FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 22: Players of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights celebrate with their fans after a win against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on September 22, 2012 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Scarlet Knights defeated the Razorbacks 35-26. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
As the critics are ever so quick to point out today, this was a gift. You know what? It doesn't matter. This was a game that Rutgers has repeatedly blown over the past decade. Greg Schiano, for all the gratitude he is owed for laying the foundation and recruiting all the current players, he wasn't able to win these games for the most part. Kyle Flood and his staff had the Scarlet Knights executing for a full game. It was not blemish free, and there is a decent chance that Arkansas is about to plunge into free fall, but so what? This is not a win that you apologize for, and in fact, it felt exhilarating. That sure is a better than losing in anyone's book. Rutgers did not match Alabama of course, but they beat ULM's margin of victory, AND did it with Tyler Wilson in for a full game. No excuses (injured Arkansas secondary) are necessary. Rutgers won, and is playing like a legitimate top 25 team at the moment. RU outplayed and out executed a SEC team on the road. Full stop.
Rutgers QB Gary Nova was sensational by any metric, expertly connecting with open receivers all night with on-target throws. This was the best that a RU QB has looked since Mike Teel obliterated Louisville four years ago. To that end, credit also has to go to an offensive line that once again gave Nova all day to throw, and play calling (with one notable exception on that run on third and long in the fourth quarter) that was without question for almost all of the evening. Rutgers even connected on deep strikes! When does that ever happen consistently! Nova and his receivers - Brandon Coleman brought the big plays, Tim Wright and Quron Pratt again were first down machines, and Mark Harrison is back after disappearing for stretches in 2011. The completion percentage was so high that Rutgers was able to generate first downs time and time again, and dominated the game's time of possession despite a struggling running game.
That was one fault with the offense last night, although this is by no means a criticism of Brock for sticking with it; that decision was absolutely warranted to maintain balance, and bail out the defense a bit. Plus, it eventually paid off. Jawan Jamison is looking a little haggard without having Savon Huggins there to spell him, but once again, he delivered on several big plays when it counted most. Give credit to Arkansas's tough front seven though. One downside was that Michael Burton departed with an ankle injury, with Paul Carrezola taking his place as the fullback. Burton is a huge asset in the offense, and one can only wish that a well-timed bye week contributes to him not missing much time. Hey, J.T. Tartacoff was out there in snaps after you figured that his finger had disintegrated into twenty thousand pieces last week, so who knows. D.C. Jefferson also left at a point, and it was hard to notice if he returned with TEs largely absent from the passing game excepting the big gain to Tyler Kroft.
Defensively it was very much a mixed bag. The quality of opponent has to be taken into consideration; no one disputes the caliber of Arkansas's passing game. That Tyler Wilson to Cobi Hamilton duo just torched everyone repeatedly with big play after big play though. If Hamilton beats double coverage, that would be one thing, but the occasions where Arkansas split out wide in multi-WR sets, and got him lined up in mismatches were frustrating though. Overall, the linebackers played well (Arkansas losing their TE early helped for sure), and Scott Vallone did Scott Vallone things, but more pressure up front would have been nice considering what UL-Monroe did a few weeks back. A lot of that had to do with respecting the Razorback passing attack; Rutgers was dropping lots of help into coverage all night, and for good reason. The pass defense was gashed, but tightened up when it mattered.
Overall, this was a game that swung on several key momentum shifts. Arkansas had a chance to go up big early, but was not able to keep their foot in the gas, and shattered after Rutgers was fortunate at a few critical moments. Kyle Flood calling a fake punt (the ball was snapped to Jeremy Deering, who ran for a first) was a gutsy, gutsy play deep into Rutgers territory. Then, right when Rutgers had been stopped and was kicking a field goal, a Hog defender foolishly went offsides. After that, the Knights largely dominated the second and third quarters behind Nova's precision passing, and an opportunistic defense that was surrendering yardage for the opportunity to make big plays.
All was looking well until the fourth quarter, when Arky gave it all with their last puncher's chance. RU suddenly couldn't buy a stop on defense, and there was way too much time left on the clock. That's when Nova stepped up in a big way, but it was still a game until Arkansas had backed the Knight offense to the goal line with a successful downed punt. Once again the run blocking faltered, with multiple Hog defenders making contact with back Jawan Jamison in the end zone. It looked like they would get a safety, cut the lead to seven (they had missed on a two-point conversion attempt), and get the ball back with great field position and all the momentum in a prime opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Jamison broke a few tackles for a big gain to around the twenty, and all the momentum swung back. That was when Brock really made his only bad call of the night (rushing Jamison on third and four, choosing the clock over Nova being red hot), but it ultimately didn't matter with Duron Harmon swiping a deflected catch on the very next play.
- Actually, the run on third and 7 before the second missed field goal was bad too. Gary Nova couldn't miss! Why didn't they pass there?
- The delayed draw before the second inexplicable run looked really well-designed.
- The penalties weren't as bad this week (usual culprits D.C. Jefferson and Kaleb Johnson had to have even odds for committing at least one false start each on the road against a SEC team), but remain an issue.
- Justin Doerner settled down a bit, but Kyle Federico missed two kicks (to be fair, he made one that came back due to the offsides call.) With that first one at 46 yards, Rutgers should have gone for it on fourth and 1 at the Arkansas 29. A 46-yarder is a LOT to ask of a true freshman on the road. You can't shank 32-yarders though. At least the snapping issues were cleared up, and the coverage and kick return units were solid. RU had near misses on a few blocks, but the Arkansas punter played well.
- Kyle Flood declining that holding call early was a little strange, but it ended up working due to a nice Duron Harmon play.
- The refereeing was just brutal on both sides. There was a LOT of uncalled DPI, and yet somehow Quron Pratt was able to draw a phantom call. On the other side, there was a play that should have either been an interception or a completed pass (it was clearly a catch by the Arkansas receiver; the question was whether he was down before fumbling.) Instead, it was ruled incomplete for some inexplicable reason. Just a terrible job all around by the Big East crew and SEC replay officials.
- Wait, so you mean John L. Smith is laughably bad at time/game management? Never, ever would have guessed this...
- Really, I can't remember seeing a more poorly-prepared team. They by no means quit, but it was clear watching this one that Flood was a decidedly better coach, and it was not particularly close.
- One of the Arkansas receivers played like a selfish jerk on the Logan Ryan pick in the end zone. He gave up on the play, letting Ryan get the interception uncontested.
- It was great to hear the Rutgers crowd continent on TV even before the fourth quarter.