I am not sure what spin to put on the just-completed contest between Rutgers and Connecticut. Holy hell, we really needed that win? The offense looks absolutely terrible? Let's get started, and see if it comes to me as I crank this out.
Today brought more personnel changes, as Mike Gilmartin took over for Howard Barbieri at LG, Shamar Graves took the starting TE spot from Kevin Brock, and Eric LeGrand was moved to...fullback? Has Andres Morales upset the coaching staff that much? It didn't sound like Graves made all that much of a difference in receiving or blocking. Dom Natale also saw one planned series at QB.
"Thanks" to ESPN U, I did not have the opportunity to watch today's game, although, for the first time in roughly a year (since last year's UConn game on ESPN U), I listened to Tim Pernetti and Chris Carlin on WOR. I like Carlin personally, but haven't really been a fan of his work in the past. He did seem to do a better job with play by play today. Tim Pernetti was rather good on color commentary. Looking at RU's gamecenter applet was completely useless, as it frequently had incorrect information. The announcers were offbase on criticizing the fans' booing of Mike Teel. They're the ones paying for him to receive a free education, they have a right to express their displeasure at his play as long as they do not cross a line.
Ok, the game: Mike Teel played passable at times, but the passing game completely disappeared in the fourth quarter and it almost cost them the game. Dom Natale did see one pre-planned series. He wasn't a complete bust, nor did he really light up the world. He did make a nice scramble for a first down at one point. I don't know how everyone looks in practice, but Teel and the receivers are out of sync enough that I want Natale to see more snaps. And wow, the deep ball continues to be completely ineffective. Could they just complete one of those?
It didn't sound like Kordell Young had all that much room to run today, even though he made a few plays. I don't know what's the thought process behind the continued shuffling on the OL, but it hasn't worked up to this point. In fact, the running game was more effective at the start of the season. A lot of credit does have to go to UConn's stellar defense for both the running and passing games being ineffective. Speaking of the backs, Greg Schiano and the coaching staff really do a terrible job of keeping multiple backs involved in the gameplan. What was really disheartening was that the running game again failed to convert short yardage, and we did not see Jourdan Brooks in those situations. Really, 1st and goal at the three yard line and that can't be converted for a touchdown? Ray Rice, Brian Leonard, Pedro Sosa, and Jeremy Zuttah are rolling in their collegiate graves.
Given that he was lined up against Darius Butler most of the day, Kenny Britt had his customary 100+ yards, and I'm sure NFL scouts are going to be very interested in that particular marquee matchup. Woah, Tiquan Underwood actually made a few plays; and on his critical drop, the announcers mentioned that UConn got away with a blatant pass interference with a UConn defender draped over Underwood.
Speaking of the officiating, there was another terrible call (according to the announcers) in the third quarter, when UConn's Donald Brown was tackled in the end zone, but was somehow given forward progress. I saw the exact same thing happen in a Michigan State game a few weeks ago. Luckily, after RU's next offensive drive stalled, the defense did score a safety on Brown that left absolutely no doubt, and ultimately provided the margin of victory. Randy Edsall also was reportedly furious over a pick penalty on Martin Bedard late in the game, which backed up UConn's FG unit on their last drive.
Let's give some credit to the front seven for a minute. It's a given that Donald Brown is going to get 100 yards. However, almost all of his yardage came on a couple of big plays. UConn's rushing game failed to consistently move the chains all day, and that destroyed their strategy of playing ball control football.
I definitely think that not having quarterback Tyler Lorenzen was a major detriment to UConn today. He's not going to make downfield plays with his arm, but he does have a knack for scrambling and getting just enough yardage for a first down. Zach Frazer is more in the Mike Teel mode, and he doesn't have a receiver to bail him out downfield like Kenny Britt does all too frequently.
Frazer and the UConn passing game really didn't do anything until late in the game. Rutgers had another series of incredible gaffes in coverage, which, combined with the offensive ineptitude, almost cost them the game. The defensive line was generating a pass rush early, but Frazer had some time to throw as they drove late.
The story of this game, given the ugly play on the conventional drives, was undoubtedly the special teams. Tim Brown surprisingly did not get the call as a returner after a strong game vs. Cincinnati, but Tiquan Underwood and Jason McCourty seemed to be effective for a change. Rutgers had a Teddy Dellaganna punt blocked early, and the coverage units on returns continued to be miserable. SWIRLING WINDS were a major factor on several fronts. In the second half, Teddy Dellaganna had some success pinning UConn deep within their territory.
San San Te and UConn kicker Tony Ciaravino both traded chip shot field goals, and both missed 40+ yarders, which is understandable in SWIRLING WINDS. The difference however was that Ciaravino missed a 25-yarder before halftime, and then missed a crucial 42-yard kick to seal the victory at the end of the game for Rutgers.
It's impossible to exaggerate how miserable RU's offense played today on all fronts. They played three quarters of solid defense, but that unit did almost give the game away after the offense failed to bail them out time and again. However, the bend but don't break unit didn't break that much, and they did a great job of keeping Donald Brown in check.
It's been one of those years where every time Rutgers seemed to build some momentum, eventually they would shoot themselves in the foot. Every time you're ready to count them out of it, they manage to fight back a little. I don't know how lucky two missed field goals are given that Ciaravino has struggled in the past, and again, SWIRLING WINDS, but the Scarlet Knights have caught far too few breaks this season. I'm still waiting for the defense to generate some turnovers.
I can't recall ever being as happy about having two wins. It was homecoming today, and undoubtedly the team's confidence would have taken a huge blow with a loss. Nevermind the devastating psychological impact on the fanbase's level of support, and on the overall image of the program.
For a week, Rutgers has staved off disaster, which is more that could have been said for the past few weeks, and undoubtedly is a positive step.
Objectively, I don't think Rutgers is a very good football team. Dom Natale may very well not be an effective division I-A QB, but it's undoubtedly time to find out.