Many things have to go wrong to lose to a team that was previously 2-4.
- Your freshman quarterback self-immolates in a flurry of interceptions. It's clear from watching Gary Nova every week that he is extremely advanced given his relative youth. A good portion of the throws that he makes seem so easy that they look like they were delivered by a seasoned veteran. Nova is so talented, and so polished, that at times he becomes overconfident in his abilities and tries to force throws that are not viable. The only thing standing between Nova and being a quality starter is time, but that raises the question about what exactly Rutgers should do for the rest of 2011.
Nova may well be the best option on the roster. Who among us is watching practice on a weekly basis? For all he does wrong, he does quite a bit well. Greg Schiano and Frank Cignetti are speaking volumes however in even refusing to grant Chas Dodd the token series or two a game that Gary saw in September when he was the backup. As far as outside observers know, Dodd was rattled one week against Syracuse's blitz, and has not gotten another chance as a result. There isn't enough ammunition available for Dodd partisans as long as he is not seeing the field. At minimum though, Frank Cignetti needs to have a long talk with Nova about the value of patience and waiting for open receivers.
- Rutgers's vaunted front seven didn't come through for the first time all season - against an offensive line that has repeatedly struggled no less. Now, the last thing everyone should be doing today is denying Louisville's OL credit for a fantastic performance. They won the game last night fair and square. No one ever said the Cardinals lacked talent. They are just young, and their size and speed were due to break through at some point. That being said, it was an off night for the Rutgers front seven, who generated some pressure, but came up short in forcing big plays. They only gave up 16 points, with a good percentage of those attributable to Nova's picks. However, Louisville has struggled on offense all year long. If by chance there were any after-effects from playing the Triple Option a week ago, that excuse will no longer be viable against West Virginia.
- Dropped deep passes to Mark Harrison and Brandon Coleman have been a bone of contention all year long - enough to overshadow Mohamed Sanu's continued brilliance, and D.C. Jefferson's emergence as a legitimate threat. Arguably, with two more catches (Harrison last night, and take your pick against UNC), everyone is a lot more excited today. Frank Cignetti has proven better than John McNulty in picking his spots for a shot downfield. The concept of stretching things out to open up some room for the more intermediate stuff and the running game makes sense in theory, but those passes still do not connect all that often. Rutgers would not even be in the position to attempt them if this duo weren't so physically gifted, but at some point, they have to start connecting on these. It happened down the stretch in 2006 and 2008. At some point these near misses have to work, right?
- No complaints about the offensive line. They are what they are, and Joe Martinek, Savon Huggins, and Jeremy Deering had their moments toting the rock. Jawan Jamison ran well considering what what was available.
- San San Te does not deserve criticism for going for 0-2 against Navy. One kick was blocked (due to a bad snap/hold), and the other was 50+ yards. Last night though - those two were practically gimmes. Bad Te turned up again, and it's once again clear that he is as inconsistent as it gets. Not terrible - he has his good weeks as well, but Rutgers cannot afford to leave points on the field on a night where Louisville's kicker hits an upright, and the ball still goes in. Marcus Cooper kept Rutgers in it with his punt block (which subsequently led to the Savon Huggins TD as time expired in the first half), but another key special teams gaffe was Justin Doerner's bad punt mid-way through the fourth quarter.
- Anthony Conner's neck injury was terrifying. If his family ends up needing financial assistance, then the Rutgers community should line up to help.
So much for any talk of a miracle season. Rutgers on paper was an 8-4 team entering the season, and that's still what they are today. There is no reason why they still cannot do well, but the Knights will have to pick themselves off the turf, dust their uniforms off, and show up against West Virginia next week. Upset losses happen to most programs, and the hallmark of the good ones is that they are able to recover and move on. The Mountaineers laid an egg of their own last night against Syracuse, and this upcoming game remains as critical as ever in this year's conference race.