Goodbye, bowl dreams. From this point onward, Rutgers football is playing merely for pride.
John McNulty did most of what I was hoping for today. He called an ultra-conservative gameplan, with a heavy dose of breakout tailback Jourdan Brooks. It was only on the last drive of the game, when Rutgers only had two minutes left on the clock and merely needed to drive close enough for a winning field goal. Would Teel come through even against Navy's porous defense? The answer, sadly, was no. (BTW, where the hell was Mason Robinson?)
Why is Mike Teel struggling? It's NOT the absence of Ray Rice. Jourdan Brooks had Navy safeties crowding the box today, yet McNulty was uncomfortable enough that he barely used the passing game. I don't know why, but at this point, Mike Teel's career at Rutgers is over. If not for his soul-crushing interception, then for his punch thrown at Glenroy Lee as he left the field. It's time to regroup for 2009, which means playing quarterback Chris Paul-Etienne, as Jabu Lovelace is the only quarterback at this point who would make Teel look like an adept game manager. The stadium is sold out for 2008, but I think the fans need the glimmer of hope that CPE provides if they're going to have any incentive to actually show up for the rest of the season.
The other main problem on offense right now is with receiver Tiquan Underwood. This will probably be lost in the teeth gnashing following this loss, but the game is probably won if he doesn't make a key fumble right before half time. Ti, you're a great guy off the field, but you've been absolutely terrible since September 2007. Not only does Teel need to go to the bench, but so does Underwood.
Of course, Teel is not in a position to lose the game if the defense gets one third down stop in the second half. They did a great job containing Shun White on the edge, but were utterly exposed between the tackles. Inexplicably, the secondary continued its baffling miscues in coverage. Greg Schiano needs to consider hiring a defensive coordinator, because the current path isn't working. DE George Johnson rolled an ankle today, and between the grainy CSTV feed and preoccupied announcers, I don't know whether he returned or what his ultimate status is.
Special teams actually looked a lot better today. Baby steps.
This football season is rapidly spiraling out of control. Rutgers is going to face an avalanche of criticism in coming weeks. They might lose recruits and transfers. The opponents of stadium expansion will be grinning like cheshire cats on Monday, and surely are frantically typing up scathing op-eds at the moment.
This moment is why I cautioned against using the phrase "must win". Even though it absolutely held, the fact that it was a must win game and the team still lost made it that much more damaging. Actually, as far as the actual game goes, this loss wasn't nearly as painful as UNC or Fresno State. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the gameplans or coaching of Schiano and McNulty, even though both deserve plenty of blame for Teel's play and the lack of a viable alternative at QB. Maybe you can get at Schiano for another poor second half showing too. What stings today is watching some of the recent progress that Rutgers football has made crumble.
No matter what anyone says, it's not in ruins. It has hypothetical years of losing to go before one can fairly raise that prospect. But pillars are falling, barbarians are storming the gates of the castle, and they're making off with everything. The rest of the Big East isn't looking so hot, so Rutgers still may very well win a couple games this year. We'll see.