On Monday, Rutgers Stadium got a new look with an additional 11,000 seats in the south end zone for its students debuted on ESPN.
What the fans did not know was that it was turn-back-the-clock day at Rutgers Stadium. The team that Rutgers suited up looked like a Rutgers team from either the late 1990s or early 2000s. The defense was non-existent and the offense gave away most of its opportunities to stay with the Cincinnati Bearcat offense.
There is one stat that will tell you just about everything that you need to know on this game. The stat that stood out most to me was that Cincinnati did not punt the football until midway into the fourth quarter. It is a good thing that Cincinnati’s punter, Jacob Rogers is also its field goal kicker, because he had no need to make the trip if he was only the punter.
The final score was 47 to 15 in favor of the Cincinnati Bearcats, but this afternoon was just as much of a mark on the poor play of Rutgers than it was of the very good play of Cincinnati.
On Monday, it was still unsure of whom Rutgers would start at quarterback. Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano went with fifth year senior Dom Natale.
In a way it was fitting that Dom Natale the starting quarterback for Rutgers wears number 11. He reminded me of a guy who used to wear number 11 in the NFL. His name was Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe was known for holding the ball too long in the pocket and tapping the ball instead of being more decisive with his throws. In the first half, Natale was tentative. When a quarterback is tentative he tends to overthrow his passes and they tend to sail a little bit higher than normal. A couple of Natale’s passes sailed high and went off Rutgers’ receivers fingers and into the hands of Cincinnati defenders.
At times it looked like Rutgers was letting Natale play Canadian Football. It looked like he would only get two downs to move the Scarlet Knight offense. He would be taken off the field time and time again in favor of Rutgers’ other quarterback who was running a version of the Wildcat offense, Jabu Lovelace. Lovelace took five snaps that comprised of two poorly thrown incompletions and three terrible Wildcat runs that produced a long of two yards.
Natale, a quarterback who was once rated higher than Texas’ Colt McCoy by some college scouts, to finally get his chance to start and to have a performance he would like to forget has to be very disappointing. The news for Natale is probably not going to be any better. He would not start in the second half in favor of the highly touted true freshman, Tom Savage.
Savage had a decent second half that resulted in one touchdown and no turnovers. Savage did play most of it in garbage time. But his play should be enough to make him the starter on Saturday against Howard.
You cannot pin this loss on Natale and the Rutgers offense alone. The Scarlet Knights first drive of the game was a beauty. They had 20 plays which included two fourth down conversions to knot the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter. The Rutgers defense would take over from there and give away any chance Rutgers would have.
The biggest hits Rutgers had on defense did not come against Cincinnati players, but came against Rutgers own teammates. Rutgers safety Zaire Kitchen and defensive end George Johnson were injured due to hits by their own teammates.
For head coach Brian Kelly and Cincinnati, he was very upset about having to face an in-conference opponent to open the season. Since he could not get the schedule changed he did the next best thing. He took his anger to his playbook and gave his players the freedom to play downhill all day in Piscataway.
Cincinnati’s quarterback Tony Pike completed 27 of 34 passes for a career-high 362 yards. Pike threw for three touchdowns with an interception. Pike reached his career-high in only three quarters. His quarterback rating was a terrific 128.1.
Pike is out to prove that last season was no fluke. Cincinnati’s dynamic All-America candidate wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, did find the end zone, but the Rutgers defense did contain him for the most part. It was the rest of Cincinnati’s passing offense that Rutgers would come up with no answer for. Cincinnati had ten different players catch at least one pass. That number was twice as many as Rutgers had.
At Rutgers Stadium, one of the traditions is to play the opening riffs from Metallica’s, “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” to get the crowd pumped for a third down play for the opposing offense. On Monday, the stadium’s music director may want to change that to “Anyway You Want It,” by Journey. The Cincinnati offense was able to move the ball at will on Rutgers. It would not surprise me to hear that Brian Kelly took his players to Burger King before the game because his players had it their way the entire afternoon.
Cincinnati was supposed to be the defense that was going through significant changes. The Bearcats only returned one starter on defense. You would never have known it. The Bearcats had three interceptions and five sacks on the afternoon and kept Rutgers off the scoreboard during the second and third quarters.
The Rutgers defense on the other hand, returned half of its players from a year ago on the field. In a reversal of fortune, the Scarlet Knight defense looked confused and tired, there were missed coverage assignments, they lacked significant pressure to the quarterback and left the middle of the field wide open for Pike to pick them apart.
Cincinnati has defeated Rutgers for the fourth straight time. The Bearcats were supposed to take a step back this year. After Monday’s effort, they have no plans of giving up their Big East title defense without a fight.
Cincinnati has won the Big East conference and has gone on to a BCS bowl with last year’s trip to the Orange Bowl. Rutgers has not done that. Brian Kelly has won coach of the year twice. It took him a total of two years to get those two awards. Schiano is in his ninth season at Rutgers, and he has accomplished this once.
Today in New Jersey, there are many wondering how good of a coach Greg Schiano is at this point. Is he a good coach that gets off to poor starts or, is he a good recruiter but not that good of a game day coach?
The Scarlet Knights should get a couple of weeks to lick their Bearcat claw wounds against Howard and Florida International before playing their biggest out of conference game of the year on Saturday, September 26th at Maryland.
Rutgers Stadium is Schiano’s Ship. He has redesigned the place to be the place he imagined it could be when he took this job in 2000. The stadium looks great, but if the team disappoints like they did on Monday, I wonder if he can keep this ship full in a sea of red.
I am sure that some of the fans missed that picturesque look at the trees and the views of nearby Johnson Park at the end of the day in Piscataway. The view of the park is now obstructed by the new seats in the south end zone. That park sure looked nicer than the performance Rutgers gave to its fans in its opener.