Rutgers outlasts Army 27-12

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Thomas Holloway #23 of the Army Black Knights tackles Mohamed Sanu #6 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during a game at Yankee Stadium on November 12, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

It took Rutgers a quarter and a half to escape their USF-induced slumber. For a short period in the game, it looked like Rutgers was in for a redux of USF, or the Navy game, or a rematch of last year's game with Army. Rutgers sleepwalks out to an early deficit, and then has to frantically storm back late. For three drives, the Rutgers offense stalled. The defense permitted Army to march down the field, only to finally tighten up in the red zone. Fortunately, the Scarlet Knights were able to adjust. Rutgers forcefully started dominating on defense and special teams. Andre Civil and Betim Bujari subbed in for David Osei and Art Forst at left tackle and left guard respectively, Jeremy Deering gave Rutgers a boost on the ground, and Chas Dodd repeatedly locked in on receiver Mohamed Sanu (often from a spread formation.) For the day at least, Rutgers found its formula to victory.

Chas Dodd's performance will draw some scrutiny after this one. Surrendering two turnovers (on the first he stared down Sanu, the second was a very bad throw to Coleman) was hardly the panacea imagined when he relieved Gary Nova. Indeed, Rutgers was starting to dominate in the second half, and could have run away with a blowout if not for his poor throws. It really looked yesterday like Rutgers was throwing out Frank Cignetti's playbook to accommodate Dodd. The pace wasn't nearly as methodical, Dodd was frequently lining up in the spread (although, the calls weren't exactly for Kirk Ciarrocca-style 7 step drops), and Mohamed Sanu's number was called on practically every play. That's understandable, and this post isn't intended to tug on Superman's cape, but it's important to keep other players involved.

With Mark Harrison still banged up, Brandon Coleman saw a lot of touches in his stead. Coleman had one of his customary bad drops early, but made up for it with a touchdown, and was victimized by an uncalled flagrant DPI on what should have been a second touchdown grab. The offense is quantifiably different with Chas Dodd under center. Gary Nova needs to cut down on his sky-high turnover rate, but if yesterday proved anything, it's that Nova started for the past month for a reason: he has a better command of Frank Cignetti's offense. The offense was predictable yesterday, with Rutgers essentially betting that Army could not stop Sanu no matter what. It helped that the running game was able to get going, which goes a long way towards supporting play action, and keeping opposing defenses honest.

Two plays accounted for a good portion of the passing game. There was the WR screen, and Sanu initially lining up in the backfield, before shifting inside to the slot matched up against a linebacker. It works in Madden all the time, so why not give it a try in games? Repeatedly dialing up these two plays was sufficient for Mohamed to break both Kenny Britt's single season Rutgers catch record, and Larry Fitzgerald's single season Big East catch record. Sanu passed Clark Harris on RU's career yardage record, and still has a chance to move up to third in program history by the end of the season. He will likely surpass Tres Moses for the second-most receptions in program history next week, and has a shot at breaking Brian Leonard's record at his current rate of 9.4 catches per game (which is also good for second nationally this year.)

If there was a culprit for the first few bad drives, it was that poor field position put the defense on their heels a little bit. After that, Rutgers was able to maintain containment and shut off the outside pitch completely. Justin Francis and Scott Vallone practically lived in the backfield all day, which freed up linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais to make plays. Army isn't exactly a team that will put pressure on opposing secondaries, but Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones had excellent position to break up a few dangerous throws in the fourth quarter. Once you get up early on an option team, they usually aren't equipped to come back from behind, and this was no exception. If there's a downside to this game, it's that all of the cut blocks will have the cumulative effect of weakening the defense next week against Cincinnati. However, the Bearcats did just lose their top passer, and will have to call on the option-y backup....

There were certainly a couple of questionable calls on this one. Right before San San Te missed a field goal, Brandon Coleman was blatantly interfered with on the catch where he landed out of bounds. You can't really get on Coleman for not dragging his feet there, as it would have been a very difficult play. The punt a few sequences later where Jordan Thomas appeared to down a punt in the end zone might as well have been a makeup call for that. What about the critical tripping call that erased a possible score for Army? It happened, but in watching the replay, it likely did not affect the play. Those calls are awful (see the one against Steve Beauharnais in the Syracuse game), but referees consistently call penalties no matter how irrelevant. In this case, it was a fair payback for giving Army free reign on cut blocks all game long. An Army lineman injured Manny Abreu in 2010, so the referees swallowing their whistles was inexcusable.

Rutgers certainly had a chance to lose this one, as the final score doesn't reflect how close it was (sort of like the Maryland game two years ago?) That is disturbing considering the quality of competition involved, Army has made progress over the past few years, but Rutgers should have had a double-digit lead by halftime and never looked back. They can't afford to spot bad opponents a quarter and a half of lackadaisical effort, and the certain eventual route (owing to an overwhelming talent edge) was delayed by Rutgers repeatedly stumbling over their own two feet. Most of the time that won't hurt them, but the Black Knights had a very real chance to win until halfway through the fourth quarter. Rutgers certainly cannot afford any more slipups with yet another opportunity for a Big East title on the line next week in the friendly confines of Piscataway.

Additional thoughts:

  • There was a lot to like on special teams between Jeremy Deering's returns, Justin Doerner's punts, and 1 1/2 punt blocks. San San Te missed an extra point after slipping on the turf, but his missed field goal was dreadful.
  • Army still had a chance to win the game after the long run was called back. They squandered the clock with poor time management, gave up a blocked punt, and then Jawan Jamison gashed them for a long touchdown run to remove any lingering doubt.
  • Here's to hoping that Rutgers doesn't come return in December. The turf quality was horrific. The sight lines are terrible for football, and the ticket prices were outrageous. Oh, and there's the little matter of still having a chance at a better bowl, no matter how remote it may be. Rutgers fans will pay to see a marquee opponent, but many would rather just stay home if they're being charged for premium prices against a lackluster Army team. That's even with limited television availability, as the former CSTV owned the broadcast rights to this one.
  • As we learned last year at the Meadowlands, Army doesn't travel at all outside of their cadets. The attendance was pretty lousy for this one. Part of that is Rutgers fans still grousing over the West Virginia loss, but if students aren't going to make the trek to a "home" game in East Rutherford, they certainly aren't going to The Bronx against a lousy opponent. Maybe if Rutgers can draw Missouri or Texas A&M they will.
  • The official line out of the Hale Center is that recruits love all the wacky uniform combinations. Oregon's success certainly supports that reasoning, but what ever happened to scarlet helmets and simply wearing scarlet uniforms/white pants at home, and white uniforms/scarlet pants on the road? MAYBE scarlet/scarlet or white/white for big games.
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