It's been a long time since Rutgers fans have felt this concerned about a twenty one point victory. Yes, by the final margin, Rutgers easily put away Army by three touchdowns. If you had been trying to guess the final margin of victory before the game, 21 points would have been just around what you would have expected. However, the truth was that this game was far closer than the final score indicated, a somewhat hollow result that masks deep problems with this team right now.
I understand the rationale behind conservative play calling. A ball control offense does wonders for keeping a defense fresh and off the field, and fans are always far, far too enamored with tactics like blitzing (decrying the prevent defense) and exotic offensive schemes. If Rutgers wants to decry the spread craze and stick with a textbook replication of boilerplate NFL calls, you'll find no complaints here. The problem then isn't necessarily just the fact that the gameplans and play calls on offense are conservative by nature. No, what Kyle Flood and offensive coordinator Dave Brock have been doing for the majority of this season is downright triassic, and yesterday was the worst example yet of this inexplicable risk aversion. Army may have had the worst defensive backs to ever visit Piscataway yesterday, and yet Rutgers was more than content to run up the gut mixed with short dump offs. This was in a game that was SCREAMING for Tim Wright to take it over by working the middle of the field, just as he has every single time the offense clicked this year. And yet, there was nothing.
Just as feared, Flood and Brock learned entirely the wrong lessons from the Kent State debacle. From six interceptions, they decided that even the minimal risk they had been taking at that point with even calling passes for over ten yards down the field was too much. Gary Nova, who had been so good for the majority of this season, could not receive a vote of confidence to throw anything in the vicinity of a first down. It was a cowardly, self-defeating decision, and also the wrong one. Kent State happened because Rutgers had to press after getting burned by its ultra-conservative ways. RU has looked like a top 25 team this year when they've actually played assertive football and attacked, instead of sitting back and waiting for an opposing mistake, content that 90% of the time the other team will play into their hands. Usually so, but not against Kent State, and we almost blew it again until the talent disparity on the field just got too overwhelming.
Really, I get the idea of methodocally pounding an opponent into a sleeper of a game before pulling ahead late. That strategy has worked well for Rutgers in recent years. The difference yesterday was that if it was any other team than Army, they don't let Rutgers hang around, and the team would have been plum screwed just like they were against Kent State. Keeping some in reserve when you're playing sub-par competition is one thing, but this continuing attitude that Rutgers cannot take even a modicum of risk unless absolutely forced to is wrenching any enjoyment out of watching this team. There have been bigger underachievers at Rutgers, but if you look at the offense position by position, this should be at worst a top 40 offense. They're good everywhere. Their ineffectiveness is deliberate, it's by design, which is what is so frustrating. Even Nick Saban's Alabama teams can't be successful if they're running on third and 20+, and everyone in the stadium knows what's coming. If the heat wasn't already on Brock, it sure is now, with the only remaining question being how much of the problem is with him, or with Flood's marching orders.