Rutgers is 0-3 after losses to Fresno State, North Carolina, and Navy. After three weeks of sub-par football, one has to wonder where the magic has gone in Piscataway.
Anyone who watched coach Greg Schiano's team rise from awful (1-11 in 2002) to mediocre (7-5 and Insight Bowl in 2005) and beyond, should recall the overall sense of destiny that surrounded the team in those years. Sure, they were not champions yet, but there were several quality wins (six against teams from BCS conferences in 2004-05), and the team improved each week and each season.
Now it appears they have gone backwards for two years in a row. The 2007 squad definitely missed the leadership of fullback Brian Leonard, not to mention the Leonard/Rice one-two punch in the backfield. Without Rice in 2008, the team does not appear to have much spark, fire, moxie, or whatever you call it.
It is not simply a backfield talent deficit, however, as Jourdan Brooks displayed with a solid performance running the ball against Navy. Nor is it a wide receiver problem, as Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt have had decent games. I cannot lay it all on Teel, because he is the same QB who threw for 3,000 yards with a broken thumb last year.
There seem to be two units who are consistently underachieving in 2008, from which all the other troubles seem to stem.
The offensive line lost three starters (Jeremy Zuttah, Pedro Sosa and Mike Fladell) to graduation/NFL draft, and Anthony Davis has moved from guard to tackle. They also lost Cameron Stephenson and Darnell Stapleton in the previous year's NFL draft.
This year's group has done an OK job of protecting Teel, but not nearly as good as the past two seasons. Being pressured, he is making poor decisions and poorer throws than in the past; the mistakes have snowballed and eroded his confidence terribly. The O-Line needs to man up, and keep the pressure off Teel so he can have an easier time throwing the ball.
The defensive backfield has been perplexing, at best. Missing Ron Girault from last year, and Joe Porter (Packers) and Derrick Roberson (Texans) from 2006, they seem to lack leadership and cohesiveness, which leads to mis-communication and blown assignments. We have seen plenty of that in 2008. When Navy has no trouble throwing the ball down the field on you, something needs to get fixed.
The issue of guts, chutzpah, audacity comes down to coaching. For some reason, Schiano has not lit a fire under the Scarlet Knights this season. As the play has been lackluster, so has the play calling—other than the intercepted flea flicker against UNC, have they done anything flashy on offense?
Then again, with Teel's confidence so low, perhaps now is the time to scale things back and stick to the basics - short ins, outs and curls—until Teel finds the rhythm again. I wonder why there have been so few passes to the running backs - that might be the best way to get the passing game back on track.
The bottom line is, this team still has a lot of talent, but they are not playing together as a team and not making best use of what they have. Perhaps Schiano needs some extra time with all the new assistant coaches to revisit what made them successful in the recent past, other than a handful of superstars.
Hopefully they can put it back together, or those blue-chip recruits are liable to transfer to UConn.