Monday, September 13, 2010

24 Hours Later- Defense and Special Teams Key Rutgers Over FIU

This is the latest chapter in my season long look at the 2010 Rutgers football campaign. Today, a look at the Knights win over Florida International on Saturday night in Miami, 19-14.

This entry is a little bit on the late side, but there is a reason. Because if I'm going to talk about the Rutgers offense, I needed a bit more time to think about it and find some positives. and I did- Joe Martinek's ankle injury doesn't appear to be serious. And that offense can only get better, because it's impossible for it to be any less efficient.

But I'll get back to that in a minute....this was a 19-14 road win, and as Jimmy Johnson used to say a team needs to win two of the three phases of the game. Rutgers defense caused five FIU turnovers, and safety Joe Lefeged blocked two punts that led to Rutgers scoring drives. Lefeged had the defensive game of a lifetime- in addition to the two punt blocks he also forced two fumbles, had an interception, broke up a pass, and a tackle. For these heroics Lefeged is in the record books as the first player in the history of the Big East to win Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Week Awards in the same week.

Rutgers defense and special teams were the story, limiting FIU to 371 yards in total offense....and they were helped by FIU's penchant for self destruction. The turnovers and blocked punts not withstanding, the Golden Panthers had a whopping 14 penalties for 146 yards. To put that into perspective, Rutgers only had 172 yards in total offense- FIU had almost that amount in penalty yards.

OK...the Rutgers offense is, to be charitable, out of sync. Quarterback Tom Savage was 7 for 15 with no touchdowns, an INT, and two lost fumbles. The offensive line, which lost three starters from last year (two of whom are on NFL rosters), had trouble pass blocking and was almost as bad on run blocking. The receivers weren't running good routes, there were some drops, and RU had 76 yards rushing at a two yard per carry clip.

Mohamed Sanu running the offense out of the Wildcat accounted for what little offense Rutgers had with a TD pass to tight end DC Jefferson, and a rushing touchdown. What was most disconcerting was Rutgers failure to cash in on the turnovers more than they did- five turnovers and two blocked punts had the potential to produce seven touchdowns and a game that was never even close. The bottomline is that RU's offense has a way to go before it can even be called mediocre.

In 2007 Rutgers had a 3,000 yard passer in Mike Teel, Ray Rice with more than 2,000 yards on the ground, and receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood with more than 1,000 yards each receiving; the 3,000-2,000- 1,000 x 2 performance was a first in NCAA football history. This is a young team, and no one expects those lofty numbers....but Rutgers offense needs to jell, and to do so quickly, with North Carolina and then the Big East season coming up. I'm sure they will get better- Greg Schiano's teams always do.

There is sufficient offensive talent on this team to be better than they have shown so far. And I think each player on that team, and it's coaching staff, knows that. The Big East is wide open this year....and defense and special teams can't win games for you every week.

Enough said.

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