The warnings printed on side view mirrors say, “objects in mirror are closer than they appear,” and the same can be said for FBS college football teams in New Jersey in that they “may be weaker than their record shows.”
Let’s face it, this 4-1 Rutgers team hasn’t taught us much since they were 0-1 after Week One. Well, maybe we learned something after beating Maryland 34-13 on their home field, but the Terps weren’t exactly playing ACC Championship-caliber football.
(Note: Even if the Terps were playing “ACC Championship-caliber football,” it’s nothing to really get excited over. Sorry, traitors, but the ACC just isn’t that special. But that is neither here nor there.)
On Labor Day, the spotlights were pointed directly at the Scarlet Knights when they took on Cincinnati, and Greg Schiano was given a perfect opportunity to have his Rutgers team shine.
Forty-seven points and one humiliating loss later, the power went out on Rutgers on a national stage, leaving them stuck in the basement with nothing but some matches and a candle or two.
Five weeks after that, true freshman quarterback Tom Savage has emerged and managed to light a spark for the Scarlet Knights going into their second shot at the Big East this Friday vs. the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Savage, as most 19-year-olds would, has looked shaky at times, especially when running with the football (see: concussion).
But he has managed to play virtually mistake-free football thus far while showcasing his rocket arm, an ability to make good reads, and sound decision-making.
What Domenic Natale could not do vs. Cincinnati, Scarlet Nation hopes Tom Savage can do against Pittsburgh on Friday night under the lights.
It will undoubtedly be Savage’s toughest test to date against an aggressive Pitt defense led by defensive tackle (and sack monster) Greg Romeus. Romeus’ seven sacks this season are tied for third in the NCAA.
Note to Rutgers’ offensive line: Stop this man! Savage has already been rocked a few times, and a face-to-face meeting with Romeus probably isn’t the best idea for the already-concussed Savage.
Thankfully, Savage appears to have the size and talent to be effective against a stout Pitt defense.
He can chuck the ball downfield, so if Tim Brown and Mohammed Sanu can create some space in the secondary and connect with the true frosh a time or two, Pitt’s defense will be forced to play honest.
It’s not only up to the quarterback to help navigate the Scarlet Knights out of the dark, though.
The Rutgers defense will be just as big of a factor as Savage, if not bigger, if the Knights expect to beat Pitt.
The defensive unit has shown promise after completely shutting down Howard, Maryland, FIU, and Texas Southern, allowing just 35 points over a four-game span.
Say what you will about the competition, but dominance is dominance, and dominance breeds confidence.
Confidence is key for any successful defense, and the Scarlet Knights’ are feeling pretty good about themselves on that side of the ball.
Defensive end Jonathan Freeny has become a legitimate pass rusher on every down, Antonio Lowery is proving to be a perfect complement to middle linebacker Ryan D’Imperio, and Joe Lefeged has become the consistent big-play safety we saw glimpses of in his younger years.
They have their work cut out for them on Friday, as they will face a potent Pitt offensive attack headlined by future NFL receiver Jonathan Baldwin.
Pitt is currently favored by three points to win.
But as we have seen many times before at Rutgers Stadium, when the sun goes down and the lights come on, special things can happen.
Maybe a night game is exactly what this Rutgers team needs to come out of the dark space it has inhabited since Week One.
And maybe Tom Savage is the key to bringing Rutgers Football back into the spotlight and the national conversation.
R U afraid of the dark, young Savage?
I’ll be there, front and center, to find out first-hand.