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Only Seventeen

Last night's matchup between Army and Rutgers was a bit of a laugher. There was such a wide talent disparity on the field that Army had absolutely no chance of winning, even if the Scarlet Knights did manage to sleep through the third quarter, shooting themselves in the foot several times in the process. RU left a lot on the field. In fact, it's troubling that they only won by seventeen. The Black Knights never give up, and deserve credit as such. I'll never forget the indelible image of them clawing and scratching to the final whistle last season, while Steve Kragthorpe's Louisville squad checked out moments into the game. Army isn't nearly as talented as FIU, but their effort goes to 11. Unlike FIU, they also had some semblance of a gameplan on the offense beyond "scramble around and overthrow receivers", which helps.

However, there's no sense in mincing words about this one. A.D. Tim Pernetti may have echoed Greg Schiano in wanting to continue the series, but Army is still in the early stages of turning into a competitive football team. The triple option is a good fit in West Point. Hopefully, they'll be on a level with Navy in a few years. That doesn't change the fact that this game was a laugher, all the past few RU-Army games have been mismatches, and likely will continue to be for the remainder of the series.

You can't fault Pernetti and Schiano for putting on a positive face in front of the press, but Rutgers simply cannot afford to continue playing Army in a home and home series. It would be scandalous. The athletic department's financial integrity is at stake. Expansion means that RU needs seven home games, and fans simply have no interest in shelling out $70 a ticket to see a bad team. Putting Army on the schedule means that a better team won't be. Where's the "prestige" in playing the service academies while Rutgers continues to play weak schedules? Not to mention, Army did force visiting fans to buy a Duke or VMI ticket if they wanted to see last night's game.

Tom Savage had eons to throw. When he connected with his receivers, it was usually for huge gains. The rain definitely had an impact on the night, but the passing game continues to look out of sync. With Army having no pass rush, and lacking speed in the secondary, Rutgers should have had a much bigger night in the air. I almost think that the coaching staff were so tempted by the mismatches that they were too aggressive. Can't we dink and dunk a little for once? One positive sign: a lot less Shotgun and multi-WR sets, and no looks to the sideline. Whatever benefit they have, the looks completely disrupt the team's momentum and offensive rhythm, and are a net detriment. Savage still has timing issues, and overthrew several balls that could have led to big gainers. With the lack of pass rush, he probably should have scrambled once or twice.

It was another fantastic game for Tim Brown, albeit against an opponent who didn't have anyone who could even think about covering him. Good to see the younger backups worked in a little, although you'll know the light is going on for Savage when he starts spreading the ball around more, and going through his reads faster when the offense is in multi-WR sets.

I thought that Joe Martinek had a terrific game. In fact, in the second and third quarters I was surprised that the offense wasn't showing more of a commitment to running the football. We saw it last night, and we always see it against Navy: the service academies are simply far overmatched in the trenches. Running the ball down their throats is usually a cinch. The offense really, really should have used Brooks more. Not that Martinek was bad (far from it), but Brooks was arguably an even better matchup. With Army's lack of penetration up front, Jourdan would have had time to get a full head of steam, and then watch tacklers bounce off him. That's actually more of an issue on the night than not giving Rocket any touches.

Is there some coherent basis for Coach Schiano's irrational fear of platoons? We see it on Sunday every week - they work fine for the Giants and Jets. I hate the current system. Eventually you will have to go back to another back, and they'll be less prepared at that point, having sat on the bench for weeks. It's not brain surgery - give one guy a series, then sub the backup in on the next. Martinek is a good enough player; overrated somewhat by context last season, underrated to this point in 2009 by poor run blocking. However, there's not a big talent disparity between him and Brooks. Both should play, along with Young and Rocket, with respect to the matchups in each specific game. And speaking of Young, I'm not so thrilled with the direct snap play. It worked better with Sanu, because Mo is a threat to pass, and has a lot more power than KY or Jabu. Young has been unfairly written off by some, but he ha his strengths. Breaking tackles aren't one of them.

One big story on the night was that Anthony Davis sat out the first quarter after being late to a team luncheon. Honestly, fans simply don't have enough information about what happened to make any definitive judgment on the matter. It could be no big deal, or more of a worry if part of a larger pattern of miscues. Kevin Haslam started out protecting Savage's blindside, and gave more fodder to his critics by simply failing to pick up and oncoming blitzer. Des Stapleton started out at RT, and went down with an injury near the end of the first quarter. I haven't heard anything to this point about his status. With Army's defense so overmathced, Rutgers returned to the ground in the second half, and finally wore down Army's run defense in the fourth quarter.

I'm trying not to pile on too much here, but Haslam has turned into my own personal scapegoat on the year, akin to Tiquan Underwood last season. It's difficult for me to square his obvious physical gifts with his frequent miscues. Are my expectations too high, considering that I am a big admirer of Haslam's raw ability? In five years, I could see him starting at left tackle in the NFL, or not playing the game on any level. He's so frustrating to watch. Still can't shake the feeling that some line coach or scout in the NFL is going to watch his workouts and fall in love. Happened with Duane Brown from VT a few years ago, who couldn't hold Pedro Sosa's jock strap as a player. And now Sosa can't stay healthy to the point where he was cut from the UFL. It's not always as simple as you might think.

It's hard to evaluate the defense's performances matched up against such an unconventional scheme. Not much, if anything, is applicable to the other games on the schedule. The nature of the option is such that it creates a lot of in-game variance. Basically, you throw the kitchen sink at an opponent, with the downside of blowing up spectacularly if everything fails. The scheme itself lends itself to breaking big runs here and there, but also can invite a mountain of fumbles as well, especially on a rainy night. It's good for moving the ball down field, but always seems to stall in the red zone. Army's attack could really get going down the road when their young players gain more experience, and they can recruit more speed for the slotback position and their defense.

For those reasons, it's difficult to fault any player too much for missed assignments against a scheme specifically designed to create those holes. The Army OL averages out at around 250 pounds or so. Still, redshirt freshman Scott Vallone was a standout as a pass rusher. Coupled with his last few performances, it makes you wonder if we're starting to have something here. Vallone was expected to be a big contributor as a true freshman last year, but hurt his leg and ended up sitting out. Just makes one wonder what's in store with the rest of the kids in coming years.

Another play that still stands out on the morning after was a nice tackle in run support by Devin McCourty, who has had a strong season to this point. He has the same smarts and intangibles as his younger brother, and the same top athleticism, so it's interesting how Devin seems to be a far better play. Did redshirting make a critical difference? Some observers may be impressed by David Rowe shutting down Ali Villanueva, with the latter having such a pronounced edge in height. I look at Villanueva as more of a novelty though. He looks awkward as a receiver. What Villanueva brings to the offense is a jump ball threat, but more importantly, he is fairly athletic as a tackle. Army runs the ball most of the time, so Villanueva essentially gave them an additional lineman on the field. He's a good fit in that blocking role. Don't really see it translating to the next level however. MAYBE as another Michael Matthews at tight end.

I really liked the decision by Greg Schiano to defer the kickoff to the second half. With the defense so far ahead of the inexperienced offense at this point, I like the idea of letting the defense set the tone and rhythm by taking the field first. That was an underrated aspect of the Pitt game. I was kicking myself when Wannstedt deferred. They gave up a little yardage to Army early, but held them to a field goal, and then quickly took a lead. Triple option teams aren't really built for coming back for a double digit deficit, so the game plan always has to be to go up ahead on them early. The game was pretty much over early in the first quarter after SteBo (my new nickname for Beauharnais, who's been fantastic for big plays as a freshman on special teams) returned another blocked punt on the season for a touch down.

Rutgers almost did go up too much too fast, because the intensity was lacking during the middle of the game, and RU left points on the field with ANOTHER botched fake field goal, and with additional failures in short yardage. Like so many games on the season, the story on the day was once again with forcing turnovers and miscues with defense and special teams. Let me preface this with saying that a wide talent disparity and the option both lend themselves inherently to fumbling. However, recovering those can be a bit of a crapshoot, as seen with the Martinek fumble late near the goal line (another lost opportunity for points). In the third quarter, I was worried about the fact that both teams had similar yardage totals, although Rutgers had an advance with the turnover disparity. Rutgers pulled away with respect to yardage and time of possession in the fourth. You don't see the latter all that much against an option team.

With Halloween coming up, it's fair to ask whether Gannett beat writer Keith Sargeant is a wizard - because he nailed the 27-10 score exactly, and has been absolutely spot-on with his game previews all season. That's somewhat of a worry, because Keith is skeptical about Rutgers can beat the likes of UConn, USF, or West Virginia in their remaining toss-up games. UConn next week, that worries me an awful lot, even before seeing them play today. They're just so consistent. Low ceiling, yes, but their floor is so high. Once again, they were underrated coming in to the season, in direct contrast to the perpetually overrated USF.

Based on the way Rutgers played last night, I don't think Rutgers will beat UConn. They certainly are capable of winning, but the odds are against it, 60-40 or so. The light could go on at any moment. However, I keep seeing the miscues, inexperience, lack of sustained effort, and I think the Knights will once again have their work cut out of them. I'm curious to see if Keith reassesses the USF game though.

Me, I've been a skeptic of them all year. Even at the lowest points against Cincinnati, I still saw that game as a win. And looking at the Bulls today, it's hard not to mark them down. Is there honestly a more overrated group of frauds in conference than South Florida and Jim Leavitt? They pull the same disappearing act in conference play every single year, just as soon as the thermometers drop a fraction below seventy degrees. Face it, they beat an awful, imploding Florida State team. They aren't any good. They are not better than Rutgers, and certainly not any better than UConn. They will not take our St. Petersburg Bowl bid, I'm sure of it.

edit: asfdasdsj soooo many typos....