I caught the Louisville game on tv today, although I haven't had any time to post until now because of the holiday.
Oh hey, thanks ESPN for playing nice with YouTube now.
Following last week's debacle, I was curious as to what. if any, tricks Steve Kragthorpe would pull out of the playbook today. As it turns out, not much, and that's one of many reasons that he's likely out the door. Not to take anything away from Syracuse, who just kicked Rutgers in the teeth, but when their players are coming out and saying that they looked at Rutgers as their bowl game, and that's the one they want more than anything, I don't know if it's fair to draw any further conclusions from that about the state of RUTGERS football this year and going forward. Give them that feather in their cap, but I don't think it meant all that much for Rutgers beyond as a sign of continuing, baffling inconsistency, and highlighting certain personnel issues (porous OL play and lack of upperclassmen contributors at offensive skill positions) with this year's roster.
Anyway, back to the Cards. You do have to give Kragthorpe one thing; this one wasn't like last year, where the Cards quit at the opening whistle. In fact, Louisville has played tough in most of their games this season. Only Cincy and Pitt beat them by a larger margin (Rutgers the third best team in the Big East? Maybe so.) The Cards gave WVU and USF all they could handle, and gutted out a win against a superior Cuse team two weeks ago. They have a decent home record, and we did blow it at Papa John's two years ago, so I'm happy to take a win. In fact, this one was slightly more impressive than it seemed when the offense was struggling in the second half, because the outcome was never really in doubt.
Kragthorpe has been a trainwreck for the Louisville program, and will deservedly get a pink slip in the coming days, but maybe he was on to something with all his blathering on about "character" in his weekly press conferences. Doesn't excuse his poor clock management in the fourth quarter though. UL probably wouldn't have done anything, but I don't know why they were running the ball and going for short passes when down by two scores. I think the Rutgers offense was being deliberately conservative by that point, more than willing to trade yardage for time, and it paid off.
The passing game may have cooled off in the second half, but I'll take two touchdowns (1 rushing), over 10 yards per attempt, and no turnovers from a freshman QB any day. That belies the true story of the game on offense: the Dude himself, Mohamed Sanu, had 148 yards and 2 touchdowns running from the wildcat formation. Both of his passes fell incomplete, but Sanu honestly doesn't look half bad as a passer either. I don't know if Rutgers would ever think about moving Jefferson back under center next year, but Sanu looks like the only legitimate alternative to Savage at this point. In fact, I'm more than a little curious what he could do as a full time starter at QB in a spread option offense.
Despite the second half inconsistency (along with a few drops, and Savage needing to get rid of the ball quicker on one of the sacks), you had to like what you saw on the day from the likes of (a hobbled) Tim Brown, Joe Martinek, and the line too, who were back to their USF form. Haslam went down, and was replaced by Stapes Savage had eons and eons to throw, no doubt helped by the threat of a real running game. Martinek isn't bad at all when he has decent run blocking to work with. Rocket Williams also saw some looks in the Wildcat. Martinek had a strong performance, but I am curious to see Williams out of the I-Formation. It was nice to see Jack Corcoran and Shamar Graves involved a little too, although Graves appeared to take a bad hit on his hip when he was leveled going over the middle.
Yeah, it's a little troubling that Louisville's passing attack did carve up the Rutgers zone at points. They do have some good receivers. I was worried about Trent Guy breaking a big return on the day, but he had a 60+ yard reception when Joe Lefeged was a little late coming over after DMC had passed Guy off. He was hurt in the second half. Speaking of injuries, there was a scary moment when Zaire Kitchen leveled 'Ville receiver Doug Beaumont. At first I was upset because Kitchen led with his shoulder, yet was being called for a helmet hit, but Beaumont stayed on the field for what seemed like 10 minutes. After a point, you were just happy to see any movement in his extremities. Khaseem Greene forced a fumble in the 4th quarter that helped a bit with moment. It wasn't entirely clear if Scott Long had already hit the turf, but there was no clear camera angle as Damaso Munoz was in the way of the cameras.
The front seven was good, but probably should have done a little more, especially with Louisville missing Victor Anderson at RB. Krag had the Cards in a more conventional look for most of the game, and RU was able to bring pressure at points, but UL probably had too much successs considering how one-dimensional they looked. It's nitpicking for sure. With WLB Antonio Lowery out injured, Damaso Munoz shifted over to the weak side, and Steve Beauharnais started at SLB. It's interesting that he started over Abreu; although that could just mean that SteBo is looking that good, or that he's better in coverage. SteBo did put in another strong performance though; and for the second week in a row, I noticed that Ryan D'Imperio was more involved. Like Georgie Johnson, Ryan's been battling injuries this year.
Meh, not really much of a noteworthy day on specials. There weren't any big returns by either team. Teddy Dellaganna muffed a hold on an extra point, and didn't have his best game today.
What else? Well, I want to save any recruiting talk for later in the week, but it's noteworthy that Sanu and SteBo played that well despite not getting much in the way of hype on the national level. Well, that has to be qualified a little, because Sanu dominated in the NJ/NY All-Star game, and Scarlet Nation/State of Rutgers readers should have been well aware that both were very good prospects. In fact, given the much highest bust rate at the line positions, it was fair to see both as two of the best players in last year's class, and the best bets to contribute early as freshmen. I have some nuanced thoughts on this year's class (to this point, as the next two weeks will be big), and I'll probably say more on this point, in far too many words, on this coming Tuesday.
If there is a point to that preceeding tangent, is that there's venting, and there's good lord, please find something else to occupy your time than complaining about stuff on the internet. It's one thing to make constructive comments, but there was a very vocal minority that made the past week even more unpleasant than it already was. As bad as that loss was, how many of the harshest critics thought Rutgers should have been ranked in the top 25 the year before? Lightning didn't strike twice. I don't know if today's win was all that impressive, but the margin of victory does give the right idea of how Rutgers should perform against overmatched teams. Won't always happen, but it usually will. I think it was Schiano who said on his radio show a few weeks back that teams are never as good or as bad look at times.
Ultimately, you are what the record says you are. Rutgers is a somewhat good team with specific strengths and weaknesses. Maybe they should be better in year nine of Greg Schiano's tenure. Today's win likely secured a bowl trip down to St. Petersburg (against UCF?), and with West Virginia coming up, the Knights both have a chance to finally get that monkey off their backs, and actually finish third in-conference and go to Charlotte instead. As bad as losing to Syracuse was, I think the right mentality going into next week is that Rutgers has to be the spoiler in this one, and leave it all on the field like the Orange did. West Virginia has had RU's number, and that has to change. If the team can knock off the Mountaineers, it'd still be difficult to call the 2009 campaign a success, but it will represent some level of continued forward progress - having finally beaten West Virginia, and finishing with more FBS wins than they did in 2008.