The newly expanded Rutgers stadium was filled to its 52,000 seat limit. The newly added South end zone was teeming with ferocious Rutgers fans ready for the beginning of a new and promising season.
Even the cannon was back. Many people thought it would be gone since the new south end zone seats were put in its usual place.
Unfortunately, none of this or any player on Rutgers could stop Rutgers stadium from becoming the Bearcats' litter box.
The game started out with Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike completing his first six passes to march from their own 20-yard line to the end zone for a touchdown.
The Rutgers defense looked asleep in their first drive without head coach Greg Schiano as defensive coordinator. He relinquished his coordinator job in the summer so he could focus better on the entire team.
The Rutgers offense took the field and also marched down field, taking more than 10 minutes to move the ball and score on Joe Martinek's four yard run.
By the end of the first quarter, Rutgers and Cincinnati were tied 7-7.
"This is going to be a close game," thought the entire Rutgers stadium.
Little did anyone know what was about to come.
The scoreboard showed a familiar 24-7 score. This was the final score of last year's Labor Day game when Rutgers lost to Fresno State. This year's Labor Day game was worse since there was the same score as last year and it wasn't even halftime.
By the end of the game Cincinnati won convincingly 47-15.
The blame can't be attributed to one player or one unit, but what started it all was the mediocre play of the Rutgers offensive line.
The "best offensive line in the Big East" surrendered four sacks, the first two to quarterback Dom Natale on key third downs.
The run blocking was sad to watch as Joe Martinek had no room to run when trying to go up the middle. He had 15 carries for 54 yards.
“They didn’t show us anything we didn’t expect. I thought we came into the game well prepared,” Senior Center Ryan Blaszyzck said after the game. “They just played very well. They played better than we did.”
When Dom Natale had time in the pocket, he was decent and led a touchdown drive. He threw three interceptions while under pressure constantly, due to the offensive line woes.
One interception was a good pass, but it bounced off Tim Brown's hands and into the hands of Cincinnati's Aaron Webster. Another one was tipped and caught by Cincinnati. The third interception was completely Natale's fault as he threw the ball right into Cincinnati's hands with no Rutgers receiver within 10 yards of his pass.
These interceptions doomed three offensive drives and put Rutgers in a hole they couldn't get out of.
Greg Schiano made some bad personnel choices this game.
First he put in Jabu Lovelace, the fifth-year senior quarterback who looked clueless in the few plays that he wasted.
Lovelace threw two incompletions that weren't even close to his wide receivers and proved to everyone what we already knew. He is a terrible decision maker with an inaccurate arm that is just as bad as the decisions he makes.
The Bearcats' defense was ready for Lovelace to run and held him to minus-two yards on three carries.
The bottom line is Schiano wasted five plays with Lovelace under center. All five of those were at crucial points where the Scarlet Knights could've called a better play that might not have put them in second-and-long and third-and-long situations.
Another player who was absent for most of the game was Martinek's co-starter at running back Jourdan Brooks, who had three carries for 12 yards. I'm starting to think Greg Schiano has something against Brooks, who has proven himself over and over again during games and deserves to play more.
This shouldn't be a pass heavy offense and Martinek and Brooks should be the team’s rocks, solid runners who can both get 15 carries a game and move the ball.
The Rutgers defense was a sofa that the Bearcats quickly tore up.
Free safety Zaire Kitchen was injured early in the game, which hurt the defense. This was not the only reason Cincinnati had 576 yards of offense.
Dom Natale's interceptions all came right after the defense had been chasing down Cincinnati's receivers. They were already tired from that, and having to go out onto the field over and over again with little rest depleted the Knights of their energy the rest of the game.
This was a big reason for a lot of their defensive woes, and unless there are more interceptions the defense shouldn’t be this tired and this bad.
At the same time with or without interceptions Rutgers failed to execute on defense.
They were horrendous.
You’re supposed to cover receivers, not run behind them.
You’re supposed to make tackles, not miss them.
When 5'10", 190 pound Isaiah Pead is running down the line and you're trying to tackle him, you don't need to go for his legs, just push him out of bounds. At least if you’re going to dive for his legs you shouldn't miss.
Cincinnati didn't even punt until the fourth quarter.
The defense knew or should've known that the key to stopping Tony Pike and the Bearcats offense is to pressure him.
Tony Pike, much like Dom Natale, cracks under pressure. Schiano should've known this from the Orange Bowl when Frank Beamer's defense pressured Pike and he threw four interceptions.
Rutgers had almost zero pressure on Pike and only sacked him once. This wasn't the swarming and attacking defense for which Rutgers is known.
The proof that pressure works was even more evident when safety David Rowe blitzed and broke into the backfield. Pike was pressured and he threw the ball right into the hands of Rutgers' Alex Silvestro.
Why didn't Rutgers stick to this game plan?? Only Schiano and co-defensive coordinators Bob Fraser and Ed Pinkham know.
But don't lose all hope now Rutgers fans.
There were some bright spots in this game.
True freshman wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was great, recording 10 catches for 101 yards. Senior wideout Tim Brown also had a solid game catching seven passes for 86 yards.
Who says Rutgers needs Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood?
The best news is that despite the embarrassing loss to Cincinnati, Rutgers seems to have found their quarterback in true freshman Tom Savage.
Replacing Natale in the second half, Savage started out on a good note throwing a first down strike to an open Mohamed Sanu.
Savage completed 15-of-23 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown. He also converted a two point conversion pass.
Savage showed poise in the pocket, command of the offense, and was a good decision maker under pressure. He was sacked twice but didn't seem phased and continued to pass well.
He also showed his scrambling abilities running for a long first down when flushed out of the pocket.
Savage's best accomplishment was that he threw no interceptions.
Savage didn't make a rookie mistake until late in the fourth quarter when he was under pressure (the offensive line's fault) in the end zone.
He was supposed to throw a screen pass to Joe Martinek, but Martinek wasn't open. He threw the ball at the ground in front of a Cincinnati player and was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
Savage still is only a rookie but it's better that he made that mistake and will learn from it when Rutgers already has lost the game, rather than making that mistake against another team in a close game.
Although Schiano declined to name a starter at quarterback for next game, it looks like it could very well be Savage.
The Scarlet Knights' next games are against Howard, Florida International, Maryland, and Texas Southern. They are all cupcakes with the exception of Maryland, although they got beaten by Cal 54-13 in a game similar to Rutgers-Cincinnati.
Rutgers has Howard and Florida International to give Savage more time to develop and get more experience. If he doesn't bow under pressure and throw interceptions the defense will be better rested and won't be as horrendous as they were against Cincinnati.
They also have those two to work out all the other problems in the defense and get them back to the regular swarming Rutgers form we all know and love.
Cincinnati was tough. They are legitimate contenders that are already mistakenly being crowned this year's Big East champions by every ESPN analyst.
For all we know Rutgers could've just played their hardest game of the season. They only have one loss.
If there's anything Rutgers and their fans know best, it's how to be resilient.
Rutgers showed last season they can come back from losing and win games. There are six Big East games left. Winning the the Big East isn't out of the question for Rutgers.
But for now, the Scarlet Knights will use the one game at a time mentality that helped them finish last season winning seven straight games.
For now the focus is on the Howard Bison and only on them.
So, get ready Scarlet Knight fans.
Let Savage take on the Bison and see how he does. How many he can slaughter and bring back to roast.
If Savage plays the same way he did against Cincinnati, the offensive line lives up to their billing, and the defense learns how to tackle, the future isn't the only thing looking bright for Rutgers.
It still can be "R year."
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