides to bust out the option out of nowhere again.
Two starters in LT Desmond Stapleton and SLB Manny Abreu limped off the field. Losing either would be significant, as that would leave Rutgers down three top players, although this week's depth chart includes Stapleton. Devon Watkis replaced Stapleton at left tackle, and RU went to a three safety look with Duron Harmon after Abreu went down. As of now it's being reported that Ka'Lial Glaud will start next week. Marcus Thompson will back up Glaud on the strong side, with Al-Ghaffar Lane in the middle and Marvin Booker behind Antonio Lowery. Abreu missing four to six weeks is unfortunate, but I initially feared that he would be out for longer.
Other game thoughts:
- Ok, regarding what happened at the end of regulation. The delay of game penalty apparently was caused by someone on the sideline taking Chas Dodd's helmet. That's...something, but at least Coach Schiano isn't awful at time management like Les Miles or Steve Spurrier. The actual problem with this entire sequence was that Rutgers was content to attempt a 45 yard kick before everything started to unravel. That was a mistake, as there was plenty of time to set up a closer attempt. San San Te is very inconsistent, it was a very windy day, and they're playing in the MEADOWLANDS; aka, the worst site for field goal kickers in the known universe.
- San San Te was on kickoffs instead of Teddy Dellaganna.
- The offense cannot keep up its pace of fourth-down conversions. They were only that successful on Saturday because Army isn't really that good on defense.
- With the defensive holding call on RU's first touchdown drive, I missed it live while watching the ball. Couldn't see anything on the replay as the play was apparently out of range.
- There were far fewer high snaps.
- Thankfully Army was not booed running out.
- From watching the game replay, Gen. David Petraeus was in attendance and was interviewed at halftime during the broadcast.
- The Rutgers band is testing my patience with their choice of songs for halftime shows.
- There was no lineup intro video. For the record, the first college football game at the new stadium was actually Howard/Morgan State last month. I didn't know that either until Devin McCullen mentioned it in a comment.
A couple bullet points on playing in the New Meadowlands Stadium:
- The game attendance was officially announced at 41,292, which is significantly below what Rutgers draws for home games at Rutgers Stadium. The student section was clearly diminished by not having the ability to just walk out of bed and take a short bus ride to the game. Rutgers regularly fills out the section to capacity, so playing 45 minutes to an hour away cost thousands in attendance (and correspondingly, homefield advantage.)
- Army fans... really didn't show up at all, and it's going to be very annoying when people look at the raw attendance figure for this game and discount these two factors. The Army section was mostly full, they had assorted fans throughout the lower and mid decks, and that's about it. This is a program that drew 27,997 game last year. Michie Stadium is fairly close by. More importantly, Ticketmaster made thousands of tickets plainly available to the public. With all due respect, Army fans blew it. There is no doubt that Rutgers will take over Yankee Stadium next year. Update: Mike Vorkunov said that Army's attendance was diminished by their cadets being unable to go on leave.
- The mid-north endzone seats were empty, along with both upper endzones. It's pretty safe to say that there wasn't much of a general purpose crowd from North Jersey/NYC with no attachment to either program. I bet the Meadowlands lost money on the game. Blame the unappealing matchup, or blame the Yankees playing at relatively the same time. Rutgers itself isn't enough to sell out the stadium, although Rutgers and a marquee opponent would be. Speaking of which, they were really pushing ND/Navy hard (which has much more expensive tickets.) It'll be curious to see how that game does, and I'll be beyond furious if Navy draws a crowd when Army didn't.
- Ok, as to the stadium itself: I was very impressed with how compact the seating area is. It's really close to the field. For a NFL game I'd imagine that would create a very loud crowd, which is a welcome change from how dead Giants Stadium would get at times. Unfortunately, it wasn't a great fit for half capacity.
- Concessions are good, and as overpriced as you would expect. A lot of the booths were closed, including some of the specialty stuff that would have been fun. Logistically the facility is very well-designed, and the place is filled to the brim with LCD panels.
- Even at $25 for parking, taking NJ Transit to the game isn't really cost effective from central New Jersey. Really feeling bitter right now about the state having to spend hundreds of millions in subsidies for that. At least the Turnpike traffic was smooth.
- In a vacuum I like the stadium, and look forward to taking in future NFL games there. Between not having much of a student section and bungling ticket assignments for season ticket holders, it's a burden for Rutgers to play there. The football program should only return in the future when the money makes sense. It is difficult to imagine that unless Rutgers is either having a great season to bring out bandwagoners, or the opponent is a national power. However, anyone who cites the attendance figure to completely dismiss RU football is either ignorant, disingenuous, or possibly both.
Between three crippling injuries and the offensive line play, I am not at all optimistic about playing Pitt this week. They're a good team, who just happened to play a tough schedule and have some injuries of their own. Pitt's OL is bad and RU's is worse, so it'll probably be a low scoring affair (with a chance that Dodd could light up their battered secondary.) Pitt is better equipped to run the ball and eek out a close game, although Dave Wannstedt's conservatism has again been an issue this season. I don't even want to speculate as to how Rutgers will prepare this week. That is not possible to predict, and should be dismissed entirely in pre-game analyses as an indeterminable x-factor.