Rutgers Continues Opening Day Struggles

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Rutgers Continues Opening Day Struggles
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Mohamed Sanu gains yards after a catch against Norfolk State

That sound you heard through the boos raining down on the field at Rutgers stadium last Thursday night as the team trotted off at half time was the fat lady warming up.  True, she hasn’t sung yet, but if the Scarlet Knights continue to perform as they did for the first half of that game, she’ll be performing the final aria from Pagliacci when North Carolina comes to town in a few weeks.

 

A game which was intended to be no more than a glorified scrimmage, and a $300,000 boost to the athletic budget of Norfolk State, turned into an unexpected toe-to-toe battle for the first thirty seven minutes of the game.

 

The heat and humidity of a late summer night in New Jersey proved to be a tougher opponent than the hometown Knights as several Norfolk State players succumbed to heat cramps in the third and fourth quarters.  With their numbers reduced by the less than favorable weather conditions, the Spartans were eventually worn down by the depth afforded an FBS team carrying a much larger contingent of scholarship players.

 

To their credit, the Scarlet Knights woke up in time to turn a potentially embarrassing evening into a lopsided final score of 31 – 0.

 

Lookin’ Good -

 

 While it wasn’t pretty, a win is a win is a win.  The past two seasons, slow starts resulted in losses to Fresno State and Cincinnati on opening day.  While the opponent wasn’t in the same league as the Bulldogs and Bearcats, the Scarlet Knights woke up on Friday 1 and 0.

 

The defense was outstanding.  Take away a few hiccups in the opening quarter, and the Knights were never really in danger of losing the shutout.  Although a little light on sacks (3 for 12yds), Rutgers harassed the quarterback repeatedly, and spent a lot of time camped out in the Spartan backfield.  Norfolk State finished with 25 rushing yards, and 131 through the air.

 

Rutgers finished with 268 rushing yards, 51 of those on a few nice runs from true freshman Jordan Thomas.  Sophomore De’Antwan Williams showed why he’s nicknamed “The Rocket” while picking up 70 yards on only six carries during garbage time in the fourth quarter.  Both of these guys will be looked at as a nice change of pace to the hardnosed power running style of Joe Martinek who came up with a workman-like 111 yard performance.

 

The Head Scratchers –

 

How does the offensive line look so pedestrian against a three man defensive front it should have man-handled?  Coach Schiano had better get better production out of these guys before Big East play starts up, or dreams of getting past post season bowls named after pizzas will remain an elusive target for the Scarlet Knights.

 

Who will play opposite Mohamed Sanu, giving Tom Savage another reliable receiver to throw to remains a mystery.  There are several very athletic, very capable candidates on the roster.  Someone has to step up within the next two weeks.

 

The wildcat formation, with Sanu faking the hand-off to Martinek, and then running straight up the middle, is no longer a surprise to anyone.  If he never passes, hands off or pitches, defenses catch on fairly quickly.

 

The kicking game should be a strength, but it wasn’t Thursday night.  San San Te missed two, albeit fairly long, field goal attempts, and needs to get kickoffs deeper than the opponent’s ten yard line.  Teddy Dellaganna, usually a sure bet to boot a punt forty plus yards, struggled mightily with his four chances.

 

So what does it all mean, in the grander, universal scope of things? -

 

While no one wearing Scarlet during Thursday night’s game will be garnering Heisman consideration for their performance, the Knights did eventually do what they set out to do – handily beat an over matched MEAC team.

 

With a game against Florida International coming up next Saturday, Rutgers has one last opportunity to right the ship before the schedule gets a bit more serious.  If they struggle against the Panthers, a preseason full of promise may begin to slip into the abyss of uncertainty.

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