How The Mighty Have Fallen; Rutgers on the Downside

Adam HelfgottCorrespondent IOctober 8, 2008

           To cook something to perfection from scratch you need every single ingredient to be right, to be cooked properly and the recipe must be specifically followed. Certainly the Rutgers football program looked like a perfect dish until someone messed with the recipe this season.

The Rutgers football program is in a state of shock this season as the Scarlet Knights are now 1-4 (0-1) and are most likely not heading to a bowl destination for the first time since 2004. Every week another part of that recipe goes missing for Rutgers which causes another loss.

Against Fresno State in week one it was the offense not being able to score at big times and the defense giving up big plays. Against the up and coming Tar Heels of North Carolina, led by coach Butch Davis, the Rutgers defense looked clueless and the team’s heart stopped beating after the second quarter. Losing to Navy in Annapolis fell squarely in the hands of fifth year QB Mike Teel, as he could not lead his team to victory with under two minutes to go.

After a less than impressive win over FCS opponent Morgan State, Rutgers had the opportunity to right the ship and win in Morgantown against West Virginia for the first time in school history. The Scarlet Knights played slow, were coached poorly, and once again Mike Teel failed to lead his team to victory in the two minute drill as Rutgers had the ball inside WVU territory in the final seconds.

So what part of the recipe being tampered with is most to blame? It seems as if not one area can be blamed for this whole debacle but there are a few areas that may have led this program in the wrong direction.

Start with the man being paid all the money, head coach Greg Schiano. Schiano came to Rutgers in December of 2000 and promised there would be days of success and days of competing for a conference and national title. It seemed like crazy talk for where the RU program was at the time (now it seems crazy again this season).

Slowly though Schiano began to steal recruits away from Syracuse, other northeast schools and in places like south Florida. The talent began to rise and the attitude of the coaching staff had the players believing.

Schiano put competitive teams out on the field for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Finally in 2005 he delivered a winning team and brought the Knights to their first bowl game since 1978. Then in 2006 the recipe for success looked good for RU as they went on to win 11 games and win the first bowl game in school history.

But even after going to the third consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history last season, something appeared different with Rutgers. The 2007 Knights had just as much talent and even more experience than the 2006 Scarlet Knights, and had an even easier schedule with eight home games. RU only won eight games though. The team underperformed and at times it looked like Schiano was being out coached, especially in the second half, which led to more key losses (this season Rutgers has been outscored 52-0 in the third quarter).

Now this season Rutgers has put their foot in their mouths. With issues about Schiano’s contract being made public and a new stadium expansion project already started, 1-4 does not help the cause. And the man at the top must take most of the blame for it.

These are all Schiano players, there are no more left over’s from the Terry Shea era. These are all players that Greg Schiano brought in to make the program better and elevate it to the next level. Why then is Schiano bringing in defensive line specialists that are 240 lbs and smaller than everyone in the Big East? It is apparent this season that the d-line for RU at times is being pushed around and cannot perform the stunts the head coach wants them to perform.

What about the defensive secondary? Can Schiano not bring in guys better than Jason McCourty or Joe Lefeged? The secondary has been lost all season long and even let West Virginia pull off an easy TD throw early in the first half in which Lefeged completely lost his assignment once again. Maybe we overestimated Schiano’s coaching abilities?

For all the talk he has for his experience in the NFL those Bear teams in Chicago averaged five wins a year only! So how much can you really take from that?

How about all the offensive line changes Schiano has made over the past two weeks? An o-line that was second in the nation the past few seasons in sacks has given up plenty to start this season and cannot block for the run game at all.

Finally with Schiano, when will he learn to stop riding the back of #14 Mike Teel? I’ve been a Teel fan for awhile but once again the fifth year senior QB could not pull off a score in the two minute drill and Rutgers got a loss instead of a crucial win. Maybe we should focus on the fact Schiano has not developed a backup to Teel. Chris Paul-Etienne, DC Jefferson, Dom Natale? Are none of these QB’s good enough to replace Teel? Schiano certainly had the trigger finger when he let Ryan Hart take over as QB before Teel played a snap on the banks. Something must change drastically and it may have to start with a change at QB.

 Now what has happened to the players themselves? Remember the days when Eric Foster led the team chant in the locker room or when senior captain Brian Leonard led the band proudly during the alma mater? Those days seem long gone as not one senior, nor for that fact one player, has stepped up at a crucial time this season (besides one fourth down stop in which Bill Stewart almost handed RU a win vs. WVU).

The players are lethargic, looked scared at times and show no emotion on the sidelines. The coaches aren’t doing their part and neither are the players. Down two scores in the fourth quarter against WVU the Rutgers offense took all the time in the world to run their plays and showed no sign on intending to speed up the game to try and catch the Mountaineers.

It’s been a season of nothing but lows and Rutgers fans are starting to voice their displeasure with great cause. This team is better than 1-4; they are better than Navy and have equal talent to UNC and even a mediocre WVU team.

Whatever it is that is the problem it appears as if Schiano himself may not be able to fix it this season. One more loss this weekend to Cincinnati and Rutgers fans can start looking ahead to basketball season.

If someone doesn’t find the rest of the recipe soon, Rutgers fans may get a bad taste in their mouths for awhile.