The Rutgers/USF game last night was not particularly well-played in most aspects. USF is not a good team this year, and unfortunately, Rutgers is not either. Like most of RU's games this year, this one went down to the wire, and the combination of playing on the road and a few bad breaks ended up making the difference.
As Voodoo Five points out today, both teams made a large number of mistakes. The Bulls surrendered a touchdown by foolishly assuming that Mason Robinson would call for a fair catch, and had two bad penalties to keep RU's touchdown drive alive in the third quarter. For Rutgers, it was more death by a thousand cuts.
- The opening kick off went out of bounds, letting USF start at their 40.
- Not recovering any of USF's multiple fumbles. David Rowe let one go right through his hands.
- Howard Barbieri snapped a ball far above Chas Dodd's head, stalling a drive and backing Rutgers way back. The ensuing awful field position helped USF break a big punt return that they converted into a touchdown.
- Dodd trying to dump off the ball in the end zone to Kordell Young in the end zone, where he was promptly tackled for a safety.
That score was the margin of victory for this one, but I'm not so upset about it. If Rutgers were to punt there, USF would have likely received great field position. A score would have been probable even if B.J. Daniels did end up throwing a pick on the next series.
When looking for a scapegoat, there are a few other candidates. Did anyone else think that the coaching staff should have called a timeout with a minute or so left in the first half? That would have been enough time to drive. Instead, Greg Schiano tried to ice the USF kicker going for a 47 yarder, and then has Dodd take a knee after the ensuing kickoff. That's a risky situation, with no guarantee of success, but I thought RU made a critical error with this sequence. One which only even happened because the line kept jumping offsides.
As to what specifically lost the game, go back to early in the fourth quarter when Rutgers had to settle for a 30 yard Te FG. They had 2nd and five at the fifteen, but Sanu subbed in for Jeremy Deering, and Evan Lampert was called for a false start. It was that, or not picking up a blitzer on 4th and three late in the fourth quarter. Actually, the 3rd and two play on the second drive of the fourth quarter was just as bad. RU just needs a first down, and instead Dodd threw a low-percentage bomb with little chance of succeeding. It was very out of character for the night.
On offense, Rutgers course-corrected about how you would have expected after the debacle against Pitt. Their offensive line simply cannot protect for five and seven-step drops. The alternatives are either a sack/incompletion on every down, or playing dink and dunk (with two deeper passes to Harrison mixed in that worked rather well). There exist short passes other than WR screens, which became predictable after a while. Overall though, boring and non-descript would have been more than enough for Rutgers to beat Tulane and UNC earlier in the year. It was too little, too late.
That's because the defense, which was so good throughout the first two months of the season, has predictably fallen back the past two games absent Eric LeGrand and Manny Abreu. Their absence is clearly having a tangible affect on defensive performance. Rutgers was too scared of Daniels and all of USF's weird option packages to blitz much last night, but the real killer was how they defense kept getting gashed on the run of the mill stuff. Before, there was hope that no matter how bad the offense played, this defense could keep the team in games. As of now that is no longer the case.
- Dodd busting out the shovel passes was a new wrinkle.
- Rutgers didn't repeat the success it had last week with conventional running plays. Jeremy Deering is a good fit in the Wildcat though. He's healthier than Mohamed Sanu, and appears to have an extra step or two on him too. The ESPN 2 announcers mentioned that Deering's mother just died on cancer last week, which to my knowledge hadn't been previously announced.
- Mark Harrison had two very nice catches (a shaky Dodd throw into double coverage, and Dodd's lateral to Sanu which went for an easy touchdown). He had one bad drop on what should have been an easy catch though.
- The low sack total (2?) mostly had to do with switching to a dink and dunk passing game. I saw Andre Civil in at RT at points. Howard Barbieri had one awful snap, and several other high ones. For what it's worth they do block well with the wildcat. Badly need to cut down on the penalties though. Rutgers has no margin for error right now.
- Once again San San Te was on kickoffs. It was a bad night for the special teams units outside of Robinson's punt return. Jordan Thomas was returning kicks with Lefeged it looked like.
- Black pants? Really? Since USF wore their white helmets, for once they weren't the ugliest team on the field.
The really disheartening thing about this loss are that the odds are now against Rutgers finishing with a winning record and making it back to a bowl this year. The last four games on the schedule are tossups just like this one was a tossup. That's just the thing though, they shouldn't be. The Big East isn't good this year, and any halfway-competent team will run away with the thing. The Scarlet Knights won't be able to get back on track until they're able to revamp the staff after the season, and I'm worried about any collateral damage that will occur in the meantime.
This team still does have a lot to play for, and regardless of the final score, all of the last four games will probably be close affairs. The challenge will be to keep up a level of intensity. and make sure the season doesn't go off the rails entirely when all expectations have long since disintegrated. For the next week and a half, it's back to the drawing board, in hopes that some of this starts to get through. Nov. 13 will be a very emotional day as the first home game since Eric LeGrand's accident, and to boot some ruffians are coming to town who don't think Rutgers football is worth jack squat. We'll see.