Rutgers plays their first road game of the season this weekend against Penn State in State College, PA. It will be a hostile environment in Beaver Stadium for sure, where they seat a capacity of 107,282. It will be an even larger crowd than the 105,000 Rutgers played against last season at Ohio State. I say its the perfect time for Rutgers to get out of town and AWAY from the multitude of distractions that are thick in the Piscataway air.
There is nothing like being surrounded by the many thousands of people that will outnumber the team on Saturday night in primetime. This team has been through the emotional ringer the past month, and being up against it in enemy territory might be exactly what they need. It could very well be a freeing and empowering feeling to be in such a hostile environment, knowing they only have each other.
Penn State fans can downplay this game all they want, but that won't prevent them from color coordinating their outfits for the game. They are aiming for a stripeout in the crowd, which to be honest would be cool to see, if they can pull it off. Happy Valley should be rocking for this game, creating the most difficult atmosphere Rutgers has played in this season.
Or is it? Perhaps the distractions of the email investigation, arrests, suspensions and dismissals finally caught up to this team. It's a valid argument considering this team has committed 11 penalties in EACH of it's first two games. That comes down to focus and execution, and after Saturday's heartbreaking loss, it was evident they fell short in those areas. Combine the penalties with a minus three turnover ratio, and it's a little surprising Rutgers even had an opportunity to win the game in the end. The biggest reason why was Janarion Grant. The reality is Rutgers cannot rely on Grant to run back a kick every game. They need better focus and execution on both sides of the ball.
The Rutgers football team has been on campus since late July or early August, with some players having been there all summer. The past month has been a nightmare, dealing with every issue that has arisen off the field. This is the first opportunity for the team to pack their bags and go, leaving all the distractions and media circus behind them. This could be a real emotional release for the players, and they may feel like they can breathe free and easy on the road.
Heading into a sold out Beaver Stadium to play in a night game, against fans that secretly hate us but will not admit it, will not be easy. Lose this game and the proverbial wheels will be even closer to falling off a once promising season. However, win this game and expectations for this season, believe it or not, will still be reachable. The players understand this and the human side of what the they are enduring should not be underestimated.
They are hurting right now. They lost six teammates less than two weeks ago due to multiple arrests and charges. Their coach is under investigation and has been, for about a month's time. Their best player and captain, Leonte Carroo, got into an altercation right outside the Hale Center, the team's home base. The walls are literally closing in on this team. Their home is no longer a safe haven, at least right now. It's time to head to the mountains of central Pennsylvania. To a place where they don't have to answer questions about discipline issues, look at the empty lockers of lost teammates, and feel the weight of expectations. They just have to go play football, bound together as true underdogs like never before. This is as big a gut check game as it gets. Time to get chopping!