I really want to get started on my post about how the new stadium looked, so I'm just going stream-of-consciousness tonight.
Just to be clear about this, my post from late Monday night consisted of my gut reactions to the game, not a definitive diagnosis. I did try to caveat everything by saying that I don't believe it is possible to get much of an impression of schemes and play calling from the stands. For obvious reasons, I have no intention of rewatching the game to pinpoint any precise causes.
Now, Rutgers is going to beat Howard silly even if they decide to bring out Lovelace in the single wing. From following Coach Schiano over the past few seasons, my instincts tell me that he'd probably want to try to shore up Natale's confidence on Saturday. Greg is stubborn. I think Savage gives Rutgers the better chance to win, taking into account that Natale won't always be three-INT bad, and Savage is a lock to make his share of rookie mistakes. It's an awful burden for a true freshman, but there aren't any alternatives. For the sake of the future, there's no choice but to play Savage. When it comes to winning this season, the justification for playing Natale is much higher right now than many would care to admit...probably 40/60. However, Savage has to get the start in the end.
You know what I noticed in the stands yesterday? Rutgers has a savvy fanbase. I overheard countless people discussing the random minutae of camp...Savage, Sanu, all the hot topics. People have been keeping up with what's going on. And unfortunately for Schiano, that level of information lets the genie out of the bottle somewhat. If you thought the outcry at his stubbornness last year (and boy, does that decision look different in light of monday) was harsh, there's going to be a lot of anger on Saturday if Savage doesn't get the start.
I honestly, truly believe that Schiano definitively does not take fan reaction into account with those sorts of personnel decisions. In most situations, he should not. Vocal outbursts aren't necessarily representative of any sentiment among the fanbase as a whole, although I think the sentiment does lean towards Savage in this instance. However, there's one critical X-factor at play. Rutgers football does need to keep fans in its newly-expanded stadium. They don't want to see any more of Natale; they want Savage. End of story. It's Howard, so in the end this may not be a battle worth picking.
However, Schiano has to see the writing on the wall. Savage won't start because we want him too, but it is probably going to happen. Mike Teel was Schiano's guy. Arguably (considering the absurdly small sample size), Savage looks better as a true freshman than Teel did as a redshirt sophomore. Schiano would not pull Teel last year under any circumstances, but inserted Savage for Natale after a half on Monday. That's telling. I think Savage is already close to a Teel-like level of entrenchment with the coaching staff. He's going to be the quarterback for the next few years, so let's hope he's good. Coach may hem and haw about this over the next few days, but he's not blind. And no, while he may be stubborn, he wasn't born yesterday. Starting Tom Savage puts Rutgers football in the best chance to win in 2009, and in the future too. That's why he'll be under center this Saturday.