Rutgers nip Nippert; for the last time?
What do you know. Rutgers played a team that they were legitimately worried about losing to for the first time in months, and that also happened to spur the Scarlet Knights to look like a genuine top 25 team again. This is not to imply that Rutgers players do not give it all on the field, far from it. The rallying cry here this season has been that head coach Kyle Flood and offensive coordinator Dave Brock are far too conservative in their play calling, and if they are convinced that they can win games without taking risks on offense, are pleased as punch to do exactly that.
Yesterday, was, well, it was odd. Rutgers was a lot more aggressive than they've been in a while, but you still didn't really see the passing game going that much. They did a few things, but still didn't go over the middle nearly as much as they should have. Understandably, they were gun-shy after a few ill-advised Gary Nova picks in the red zone that cost the team points. The final score was 10-3, but watching every drive, you would have sworn that the Knights should be up by multiple touch downs. The play calling got really conservative again after the second pick, but you know what? You can be conservative when you're running for five yards a carry. They just kept marching down the field drive after drive, and while Cincinnati had a few trips to the red zone, they were stymied for the most part. You had to be worried with RU letting the Bearcats hang around, but this one always seemed like the Knights were always in control.
Wow, what a performance from Savon Huggins looking every bit the five-star prodigy that he was touted to be. Cincy had to be gassed by the early third, and of course he sealed it late with a big run. With Jawan Jamison hurting, you might have figured that Rutgers would struggle on the ground and take to the air. While Gary Nova probably missed having Jamison as a dump off security blanket for screen passes (there were a few notable moments where you could just tell he missed Jamison as a bail out option), Huggins more than made up for it with his fantastic running between the tackles. Jamison is a patient runner who can cut on a dime and has fantastic vision. Huggins, he's just a battering ram, and the line was opening up GIGANTIC lanes for him yesterday. It was just like last year's breakout game for JJ against Cincy! When was the last time the OL looked this good? There was Cincy and ISU last year, but then you have to go back to 2008. The line was pushing Cincy five yards off the ball on every running play, it was like watching vintage 2006 film. It was a great showing given Andre Civil's injury.
That story should take some of the heat off Gary. Look, he's pressing, but taking away two big backfield receiving threats in Jamison (who had two good runs, but otherwise it was all Savon) and Michael Burton would negatively affect any quarterback. The interceptions were bad throws, and he also made a mistake in missing a wide open Brandon Coleman too. I do think if Brock would show more confidence in Nova though, that would take some of the pressure off. (Some of the calls were quite good actually, like the flea flicker that almost worked, or the WR screen to Shuler.) The throws were at least a bit more varied, but the inability to get Wright involved more over the middle remains as inexplicable as ever. Brandon Coleman and Mark Harrison did their thing downfield. D.C. Jefferson continued to look quite good as a blocker outside of his trademark penalties. The early passing threat really opened up the running game, which in turn helped play action a ton.
The defense gave up a few long drives, but tightened up in the red zone. Cincy did too, but we were winning both lines of scrimmage. Okay, Scott Vallone missed a sack he really should have gotten, but he was awesome as usual. Khaseem Greene was once again a monster when it counted. Steve Beauharnais made up for a bad missed tackle early with his pick, which brought to mind some of his 2011 heroics like the Syracuse game. Logan Ryan had just a sick interception on his pick which was really a NFL-caliber play. That's good, and, er, not so good at the same time. Marvin Booker had a few highlights up front too, along with Ken Kirksey and Darius Hamilton.
- Mason Robinson made a few very good decisions on fielding/not fielding punts. You can't say the same for Ralph David Abernathy.
- Kyle Federico remains MIA, which is odd considering that initial reports a few weeks back seemed optimistic. Borgese had one low kick blocked, but he snuck a 42 yarder in, so we can relax for once. He's steady enough.
- The officiating was okay, with a few bad calls. They definitely shouldn't have nailed Khaseem Greene for a helmet hit that was just the result of his momentum.
- With all of that running and the low score, it was almost like a Big Ten audition, right? I guess we passed? Well, not literally passing, that's illegal according to the conference bylaws as everyone knows.
- So, how is the coaching staff going to get motivated to attack Pitt instead of sitting tight? They have to know what's on the line now...