Winning ugly: Rutgers survives Navy 21-20

Getting by with a large turnover margin is sustainable over a season. It is not sustainable over a long-term basis, and it is certainly subject to week-to-week fluctuations as we saw yesterday. Looking at the raw underlying stats, Rutgers should have beaten Navy by double digits. The Scarlet Knights had a considerable edge in first downs, total yardage, and time of possession. Navy won the turnover game though, and shockingly were not called for one single chop block all game. Navy is a good team, who have been the recipients of some bad luck and a tougher-than-normal schedule. However, RU is significantly better, and they win by a larger margin if yesterday's game was replayed multiple times. That being said, credit everyone wearing Scarlet for not folding after Navy went up big in the second quarter. Oh well, guess that balanced out the Pitt blowout to some extent.

Freshman quarterback Gary Nova spurred Rutgers to its stellar highs yesterday, but was also responsible for their dismal lows. When Nova was on, he was unstoppable - picking apart Navy's undermanned defense, finally establishing a rapport with star receiver Mohamed Sanu. He deserves the lion's share of the credit for leading Rutgers to victory, but at the same time helped keep Navy in the game with ill-timed miscues that betrayed his inexperience. Nova needs to relax and let the game slow down - those are qualities that come with time, and he is already far ahead of the curve in those respects. It's that Nova is so ordinarily polished that his gaffes seem that more inexplicable. He looks like an upperclassman most of the time, but every so often, his inner freshman comes to the surface in forcing passes instead of being content to dissect the opposing defense by finding an open receiver.

As should be clear by how Southern Miss thumped them last week, Navy is not a good defensive team. RU's woes yesterday in putting points on the board were mostly self-inflicted. Those are correctable; an inability to move the chains is not, and that's why the game on the whole was encouraging; even if it has to be adjusted for context. Rutgers is more than adequate in pass protection, but this was the first game where anything has been open up front for Jawan Jamison. Joe Martinek continues to excel as a runner and receiver out of the backfield (it might be worth it to give him more looks in one-back sets, with more of a traditional FB like Burton for blocking), and Savon Huggins lost another fumble. At receiver, it's nice to see Quron Pratt and Tim Wright coming up with catches when it counts. This was another solid game for D.C. Jefferson too.

Defensively, Rutgers did a fantastic job of holding Navy under its rushing averages for the year. Where the offense did excel was in playing superb ball-control football to keep RU's defense fresh for defending the triple option. (Likewise, credit the defense and special teams for starting with good field position.) Having everyone healthy will be critical with a short week coming up before the Louisville game. Justin Francis (eye) and Marcus Cooper both left early with injuries - Francis definitely returned later. Absent the Proctor touchdown, and a few "wait, they're actually passing? Oh well, guess we shouldn't have left our safeties on an island" plays, Rutgers continued its season-long defensive dominance. Personnel-wise, Schiano's defenses have always been well equipped for the service academies, even if everybody hurts like hell the day after.

Steve Beauharnais has a knack for making big plays in critical moments. Another added benefit of Frank Cignetti taking charge of the offense is that Coach Schiano is able to give his undivided attention to the defense, and it is showing. Francis and Vallone were dominant as expected up front, and the trio of Abreu, Thompson, and Glaud disrupted the Midshipmen backfield all day. You would have liked to see a few more fumbles forced, but there are no complaints here. Pat Kivlehan made a cameo appearance as the option containment safety (guess Wayne Warren is more of a designated blitzer), and helped turn around the game with one of the oddest interceptions ever - a Navy receiver kept the ball live on his back without securing it, and Kivy scooped it up for the "pick."

Other thoughts:

  • Why yes, that was Art Forst returning from offensive line purgatory at right guard. All things considered, he was more than serviceable. Not that you can draw a direct connection, but the Rutgers offense actually struggled in the second quarter when Betim Bujari rotated in. The only complaint with the line yesterday was with Andre Civil's two false starts - you can't do that at home, at homecoming no less.
  • Credit Brandon Jones too - "Juice" intercepted Proctor early, and came through with a late field goal block to secure the victory.
  • San San Te was 0-2, but neither was his fault. Hitting a long kick on a windy day is no easy task, and the snap/hold was botched on the second one. In retrospect, would it have made more sense to take a knee instead of going for that field goal?
  • Louisville on Friday is the very definition of a trap game. If RU can get through that however, there is no excuse not to have a full stadium in two weeks. And that better not be from a giant West Virginia contingent either.
  • Where was Jeremy Deering outside of returns?
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