Friday, September 3, 2010

24 Hours Later- Rutgers Rallies Late To Put Norfolk State Away, 31-0


This is the first entry of my season long review of the 2010 Rutgers football season, written 24 hours after the the end of the game and after the emotion subsides. Here's what I saw from my seat in Section 104......

Time to break away from the political and pop culture for this year's look at Rutgers football. The season really did sneak up on me- it's hard to think of football when it's 100 degrees on gameday. This isn't the desert Southwest or SEC country- it's New Jersey, and we're still experiencing the hottest summer in history. And that was part of the game's story as it unfolded yesterday, with the game time temperature at 90 degrees (at 7:30PM)and a warm breeze blowing from the approaching Hurricane Earl in the Atlantic.

Rutgers of the Big East opened with Norfolk State University of the MEAC, a FCS division school that Rutgers was supposed to handle with relative ease. And the final score was 31-0, with Rutgers pitching a shutout.

But it was anything but a conventional blowout. In fact, Rutgers led at halftime by only 6-0, with the youth and inexperience in the offensive line and receiving corps causing drives to fizzle and die, with no touchdowns and two field goals to show for the half.And one of those field goals, to be frank, was probably a gift since San San Te was allowed to kick one with one second on the clock when time should have expired....Rutgers radio crew said the same thing. Te also missed two other field goals in the half.

There missed blocks, drops, and QB Tom Savage was sacked three times in the first half. Rutgers held the ball for 19:27 in the first half and 37:41 for the game. They marched up and down the field but couldn't put the ball into the end zone. Rutgers ran 71 total plays in the game to 49 for NSU....the Spartans were on defense most of the night so it seemed.

And they finally wore down in the second half....the hot night and lack of depth caused Norfolk State's defense to literally start dropping like flies midway in the third quarter. At one point two NSU players fell to the ground suffering from heat cramps at the same time....I counted five Spartan players on the bench trying to work out cramps in the third quarter. And when the starters started to drop on NSU's defense, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights finally saw their offense start to jell. Jersey Joe Martinek finished the drive with a touchdown (he rushed for 109 yards), and a two point conversion by Mohamed Sanu made the score 14-0 at the 7:55 of the third.

The RU defense was stellar, yielding only 25 yards rushing and 154 yards in the air.....and no points. Brandon Bing blocked an NSU punt and Joe Lefeged scoped it up and took it in for a TD at 5:45 in the third and a 21-0 lead.

Savage connected with Sanu with a ten yard TD pass at 8:27 of the fourth quarter, and San San Te added another field goal late in the game, accounting for the 31-0 win.

Over all, it was a mixed bag for Rutgers. The defense played well all night, except for a couple of blown coverages.....but the rush was stopped by Rutgers, and NSU qb Chris Walley never got into a rhythm, and was only 11-23-0 for 131 yards.

Since NSU never scored we only saw the Rutgers kickoff return team once, and that was the opening of the second half....the ball was pooched to an up man and returned to mid field. On punt returns, Mason Robinson did some nice things, but he also failed to field a ball in the third quarter and watched it roll to the Rutgers two yard line. San San Te had three field goals, but also missed two. The punt block team looked strong, and should be a force on special teams.

But it was the offense that raised eyebrows from the onlookers. It was maddening to see the blown blocking assignments, and even more so to see long gains called back because of holds or illegal shifts. Tom Savage is a great young quarterback, but even Peyton Manning can't complete passes if guys don't block and receivers drop the ball.

The Rutgers radio network did a brief on field interview after the half with Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. When asked what he thought of his teams play in the 6-0 first half, Schiano said that he thought the team was playing tight and just needed to settle down- he seemed calm. I'm not privy to what was said in the locker room, but my guess is he didn't chew butt for the disjointed offensive showing, but just tried to settle them down.

And it worked....in the second half they were able to put the ball in the end zone, and were able to accumulate 422 yards in total offense,268 of it on the ground.

Freshman Jordan Thomas had a nice debut, with 47 yards and a long of 12, and highly regarded freshman quarterback Chas Dodd (pronounced "Chase") came in late in the fourth quarter to finish up and get some game experience. He completed his first (and only) pass of his college career to redshirt freshman tight end Paul Carrezola for the first reception of his college career.

The bottom line on this game .....put it in the books, a shutout, but no blowout by any stretch. The defense looks ready for the season, the special teams are close....but the offense is a work in progress.

Some in the press- and in the fan base- are already either on the warpath or looking for a tall building to jump off of.

My words to them are..."it's college football" This is the nature of it. You are always in the state of rebuilding, nothing is static, it's always in flux. Players who leave at age 22 or 23 are replaced by 18 year olds who just a year ago were in high school and worrying about passing their driver's test.

They're only going to get better. It will take time, and they will cause anxiety and even agita on occasion. Bear Bryant probably said it best.....

"The best thing about freshmen is they eventually become sophomores."

This will be a good team....and an entertaining one....by the time we get to conference play.

Ya gotta believe.....and relax just a little.

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