Rutgers Beats Howard: The Good and The Bad

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Rutgers Beats Howard: The Good and The Bad

With all due respect to the Howard Bison, Rutgers’ 45-7 victory on Saturday did not really tell us much in terms of football.

What it did tell us was that Howard’s band is, by far, the most talented and entertaining band the school will see this year.

So if you come to Piscataway on Saturdays for the music, you’re in for a disappointing rest of the season.

Let’s hope that’s not the case for the football fans in attendance, myself included.

I made my first trip of the season to the new Rutgers Stadium (strangely enough, seeing the Howard band was not the primary reason), and let me first say that the Expansion Project is outstanding: the scoreboard is a behemoth, the student sections are going to blanket the field with noise, and the sheer aesthetics of the place take your breath away.

But anyway, the Scarlet Knights notched their first victory of the season against an inferior opponent—an opponent capable of losing by a similar margin to any other FBS team.  It was a win which should excite no one, except maybe Howard’s athletic director who just cashed a big fat check for his school.

First, let’s review the positives.

Tom Savage looked the part of a mature college quarterback, completing 8 of 13 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns.  He looked comfortable in the pocket, made his checks, scrambled when necessary, and made strong, accurate throws.

In only a game and a half, it’s obvious why Savage was highly sought after by the nation’s top programs.  This kid is the real deal, and Rutgers fans shouldn’t be surprised at what this kid can and will achieve during his time “on the banks.”

On another positive note, we may have found our number one running back.  Jourdan Brooks made the most of his 17 touches, running for 124 yards, averaging a hearty 7.3 yards per carry, and crossing the goal line three times.  Joe Martinek, on the other hand, only gained 38 yards on 10 carries, averaging an anemic 3.8 yards per carry (relative to the opponent, of course).

Sorry, but a 3.8 yard per carry average doesn’t cut it against a team like Howard.

Hopefully Brooks made his case and will grab the starting job, because the “running back by committee” paradigm Rutgers is currently operating under, to me, means that no one is stepping up.  The job is there for the taking, so claim it.

Aside from Jourdan Brooks’ performance, the Scarlet Knights running game has been slow to develop over the first two contests.

When I say “slow to develop,” I mean like tortoise and the hare slow.

Even after the team’s 245 yard effort last week, Rutgers still ranks seventh in the Big East in rushing. 

Does anyone else miss Ray Rice as much as I do?

Without being too dramatic (it has only been two weeks, after all), it’s still clear that someone on the Scarlet Knights’ roster needs to man-up, take the ball, break some tackles, and break some long runs.

But wait just a minute—it’s not just the running backs’ fault.  Some of the blame should be placed upon the offensive line.

Hold on, the offensive line?  You mean the same offensive line with a Rimington Award candidate and a pre-season All-American?  The same offensive line that returns every starter from last season?

Yup. 

What was believed to be the one of, if not the biggest strength of the Scarlet Knights this fall has fallen short of expectations this far, and they know it.

Junior tackle Anthony Davis (pre-season All-American), sophomore  guards Caleb Ruch and Art Forst, senior center Ryan Blaszczyk (Rimington Award candidate), and senior tackle Kevin Haslam have openly admitted their struggles and have vowed to turn things around.

Granted, Ryan Blaszczyk is battling an ankle sprain and Caleb Ruch suffered a leg injury during Saturday’s game, but the Rutgers Football program is now at the point where the back-ups on the two-deep roster should be effective replacements for their starting counterparts.

If they’re not, then Rutgers Football is still many years away from achieving the goals Coach Schiano established when he came to Piscataway almost a decade ago.

It should not be a question of coaching, since offensive line coach Kyle Flood is as good as they come, so maybe it is a question for the players themselves.

Either way, the experience on the offensive line is crucial to Rutgers success in 2009 (and beyond).

With a true freshman quarterback in Tom Savage leading the team, a dependable, reliable ground game is essential to this young quarterback’s success, and that starts with consistent line play.

What’s the “net net” here?  Well, Rutgers is 1-1, after a blow-out loss against a good opponent and a blow-out victory against an inferior one.

The defense has looked mediocre at-best, the offensive line has played shaky and hasn’t gelled, the running game has shown flashes, the special teams has left a lot to be desired, and the quarterback play has been decent after the first half of the first game.

All in all, Rutgers falls in the net negative category and will remain there until it defeats a respectable opponent (possibly Maryland, but most likely Pittsburgh).

Time to pick up the slack, boys.  The college football season can be very unforgiving for missed opportunities and lopsided losses.

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