Let's not mince words here: the Rutgers football team turned in a wholly-uninspiring performance in their opener on Thursday night, with most of the blame attributable to poor offense. The team only scored six points before halftime, and had everyone in the stadium sitting on their hands throughout in befuddlement. It's worth trying to delve into the causes and try to offer up an explanation, but nothing changes the fact that Rutgers generally looked bad. There is significant cause for alarm at the moment.
On the other hand, it was just one single game. Rutgers ended up winning 31-0, so it's not like it was an unconscionable disaster. A 422 to 156 yardage disparity is spectacularly one-sided on paper, and the edge in time of possession was about as stark. The team has had early season jitters in the past, and from time to time they've had trouble getting up for uninspiring opponents. If giving everybody a mulligan on last night means they'll be focused going forward, so be it. That would be a small price to pay.
The Norfolk State game has to be seen has a glorified scrimmage or preseason game. It seemed like Rutgers was hesitant to show too much of the playbook early or break out the various bells and whistles. There definitely was a deliberate, methodical gameplan. RU wanted to to go after Norfolk St. in the trenches, pounding the ball inside early to wear down their line as the game progressed, and that's exactly what happened. FCS teams always have a few good players, but they can't match FBS teams in depth or conditioning. Even if the Spartans hadn't started dropping like flies due to injury, their eventual capitulation was an inevitability. That was absolutely certain, even when they were threatening early in the game. There was no dread in the air; it was closer to general malaise/boredom.
Norfolk St. couldn't hang on, and they were unable go ahead in the first half when it counted, because that's what FCS teams do. As a relatively good FCS team they're far better than doormats like Howard and Texas Southern, but there isn't really any excuse to struggle for a half, and for Rutgers to have had to leave its starters in through midway into the fourth quarter. RU, of course, easily won this matchup several years back. Other teams last night beat FCS opponents by similar margins, but were able to do most of their damage by halftime. Not only did Rutgers get very little out of its first string offense, but the backups were denied valuable reps that won't be as easy to come by going forward.
What probably happened was that the poor performance was the result of both an inexperienced offense, a conservative gameplan, and looking past the opponent. The general flow of the game was reminiscent of FIU last year, with Maryland and USF also somewhat comparable except for strength of opponent. It was bad, real bad, but there's plenty of room to improve going forward. I think the first half could have been merely mediocre as opposed to awful if not for a few simple miscues. The upcoming game at FIU looks a little trickier now, but I was always a little worried about that one to an extent.
On to positional notes:
- QB Tom Savage looked off on the night. He held onto the ball for too long, lacked touch on his passes, and didn't seem to have much timing with the wide receivers. Distressingly, he showed less poise than as a rookie in 2009, and looked very much like he came off a mediocre training camp. The one strong positive was that Savage was excellent in his handful of scrambles. Chas Dodd took over at the end of the fourth quarter.
- RB Joe Martinek didn't find much running room early, but gained effectiveness as the night went on. He looked a step slow, but seemed to run better on a few second-half toss plays. Martinek let a defender get in for a deflection early, but made up for it with Jordan Thomas showed good burst, but lacked power, and missed a few catches. There was an early Wildcat handoff where he should have stayed in bounds longer.
- De'Antwan Williams didn't play until garbage time, but he looks a step faster than even Thomas, which will only lead to more fan sentiment in his favor. Sure, write it off Joe Nolan's lack of enthusiam for Rocket as being weary after a long night, but methinks there's a conspiracy afoot to not give #34 the credit he deserves! This one goes all the way up through the Hale Center.
- Not a lot of FB plays early. There was a play in the second half where Laryea I think and Forst keyed for a big run. Carrezola saw a few snaps back there.
- WR Mohamed Sanu improved in the second half, but he had a bad juggling drop early that almost resulted in an interception. Keith Stroud had a few catches, but had an awful drop on what should have been an easy catch. There seemed to be a lot of horizontal passing on the day, with very few strikes downfield. Hard to say whether or not that was the result of the playcalling, or the receivers being unable to get open. The latter shouldn't be happening given their edge in athleticism over NSU. TE D.C. Jefferson oddly wasn't involved much, nor was Jeremy Deering (even in the Wildcat). There was one pass to Harrison that could have gained some yardage if not for a bad throw by Savage.
- I've heard some criticism of the OL in pass protection, and don't really understand that particular criticism. They had a few misplays there, but did reasonably well. The bigger issues were with run blocking, especially in the first half. While it's unrealistic to expect another 2006 campaign where the line is pushing defenders back five yards off the ball on every play, how are these guys struggling to gain traction against Norfolk State? Thankfully the defense wore down, but even then there wasn't much developing inside, with most of the better runs going off-tackle. This performance reminded me of one of the early 2008 games, where the pass protection was at least half-decent, and the run blocking uninspiring.
- DE Alex Silvestro was the player of the game as far as I'm concerned. While the defense only officially recorded one sack, they had many tackles for loss, and closely missed on a couple sacks. NSU was very conscious of the incoming pass rush and was always quick to get rid of the ball. That's one thing I hate about conventional stats, in that they don't give the defensive line enough credit for speeding up throws and forcing incompletions. Good game all around from Vallone, Noonan, LeGrand, etc... forcing NSU into finishing 0-for-12 on third down. Francis had a play where he jumped offsides, got back in time, and then forced a deflection.
- On Norfolk State's big completion, they got a mismatch by lining up a receiver inside against Lowery, who was good in his normal linebacker duties. Beauharnais seemed to be getting penetration.
- The defense was generally good on the whole, with only a few breakdowns in pass coverage. The slant wasn't that big of a deal, but the next big pass down the sidelines seemed to be a hole in the zone as David Rowe passed the receiver off to Khaseem Greene. There were several dropped interceptions all around the defense. As momentum started to shift, it seemed like the there were more blitzing DBs.
- Oh God, the special teams play was all-around horrid outside of the punt block team. I was having flashbacks to 2007 and 2008. San San Te didn't just miss two field goals; neither was even remotely close. Mason Robinson looked good on that one return (leading to hope that he can be a solid offensive weapon), but let punts bounce all night, which cost considerable yardage. How about calling for a fair catch? He shouldn't have even been in that position, but the coverage units were downright awful. Dellaganna was ok outside of one shank, but his kickoffs are hit or miss.
Other, assorted notes:
- On what the hell happened at the end of the first half: ok, Sanu catches on the sidelines, and is tackled in bounds with three seconds left. The click ticks off two seconds before stopping as per the rule in college football. The clock stops after a first down. Then the refs move the chains, place the ball, and whistle it back on. After the catch, Rutgers raced down the field, Savage hiked the ball and tried to spike it, and the refs blew the whistle.
- This is when absolute hell broke loose. Fine, the refs reviewed the play to see if Sanu either caught the ball out of bounds (or caught it then went out, I couldn't tell sitting there live). That's ok, but then after the review is over, they immediately declare the half over? Schiano immediately loses it (along with the entire stadium) because the Big East officials are apparently not aware of what is the simplest cardinal rules of college football. He gets his way, Rutgers lines up for the FG, and Te finally makes one. I am not sure though that there was enough time to get the snap off, but can't say for sure because of the poor quality of the ESPN3 broadcast.
- True freshmen that played: Dodd, Thomas, Deering, Bujari, and Thompson (who had a nice hit in garbage time). Per the post-game notes a bunch of redshirt freshmen saw their first ever action.
- The officially announced attendance on the night was 46,311. As someone who was there last year when several low-40s gates were announced as mid-to-high 40s, I think that total was legit. The stadium was mostly full, on a warm (but too humid) night, with some empty seats in the north end zone and in the upper decks. The one quibble is that Rutgers fans are usually pretty late to come in from their tailgates, with the stadium not usually filling up until midway through the second quarter. Guess they ended up staying longer than expected last night. Overall, a good showing for an unappealing opponent.
- Awesome, awesome job by the students who looked to have completely filled the south endzone. You guys are freakin' awesome and deserve a pat on the back.
- New field looks crisp and impressive in person.
- Good work on the R Time promo.
- NSU band was indeed all that and a big of chaps. One complaint though: what's with playing through the Rutgers alma matter, and the NFL alumni video montage? They even played during actual game plays, which I thought was against the rules.
- Not many NSU fans there, although you have to credit anyone who'd go to a pre-arranged beatdown like this was/supposed to be. For both of our sakes, hopefully NSU has good year and doesn't make RU's strength of schedule look too bad.
- In what's becoming a yearly refrain, in-stadium concessions are as bad as ever. The athletic department has to be locked into some long-term contract, right? Or are the stadium facilities just bad? I know Dining Services has a contract with Aramark and they do well at the Meadowlands. Do any of the stands even take credit cards? While I understand the no cap rule, it's a gigantic pain.
- It was a horrible return for Lil' Jovi. All commentators be aware that this site's strict ban on Bon Jovi-related content remains in effect. Any violators face a swift and immediate ban. The shirtless bearded pirate-looking guy however is A-OK in my book.
- Yay, the cannon returns. Crowd loved it as you could expect. Wish it was fired a few more times.
- Liked the Purple lot atmosphere better than Blue/Yellow.
- Why weren't there any out of town scores on the scoreboard? I was wondering about the Pitt game.
- Guy sitting behind me late in the fourth quarter - "they're going to the Pinstripe Bowl."
- Sorry for the late recap, but I had a few distractions today. Hope I didn't miss something.
Pics are up at sk.com, and here are a few lame cameraphone pictures of my own.
A shot of the ongoing construction of New Brunswick's Gateway Center.
The view from Johnson Park.
Didn't go for the cliched shot of the North Gate this time.
My pictures are usually bad, but this one was at a good angle.
The first game statue, hours after the Scarlet Walk. Just starting to turn to dusk.
Walking to my seat from the North Gate. This isn't that far from kickoff, with most of everyone still tailgating.
Here's what everybody missed.
Trying to give an impression of the attendance.
The cannon returns. This is from late in the fourth quarter.