What a way to start off the season. Eight lead changes, 1,094 total yards of offense, and ten touchdowns made for a roller coaster game that was decided in the final play of overtime. My final prediction had a one point spread, so I have that going for me, but even knowing Fresno State offense, I did not expect a game like that out of RU. It's for that reason that even in a heartbreaking loss, There is a lot of good points to take away from the result. Here are the video highlights:
Let's start with the bad news first. The defense isn't reloading like we all hoped it would (at least not yet anyway). The defensive line did not have consistent pressure on the quarterback, a problem going back to last season. Not having Jamil Merrell obviously hurt quite a bit, but Derek Carr was in no way frazzled for the majority of the game. Fresno State did utilize a ton of quick, intermediate passes, but when Carr needed time to throw, he had it. Furthermore, the only times when Darius Hamilton made some good penetration plays, they were called back by phantom penalties, which are already contributing to conspiracy theories about American Athletic Conference officials. The linebacking corps played well, if unspectacular. MLB Steve Longa has speed to burn, as you can see him make sideline to sideline plays. Jamal Merrell was solid, but Kevin Snyder seemed to be absent.
The secondary is in real trouble. I'd have to say at first glance, the problem was mostly a scheme issue, as the corners and safeties were playing deep to prevent the big play. Cohen kept defending the deep play for most of the game, which allowed the Fresno State offense to chip away with screen pass after screen pass. Missed tackles and general bewilderment seemed to plague the defensive backs, as Devante Adams had a field day catching passes. Several DPI calls also suggest that the RU secondary was sloppy and undisciplined, although you could argue that the touchdown was inevitable and it wouldn't have made a difference. Gareef Glashen could not cover Adams or Isaiah Burse, and Lew Toler showed little awareness for a senior transfer with 36 career starts. Ian Thomas was the lone bright spot among the corners, coming away with an interception in the first half and shutting down his opponent for most of the night. Safeties Jeremy Deering and Lorenzo Waters were not really noticeable, which is a bad thing considering all of the short passes that made their way into the heart of the secondary.
Is it time to panic? No, absolutely not. Remember, Derek Carr is a sure thing for the first round of the Draft, so if you want to look bad against anyone, he's the guy. The real key will be how they perform against a team like Arkansas, or SMU. Norfolk State and Eastern Michigan should provide a nice tune-up.
Onto the good part. Say hello to your future stars: Leonte Carroo and Paul James. Carroo had five receptions on the night, and three of them went for touchdowns. I can't say enough how great it is to have a receiver with sure hands like Carroo, especially after the last couple of years. Not only does he have great hands, but Leonte has speed to boot, evidenced by his 69-yard TD catch. As for Paul James, it's hard to be completely satisfied knowing Savon Huggins struggled. I don't play favorites or anything like that, but you have to be disappointed that the consensus number one recruit in New Jersey for 2011 can't outperform a walk-on. Not to get all negative here, but Huggins' performance last night remind of so many other running backs who came to RU with high hopes, only to transfer (De'Antwan Williams, Jourdan Brooks, Jordan Thomas, etc.). That is a really drastic conclusion, so let's just focus on the good story: the RU power running game has found its signature back. Paul James is a bruiser who moves the line. He is big and powerful, and hard to stop. You can see that he punished the Fresno State defense, eventually forcing them to break on a couple of plays. Hard to believe that backup kicker Nick Borgese has a scholarship, but this guy doesn't.
I can't praise James without giving credence to the offensive line. They gave good protection all night for Nova, and eventually got the push on the Fresno State front seven late in the game to the running backs going. Redshirt freshman Chris Muller even got some playing time with Andre Civil injured in the second half, and Keith Lumpkin did a formidable job protecting Nova's blind side.
Speaking of Gary Nova, the junior quarterback looked like a real leader at the end of the game, orchestrating a fourth quarter TD drive (that came on fourth down) and a potential game-winning FG drive. He definitely threw some dangerous passes, and probably should have had at least one more interception, but you have to be happy with his stat line: 23/41 (63%) for 348 yards, 5 TDs, and only 1 INT. There were plenty of times when Nova could have let the pressure and frustration get to him, but all throughout the night he kept his poise and always gave the Scarlet Knights a chance to win the game. Even with the failed two-point conversion, I have more of a problem with the play selection than the execution.
The coaching was mostly top notch. Aside from the defense, which requires more time to make a reasonable conclusion, Kyle Flood and Ron Prince had a formidable gameplan. I definitely think the early deep passes helped open some running lanes for Paul James and the offensive line, and the two-minute drill worked perfectly to set up scoring opportunities late in the game. Time management is still a lingering issue, probably most apparent when the Knights came out of a timeout used to prevent a delay of game penalty, but still botched the play on the next snap. Overall though, I am pleased with Prince as offensive coordinator.
It's tough to swallow this game as a loss, especially when Rutgers had two chances to clinch the game. Dillon Root's 57-yard kickoff return after taking the lead in the fourth was a real dagger, and the Scarlet Knights would have had a high probability of winning had they just prevented a big return. Kyle Federico hit a FG longer than 43 yards earlier in the game, but with a game-winning kick, you always want to make it as easy as possible. Why not run one more play to get it a little bit closer and a little bit more centered?
Still, this loss has several positive points to consider as the season moves forward. Two easy games are up before Arkansas, and after watching their performance against a top-25 team and a first round NFL Draft pick, you can bet that Rutgers has a chance to win every game this season handily, even Louisville.
What do you think? What did you take away from the game? Share your thoughts and grievances here!