What a truly awful game. Rutgers has lived on the razor's edge in 2010, going 3-4 up to this point in games settled by less than a touchdown. Both teams were terrible in this one. If Rutgers was even halfway competent on offense, they would have won going away, which just stings. If that were the case though, the Scarlet Knights would be 8-1, and not 4-5 and on the verge of missing their first bowl game in six years. At this point, it's fair to declare 2010 to be a sad reminder of the 2004 season.
Rutgers, of course, was able to recover from that disaster. Their small margins of defeat this season portend the capacity for a similar turnaround, although that certainly requires a similar house cleaning in the coaching staff (after 2004 Greg Schiano fired OL coach Rod Holder and DC Paul Ferraro, and DL coach Randy Melvin left for Illinois (and the NFL shortly afterwards.) Rutgers could well have won a bunch of its losses this year, but you know what? If finishing with a losing record is what it takes to jolt Schiano into making desperately-needed changes and jettisoning the staff's dead weight, it will prove to have been worth it.
Any issues with the Rutgers offense yesterday stemmed less with the specific playcalling, than with the awful player development and unworkable spread scheme. It is hard to imagine any program doing less with more at the moment. Rutgers is incapable of sustaining drives with standard run or pass plays out of its base formations. Not only was running Jeremy Deering out of the Wildcat behind seven offensive linemen extremely effective, but that strategy helped to neutralize Syracuse's blitzes. Unfortunately, even Deering had to rest at some point, and Rutgers otherwise failed repeatedly in the red zone.
The Rutgers defense only surrendered thirteen points, recovered a couple turnovers, and finally unleashed a torrent of sacks after being seemingly bottled up for the last two months. Linebacker Manny Abreu returning to the starting lineup made a dramatic difference. However, the RU defense does not deserve much credit for the performance owing to two reasons. Statistically, Syracuse has been a mess on offense this year. From a scouting perspective, Syracuse's gameplan yesterday was one of the worst I have seen in some time. Did Syracuse's OC even watch one Rutgers game tape in preparation?
The book on Rutgers this year has been to switch to a short passing game in order to neutralize the team's pass rush. That more than anything is why RU's sack total dramatically dropped. During the first half of the season, they were still really good, but weren't able to get to opposing quarterbacks who were throwing quick slants on every play. Perhaps Syracuse was emboldened by the poor, injury-riddled performances against Pitt and USF, but, they ended up playing right into RU's hands. SU actually has an offensive line capable of running out of the I-Formation though. The big difference yesterday was that their passing game had the realistic threat of play action, and Rutgers did not.
It is worth noting that the Rutgers defense did give up SU's final scoring drive, and that Syracuse may well have been more aggressive in going for a touchdown at the end if Rutgers had converted. However, Savage taking a fluke-y sack to push the offense back, and Te missing what should have been a chip shot down the middle is yet another profoundly terrible way to lose in what has been a season full of them. If any good at all can come from that debacle, it will be in forcing Coach Schiano's hand after the season.
Other game notes, which I'm not in the mood to dwell on too long (so I probably skimmed past other shorthand bits from last night that may have been informative):
- Quarterback Chas Dodd, coming off a capable performance against USF, showed nothing in the way of accuracy or touch on his passes. Dodd should not be thrown to the wolves after one bad game against a good pass rush, but he was ineffective yesterday, and inserting Tom Savage was the correct move. QB should be an open competition going forward. That being said, neither is likely to have much success given the current makeup of the offense and pass protection. As far as yesterday went, my biggest question was why Rutgers abandoned its USF-style short passing gameplan on the downs where it did have to pass.
- Kordell Young has had a few good performances as a receiver out of the backfield, but he was almost unwatchable yesterday. Even putting aside overthrowing Mason Robinson and the fumble, Young had zero burst and ran with no authority. De'Antwan Williams actually played quite a bit with Joe Martinek out. Jordan Thomas saw a few Wildcat handoffs later on.
- The 7 OL Wildcat is a lot different from the I Formation, but I'm at least moderately curious to see how Deering would hold up as a normal tailback.
- It's hard to evaluate Mohamed Sanu's performance given his Wildcat-related injuries and the decrepit state of the offense right now. Mark Harrison is really coming on at receiver though as one of the team's few offensive bright spots this year. I'm eager to see what he can do with another year in the program. Thinking ahead to 2011, wow, Rutgers has far too many bodies at the position with Tim Wright coming back. There's going to be a crazy numbers game there, mainly because RU probably took in too many in their last class with the idea of running the spread.
- Dodd overthrew or missed D.C. Jefferson on a few passes, but D.C. dropped what should have been an easy catch after Savage went in, and continues to struggle with false starts.
- There was some really bad tackling and bad angles, with Steve Beauharnais and Joe Lefeged standing out as offenders. Schiano's presser mentioned benching Logan Ryan at corner.
- Very pleased with Abreu's return, and Khaseem Greene continued his strong season-long work at safety.
- Lefeged had a great day returning kicks, with Kyle Sullivan filled in for the injured Teddy Dellaganna at punter. I'll give San San Te the wide right on a 47 yard kick, but missing the 42-yarder low was a punch to the gut. Especially since Ross Krautman looked fantastic for Syracuse. You can't really get on the staff here because evaluating kickers is a crapshoot, but that sequence at the end was the nadir to a miserable three hours that I am already trying to forget. This season I started logging every snap in a binder, which I am promptly going to burn after it ends.
Rutgers might well have a chance next week at Cincinnati, who have no defense and a pathetic offensive line. Any other solace for this one will have to come with the possibility that all of the afore-mentioned issues are correctable, and Rutgers inexplicably isn't that far from being a winning team (mainly because the Big East is so profoundly awful this season.) It's just about time to check out and start looking to 2011 though.