I didn't see any need to panic after the opener against Cincinnati, or early last season. There's no need to pull any punches after this one though, as today's loss to Syracuse was by far the worst the football team has looked since the disasterous 2004 season. I thought that there was a chance that Rutgers would come out flat today, but never expected at all to lose, and in this kind of lopsided fashion to just a completely decimated roster. Just when the team started to be hitting their stride on the year, this one was an uppercut right in the glass jaw. Suddenly, heading to Louisville next week doesn't look nearly as boring, faced with the crucial question of how Rutgers is going to pick themselves up and respond after such a tough loss.
Reading everything coming out of Syracuse over the past week, all I could do was react with incredulity. Really? Marrone really said that Syracuse was looking at this one as their bowl game? Unfortunately, it looks like the Rutgers football team may have shared my lack of enthusiasm, coming out completely flat and uninspired in this one. Marrone's troops lived up to his promise, going absolutely full throttle and showing no quarter. Well, message received. Forrest Gump isn't roaming the Orange sidelines anymore. Rutgers is no longer in a position where they can fall down 14-0, and laugh it off on the way to another blowout win.
Well, guess we can write off Malcolm Cater with this one, and the SU program will be able recruit some in the metro area again. Rutgers football has been through worse, but it's awfully troubling to see a loss like this in year nine. It's not the end of the world; let the Syracuse fans crow all they want for the next year, but we've come back from worse. They'll be as full of hubris as I was going into the game, crowing about all the parallels about how Rutgers stunned Syracuse 10 years ago, signifying the early stages of their downfall under Pasqualoni. No, playing a better SOS didn't have squat to do with the end result today. Syracuse showed up and Rutgers didn't, and to imply anything otherwise unfairly attributes away the credit from how tremendous SU looked today, and of how poorly the Knights laid an egg.
Let's just get this out of the way right now. Rutgers isn't going anywhere. I'm troubled that the football program is so maddeningly bipolar, but that is what it is at this point. Rutgers fans should have long come to terms with this kind of inconsistency. I want to walk into parkway traffic right now, as as I imagine everydown else does. Tom Savage is just a true freshman, and he finally looked like one in what was his worst game of the year. Anyone would have looked poorly with such a piss-poor performance by the offensive line. Anthony Davis? Dead to me. Let him go and steal money from some NFL team. Talent only goes so far. Rutgers would be better off with Forst or Stapes, or anyone who actually gives a damn when the games aren't on ESPN prime time.
What I took from today, more than anything else, is that you can only live and die on a turnover margin for so long. After a while, the well runs dry, and the best way to succeed on the gridiron is to do it the old-fashioned way. You can only win on pure emotion for so long either. Both are fleeting, and can always depart at the worst moments.
In many ways, this one was an alternate-universe (i.e., evil, goateed) answer to the victory over USF, or even the UConn win. In both games, the opponent came out fired up, with absolutely everything on the line. If Rutgers can set the tone early and destroy their confidence, great. USF destroyed Syracuse a few months back, but they absolutely packed it in from the getgo in Piscataway. Now, when that team has everything to play for, and can make a few things happen early, they start to believe in themselves, build some momentum, and their confidence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I can't say enough good things about how the Orange coaching staff schemed today. Doug Marrone brought the aggression, and even if it backfired with the onside kick, his charges persevered, and didn't wilt when Rutgers tried to make a game for it. You would have expected that Syracuse would feature a heavy dose of Delone Carter up the gut on the day, but Rutgers had no answer at all for their misdirections and option pitches, which is just mind-boggling, considering how offense they see the service academies. It was the perfect plan to take advantage of the aggressiveness and overpursuit of the Rutgers D. Not only did having to focus against the run take them out of their element, but our best strength was turned against the team having to contend with all that razzle dazzle.
It's not what they may have expected, but they've bottled up similar gameplans before. And that defense, did the teams secretly switch uniforms before the game? Wasn't Rutgers supposed to be the pinnacle of disguising pressure? Syracuse did an amazing job on all three points, their guys executed, and Troy Nunes eat your heart out, because Doug Marrone is an absolute freakin' magician for turning their offensive line into a downright strength. I just look at how dreadful our line has looked this year, when they were returning everyone, and looked to be finally coming together, and can only shake my head. Any hopes for a, quote-unquote, "good" season are dead (well, shocking West Virginia would be nice, but wouldn't entirely make up for this), and line coach Kyle Flood and company are the biggest scapegoats.
What Rutgers need today was to go up early with a score or two, take that damned Dome out of the picture (if only Fred Hill could similarly revive the RAC), and rattle the Orange into the same battered, lackadaisicall helplessness that Greg Robinson embodied in all aspects. A few early bounces, and that could very well have happened. Coach Schiano may have been counting on it, because this time, he didn't seem to have an answer. Tim Brown played well enough, returning after an injury scare, and Mohamed Sanu was brilliant on direct snap plays, but it wasn't enough. Not when Tom Savage is getting knocked to the turf on every play, and giving up turnovers.
I killed the defense above. To be fair, they got nearly nothing in the way of help from the offense, but the sheer failure to make adjustments was devastating. Clearly, the defense does one thing really, really well. When they're allowed to concentrate on that, and play to their strengths (with a lead), they're as good as anyone out there. In other contexts, not so much. I don't know if Louisville has the personnel to whip up this sort of gameplan next week, and they sure as hell won't have the element of surprise on their side this time. West Virginia can, good lord they can with their athletes, even as they go with more of a passing spread this year. I'm having nightmares just thinking about it right now. The only solace is that Rutgers usually doesn't look that bad against teams with option elements when, important caveat here, they're actually going into the game expecting that.
Kicker San San Te was injured late in the first half on a missed long field goal. The Syracuse defender hit him after the snap, although no penalty was called. Syracuse dominated in all aspects of the game, and you can't go whining about the calls with such a lopsided result, but having another chance to cut the score margin at that point conceivably could have swung the game's momentum. Lost in the misery to come over the next few days is that the special teams units did play well, with a couple of big returns, multiple blocks, and a big day from Teddy Dellaganna. His strength is with his strong leg, and his weakness is with directional punting. Ironically, those factors make him look better when nothing else is going right. With Rutgers battling from poor field position all day long, and playing in a Dome where the elements aren't a factor, Dellaganna was about as good as Syracuse's All-American punter in Rob Long. Teddy gave the team great field position in several instances; Rutgers couldn't capitalize. Syracuse didn't let them.
Hey, as long as we're in the business of pointing fingers and looking for scapegoats over the next few days, can I castigate Beat Visitor for taunting the blogpoll gods with that #19 vote last week, undoubtedly incurring the wrath of the football gods? It was him! He did it! He blew it all up!
Me, I may have been gone a bit too far Icarus-like myself, getting too close to the sun with the comedy posts and whatnot over the past week. Clearly, the football gods were not amused at my TNIAAM-aping, and went about switching our lucks on the day. Now, I'm in sports hell. Rutgers football blew it on the day, the basketball team can barely beat Drexel, the Devils cooled off, the Giants are staring down the abyss tomorrow. And oh yeah, I'm stuck with the Nets too, at least until they grant merciful release by stealing a bunch of Brooklyn taxpayers' money. They can't even get that part right!
Speaking of Mr. Keeley, I always thought the ironic part of his infamous "Quest for Toronto" series of posts was that, because of how awful the Big East's bowl tie-ins are, it's actually disturbingly difficult to land a half decent bid. Even when UConn is doing their part for the conference against Notre Dame (which I now cannot enjoy). Well, Sean may just end up getting his wish, albeit not in a way that he may have originally intended. On the day, a Syracuse victory may just have ended up sending a team to Toronto for the holidays. Of course, the conference could still work out some sort of swap with the Motor City Bowl.
Now, if you will excuse me, I can't type any longer as men in white coats just kicked down the front door, and are securing the restraints and straight jacket as I type this very sentence. Hopefully, they can take me off to a happy and magical place where I can forget all about the events that just transpired.