The 2008 Rutgers Scarlet Knights' season began with hope and promise.
Despite the departure of Ray Rice to the NFL in favor for more Baltimore-y pastures, spirits were sky high. Fueled by the return of two 1,000-yard receivers in Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood, the return of the dynamic Mike Teel, and a defense with NFL Draft Round 2 prospect Courtney Greene, expectations were right up there in the recently dominant Big East.
So were the spirits of fans who crammed into Rutgers Stadium on a steamy late August day in Piscataway. The Knights ran onto the field that day to a sellout ovation of over 43,000.
"Requiem" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra blared from the speakers above. Britt and Underwood chest-bumped at the 20. Everything was going the way of Rutgers. The ball sailed into the air…and the 2008 season was under way.
But then, uh…oh no…shoot…they did wha?
24-7. Not the terminology for Rutgers’ dominance that day—moreso the final score, with Rutgers on the tail end of losing to Fresno State (who, mind you, went on to become ranked for a brief while).
Mike Teel appeared as if he hadn’t practiced once over the spring and summer and he wasn’t helped by Britt’s alligator arms.
Mesh that with a porous front seven that hadn’t been living up to expectations, was barely touching the opposing QB, and allowing opposing WRs to dance circles around them, and you’ve got a team that begins 1-5.
One year removed from a No. 10 AP ranking, two years from a No. 7 BCS ranking.
So what exactly went wrong? Let’s take a closer look.
First of all, let’s point out that Rutgers had a rather difficult opening schedule. Their five losses came at the hands of opponents who are currently 34-16, all of whom have been or are currently ranked top 25 at some point this season (with the exception of Navy).
Unlike certain other Big East teams *cough USF cough* who were fighting against such powerhouses as Florida International and UCF, Rutgers had its hands full with the surging Tarheels.
Second, there was CLEARLY some rust that just wasn’t being shaken, and never was this more evident when you looked at the play of QB Mike Teel.
Expected to finally emerge in his senior season, he laid three straight eggs in Rutgers’ 0-3 start, posting a 1-6 TD-INT ratio. His receivers were of no help either, as Britt had his fair share of troubles (dropped a beauty of a TD pass against Fresno State), and Underwood’s 392 receiving yards after 10 games have all but dropped him off of everyone’s draft board.
And of course, the elephant in the room that everyone’s talking about, the vacancy left behind by Ray Rice.
Not only did he leave behind mighty big shoes to fill, he also left head coach Greg Schiano with a mammoth problem. The first-year speed demon Jourdan Brooks? The proven veteran coming off of reconstructive knee surgery Kordell Young? Or one of the plethora of others who may be diamonds in the rough?
At first, Young got the assignment, and though showing bursts of promise here and there, still didn’t appear to be completely over his injury.
Jourdan Brooks was a very pleasant breath of fresh air with his hard running and strong performance against Navy, but recent inconsistencies have had Schiano leaning towards Joe Martinek, fresh off a strong performance against Syracuse. The shuffling and lack of solidarity at the position, in my opinion, proved detrimental.
So why are they all of a sudden on fire?
We return to the schedule to see the four teams they’ve beaten on their way to four straight wins.
UConn, in my opinion, should have been Rutgers’ sixth loss, had it not been for the atrocious kicking performance by Tony Ciaravino, who smacked two kicks off the goalposts, the latter being the potential go-ahead score.
It was a classic case of “better lucky than good” if there ever was one. Finally building some momentum, they visited the ranked Pittsburgh Panthers and weeks of frustration and bottled up talent was simply unleashed.
Teel bombed for 361 yards and six touchdowns, three of which went to Kenny Britt. Young also had a decent game, getting the bulk of the carries and finding the end zone twice. The 20-point defeat of the 17th-ranked Panthers stuck with the team, even after the bye, as they smacked Syracuse in a cold, raw Rutgers Stadium 35-17 despite falling behind 14-0.
The Knights would then cruise to .500 in style, completely throttling the formerly ranked, free-falling Bulls of South Florida.
So where do we go from here?
As of this typing, Army comes to town Saturday, and God bless ‘em for everything they have done and will do once football comes to pass, they appear to be a stepping stone to 6-5 and are in store for a complete shellacking (In fact, I’m more concerned with how the Rutgers fans will conduct themselves that day after the Navy fiasco).
After that, a Thursday night match up when Louisville comes to the site of their greatest disappointment once upon a time in late October 2006. No doubt retribution will be on their minds, but Rutgers, I anticipate, will be charged up and ready to go that night.
In fact, two of Rutgers’ three recent Thursday games were thrilling wins against Louisville and South Florida, ranked 3 and 2 respectively. This puts the Scarlet Knights at 7-5 on the season.
And after one of the most unlikely, impressive turnarounds in recent memory…
WE’RE GOING BOWLING!!
This is an original article by Pigskin Heaven Writer, Whit Prowdy, you can read it, more of Whit Prowdy's articles and more from the Pigskin Heaven staff, here.