Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rutgers Looking Into Mirror of Sorts vs Maryland

In spite of having to replace 12 starters entering training camp, the Maryland Terrapins had aspirations of competing for the ACC Championship entering the season. However, the Terps have disappointed fans, following a very similar path to Rutgers thus far as seen in their opening season 52-13 blow out on the road at Cal, a game in which Maryland’s defense gave up 542 yards of total offense (Sound familiar). The following week, the Terps barely pulled out a win against FCS Top 5 James Madison winning 38-35 in OT but couldn’t repeat last week in its 32-31 home loss to Middle Tennessee State. Much like Coach Schiano, Coach Ralph Friedgen finds himself scratching his head entering this week’s match up against its first BCS opponent since the opening week. And like Schiano, Friedgen has been plagued by uninspiring play at the QB position and is looking for life signs from a defense that was victimized for 137 yards and 2 TD’s on just 10 carries from Javid Best in the opener.

The similarities end there however as Maryland’s running game, led by Junior Da’Rel Scott has been one of the few bright spots for the Terrapins this year along with better then expected play from an o-line that replaced three starters entering the year. As a sophomore, Scott out of Plymouth-Whitemarsh HS in Conshohocken, PA, earned 1st team All ACC honors rushing 1,133 yards and averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Scoring TD’s in each of his first three games, the highly versatile Scott has maintained form rushing for 275 yards on 43 carries for 6.4 yards per carry and has made his presence felt in the receiving game along with star sophomore receiver Torrey Smith (14 catches for an incendiary 274 yards thus far) where he has caught 5 passes for 42 yards through the first three contests.

While Scott will surely offer the biggest rushing challenge to date for the Scarlet Knights defense, a unit that is ranked 106 nationally in total defense through the first three weeks, a shut down of the Terps running game is not out of the question following the solid performance vs FIU and would certainly be another step in the right direction for a defense who entered training camp as one of the top returning units in the Big East.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Nonchalant (Adjective, French Origin, Pronunciation non-shuh-lant) - Coolly unconcerned, indifferent, unexcited; casual. This is the nicest word that can be used to describe the Rutgers offense yesterday. Better choices would be uncaring, worthless, terrible, disgusting, awful, or pathetic. The Knights narrowly avoided a fourth quarter meltdown, defeating one of the worst FBS teams, in the form of Florida International, 23-15.

The Scarlet Knights entered the day as 14 point favorites vs. its opponent from the Sun Belt Conference and would have lost the game were it not for a revitalized Rutgers defense that returned two interceptions for touchdowns, which, sadly enough, is twice as many as the offense put on the board. The defense, until yesterday, hasn't been doing its part either. After the game, senior defense end George Johnson stated, "We still got a big chip on our shoulders, though. We're going to carry it all season, to play the way we have to."

Whether or not the criticisms that the defense had received after the first two weeks was the jump start the the unit needed, or they were just woefully unprepared for the first two weeks is of no importance. The bigger issue is whether or not yesterday's performance (5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 42 yds rushing allowed, 2TDs scored) can be replicated for the remainder of the season. If Rutgers has any hope of salvaging the season, it will have to be the defense that carries the team.

The fact that a Rutgers defense is the strongest part of the team is nothing new, but the fact that this year's offense is so woefully anemic is a pain point for most fans. Another sub-par rushing performance (160 yards on 41 attempts) is not the least bit surprising after the first two games. Through three games, the Knights have amassed just 455 yards on the ground on 118 attempts, for a paltry 3.85 yds/carry. This from an offensive line that returned all five starters. Does anyone expect a line that can't muster 200 yards on the ground vs. Florida International (and barely did so vs. Howard, needing a late burst from true freshman De'Antwan Williams in garbage time) to suddenly turn it around vs. Pitt in a few weeks? Coach Schiano, who is still tinkering with the offensive line in week three, admitted after the game that, "we're trying to find the best five." Where are we looking? Didn't we have the best five after last year's seven game winning streak to close the season? How about this spring? Were we still looking at training camp in August? Is this a result of Kyle Flood's promotion? It's time for the coaching staff to go back to square one and teach basic blocking.

Rutgers has been fortunate enough to open the season with a very weak schedule (save for Cincinnati) or this season could be a lot worse. The next two games are at Maryland, which lost to Sun Bowl conference member Middle Tennessee State yesterday, next Saturday and vs. FCS Texas Southern at home on October 10th. Time is running out on the this team to turn it around. The defense appeared to have remedied its issues yesterday, but it's still only one game. They won't be able to keep it up if the line doesn't come together and regain the ability to sustain drives, burn clock and keep the defense off the field.

Irrelevant. That's another word that can be used to describe the Rutgers offense right now. Let's hope the offense can right the ship and this word won't be used to describe the Rutgers 2009 football season.

A Turning Point?

While it didn’t produce anything near the kind of offensive numbers we had all hoped, for 54 minutes on Saturday the Rutgers defense played lights out. It was the kind of play that echoed back to the days of Ramel Meekins, Quintero Frierson and Devraun Thompson. The days when quarterbacks were hunted like an extraterrestrial life form picking off members of an elite military team in Central America one by one. Totaling five sacks and limiting the running game to a mere 10 yards on 20 carries to proverbial Predator had seemingly arrived to Piscataway for 54 minutes on Saturday afternoon.

Heading into Saturday’s matchup the Rutgers defense seemed anything but, ranked last in the Big East and a virtual no show for the first two games against Cincinnati and Howard. During the week defensive end George Johnson vented his frustration of hearing how this veteran laden defense was "underachieving" and "not good enough." On Saturday, the Rutgers defense carried out their frustration limiting the Golden Panthers to 42 yards on 23 carries and 218 yards through the air, much of which took place in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.

"That’s what our plan was," the defensive end said following the Rutgers 23-15 win that was more lopsided then the score indicated. "We still got a big chip on our shoulders, though. We’re going to carry it all season, to play the way we have to."

"I thought we got better," coach Greg Schiano said. "We put pressure on the quarterback. I don’t know how many sacks we had, but it seemed like we hit him a lot. We needed to have an outing like that. In the end, we gave up 15 points, but we are getting better. And that is the key. We made some big improvements since Cincinnati. We just need to keep going in that direction."

Perhaps the convincing performance by the Rutgers defense on Saturday is a turning point of sorts for the 2009 season. Similar to October 18th 2008 as a last second field goal dinged off the cross bar to a hushed crowd and Rutgers escaped 12-10 against the Huskies beginning what would end up being a seven game winning streak to close the season. Like Tom Luicci tried to get Coach Schiano to admit to so many times last year. This defense is finally playing “winning football”.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Scarlet Knight fans can breathe easy again this week as the Florida International Golden Panthers come to town for what should be a snooze fest. The biggest question heading into the game has to be "Will the highly touted Rutgers offensive line, anchored by junior/early first round draft pick Anthony Davis dominate the Panthers defensive front seven or will they get man-handled by the Golden Panthers defensive line worse than Liberace walking the streets of Greenwich Village in New York?" Unfortunately, the Knights did their best impression of the latter in parts of the first two games.

Rutgers will and cover (they are 14 point favorites) the spread but need to do a lot more than that. FIU made the jump to FBS in 2005 lost their opener at Alabama 40-14. Second year head coach Mario Cristobal (and former Schiano assistant) will make this team respectable in the coming years, but he's not there yet.

The Knights need to make a statement with their running game. They were shut down by Cincy and racked up 245 vs. Howard but needed a late burst from De'Antwan Williams to do so. It would be nice to see one back get into a rhythm early and have 150 yards by halftime. The running game needs to be perceived as a serious threat before the schedule picks up when conference play resumes.

The teacher vs. student story line will be interesting as will the Tim Brown - Anthony Gaitor story line. Gaitor will line up at corner back across the line of scrimmage from Brown. The two were high school teammates at Miami Northwestern High School.

This is also a big stage for the Rutgers defense (currently ranked last in the Big East), especially the lineman, who have been inconsistent at best when it comes to putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Sometimes defenses have swarming pass rushes and lack in coverage of the wide receivers. Other times, the coverage is great but pass rush is weak. First year co-defensive coordinators Ed Pinkham and Bob Fraser have implemented a strategy thus far where 11 players take the field and just stand around. It seems that defenders have been told not to make contact with opponents until they have gained at least 8 yards.

Let's hope the Knights are firing on all cylinders tomorrow and bring some confidence on the road to Maryland next week.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Week 3 of the college football season is underway tonight with the Georgia Tech - Miami game. All eight Big East teams are in action this Saturday. There are only three losses to non-conference opponents through the first two weeks, two of which belong to Syracuse. The other was UConn's heartbreaking loss to North Carolina in the final seconds last Saturday. Without further ado, let's take a look at this week's matchups:

South Florida (No Line) over Charleston Southern (Saturday, 7PM)

USF fans have probably been bored to tears with games so far vs. Wofford (a 40-7 win) and Western Kentucky (a 35-13 win). If that isn't bad enough, they'll want to slit their wrists after another mindless sleeper this weekend vs. Charleston Southern. The Bulls have one more game to work out any kinks before travelling to Tallahassee to take on Florida State next weekend, followed by the beginning of conference play next week at Syracuse.

Navy (+9) over Pitt (Saturday, 6PM)

This is supposed to be Pitt's year to win the Big East, but, as stated in this space previously, bad things tend to happen when Dave Wannestedt is roaming the sidelines. Pitt hasn't been tested this year with wins over Youngstown State and Buffalo, but will be when second year head coach Ken Niumatalolo brings his Midshipmen to Pittsburgh on Saturday. Navy is coming off of a win Louisiana Tech, but more importantly, a 31-27 loss to Ohio State in Columbus two weeks ago. The Mids almost erased a 15 point 4th quarter deficit scoring two touchdowns in four minutes before having the game tying two point conversion attempt intercepted and returned. The most amazing story of this game is that 6 of Navy's 18 first downs in this game came via passes. That's 33 per cent! If Navy's passing game is at least decent enough to keep opponents guessing, they'll be very successful this year. Pitt will have its hands full trying to win this game, let alone cover.
Syracuse (+3) over Northwestern

Syracuse wraps up its Big 10 portion of the schedule this week with Northwestern at home. I'm picking Syracuse to not only cover, but also win the game outright. Follow the logic. They lost to Minnesota in OT, then lost at Penn State but did not get humiliated. This is the weakest of the three teams, it's a home game, and Syracuse has had two weeks to gel. Coach Marrone will get his first of what Orange fans hope to be many Gatorade showers on Saturday night.

UConn (+10.5) over Baylor

The Bears received votes in the AP Poll and senior linebacker Joe Pawelek was named Big 12 defensive player of the week on the heels of Baylor's 24-21 victory at Wake Forest. Although it was a road win against a BCS conference team, it is in no way, shape or form worth of 10.5 points this week vs. UConn. Let's not forget the Huskies' battle with another ACC foe last week. The 12-10 loss to then # 19 North Carolina is far more impressive than what Baylor did, in spite of that fact that the Huskies came up short.

Kentucky (-10.5) over Louisville

Sorry Cardinals fans, but time have changed. Football in the state of Kentucky now belongs to the Wildcats, at least for now. The silver lining is that this Saturday's loss will only accelerate the long overdue firing of Steve Kragthorpe, at one point the healing process can truly begin.

Auburn (-4) over West Virginia

The Big East desperately needs a win here as this is one of two huge statements games this weekend vs. other BCS schools, but it probably won't happen. The Mountaineers defense has allowed a combine 40 points vs. Liberty and East Carolina and will likely be without junior defensive end Scooter Berry who injured his shoulder vs. East Carolina. Auburn is at home and has scored 86 combined points in its first two games.

Cincinnati (-2.5) over Oregon State

This would be the other statement game that Big East desperately needs to win. The Bearcats can climb the rankings and position themselves for a potential national title run with a win over a Pac 10 opponent. Oregon State beat Portland State in Week 1 and struggled to beat UNLV last week. Tony Pike and company put on a clinic vs. what was supposed to be a solid Rutgers defense in week 1.

Florida International vs. Rutgers

Coming tomorrow ... Stay Tuned

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The teacher versus the pupil. ....It doesn't quite have the ring of an Eric Mangini vs Bill Belichick matchup, but Saturday's bout against the Golden Panthers is Schiano's first against his current coaching tree of one. Here's a few thoughts headed into Saturday's game.

Sanu: What are the odds that he's going to make it three out of three on the year? I wonder what unsuspecting d-back will experience the latest round of Hines Ward style devastation from the newly minted 20 year old.

FIU Wideout T.Y. Hilton: This guy is explosive....Archie P of the Rutgers Fan Blog on might even venture to say that this guy is a human WMD and that we need to call in the IAEA. 12 TD's in 2008 scored in almost every way possible: seven receiving, two rushing, one on a punt return, one on a kick off and one passing. Only problem is he's a sophomore so it's pretty safe to assume that there's some true freshman on FIU's bench who hasn't played a single down of college football but should be starting over him and who also is a guaranteed first round NFL pick.

Davis & Co.: Using 11 linemen in Saturday's game against Howard shows a loss of confidence of sorts in the front fives ability to protect Savage and open holes for the running game. They have been a virtual no show in the first two game and we are all here waiting for the unit that started the second half of 2008 to finally start showing up. We can't put all of the blame on the slow development of the running game on Martinek, Brooks and Co.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


It happened on Saturday with about 6 minutes and 30 seconds left in the first half. Howard was making its furthest drive of the game to Rutgers 40 yard line. Down 32-0 and facing a key conversion situation the Bison stepped to the line of scrimmage in mass confusion. It was right then that as the play clock wound down to two seconds that Schiano mysteriously called a time out. Most of us including myself didn’t have a clue what was going on. My friend, who’s also a high school football referee, saw the whole thing from a different perspective then most of us fans. He saw what Schiano saw. That Howard, having used all of its timeouts had 12 men on the field as the play clock was about to expire. Schiano could have done nothing and benefitted from it. But rather then watching the Bison be charged with a delay of game penalty or having too many players on the field, he decided to call a time out. It was a different side of coaching that we don’t see much because it is so often hard to find. It was sportsmanship. While we can talk all day long about how it was also Schiano’s call that allowed Howard to score on the next play, it was one coach showing mercy on another coach and a team in a game that had long been decided.


Yet another sign of the Big East's renewed commitment to significantly improve the conference's bowl picture....According to the New York Times, the Big East and the Big 12 are close to an agreement with the New York Yankees to play a bowl game at Yankee Stadium beginning in 2010. The "Yankee Bowl" would place the Big East's 3rd or 4th place finisher against the 7th place team from the Big 12 and would take place during the week between Christmas and New Years. The most interesting point that I took away from the story is that the Big East has not committed to which team (either the 3rd or 4th) they will slot for the match up against the Big 12. This may have some implications on another ongoing negotiation between the Big East and the Music City Bowl in Nashville that would seemingly leave the Big East open to place its 3rd place team in a match up against the SEC.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Twenty seven minutes and thirty seconds. That's how long it took Rutgers to fall behind by three possessions in the opener vs. Cincinnati and subsequently have the wheels fall off of what was once a promising season. Rex Ryan spends more time planning his post game meal. Yesterday, the Knights obliterated the Howard Bison, who were a mere 1-10 in FCS play last year, 45-7. There was time when the Rutgers faithful would have been ecstatic with a 1-1 record heading into week 3. There was also a time when Americans paid top dollar to attend a Brittany Spears concert and decided that George W. Bush was the best man to lead this nation (not once, but twice!).

Things have changed at Rutgers and Coach Schiano deserves all the credit. He turned first recruits, and eventually fans into believers. Bowl games and Rutgers used to go together like Hatfields and McCoys, however four straight bowl games and three straight bowl victories have left the fans wanting more. Opening day 2009 was special. This was the day that the program was really going to go to the next level. The stadium addition was complete, the weather was perfect, the RU defense was arguably the best in the conference and the offensive line arguably in the top ten nationally. The stadium was filled with 53,737 Rutgers fans. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. Shortly after kickoff, Tony Pike did what Tony Pike does and the bubble was burst. Fans filed out of the stadium muttering "Same old Rutgers," which became an unofficial school motto during the Doug Graber and Terry Shea years.

Rutgers fans have shared the heartache and agony of Chicago Cubs fans for years. The Scarlet Knights, like Chicago's North Siders have been awful for a long time - but then something happened. Knights fans got their first taste of post-season football with an Insight Bowl berth in 2005. From there, there was the miracle run in 2006, followed by two more bowl berths in 2007 and 2008. Rutgers fans no longer share a common bond with Cubs fans, but suffer a far worse fate. Rutgers fans now know a pain far worse, they suffer from the same ailment that has consumed San Francisco Giants fans for over 50 years. The Giants have not won a World Series since the franchise moved to the west coast, but used to hold the record for consecutive second place finishes (ironically enough the record now belongs to the Boston Red Sox, who certainly have no right to complain about anything anymore) and also blew the largest lead in a World Series clinching game during Game 6 of 2002 World Series vs. the Angels. This is what Rutgers fans now experience. They, like Giants fans, have tasted success and have come so close - painfully close - to finally bringing it to the next level, only to have their hearts ripped out time and time again.

Success breeds expectations, and when expectations are not met, die hard fans fall as hard as the team does. I'm not saying that it's better the other way. I'd much rather have my dreams crushed than not have any dreams at all, but it stings a lot more. Most Rutgers fans were still sick to their stomachs after the Labor Day massacre and its effects could still be seen on Saturday vs. Howard. The parking lots were half full and the fans were not really into the game. The attendance was 43,722, which would have been stellar in previous years and exceeds capacity prior to the expansion. The Knights dominated an inferior opponent and now take on Florida International (barely FBS), Maryland (which needed overtime to beat FCS James Madison yesterday) and Texas Southern (FCS) before conference play starts back up again vs. Pittsburgh on October 16th. It will be another nationally televised game on a Friday night, and the whole country will be watching. Will Rutgers be prepared this time and earn a season saving victory? Will they finally get back on track and set themselves up for a possible run at the Conference Championship and a BCS berth, or will fans start filing out of the stadium at halftime muttering, "Same old Rutgers?"

Success breeds great expectations. Great teams are built by meeting them.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


It's hard to believe following Monday's shellacking that we're here: a mere two days away from a date with the FCS Bison of Howard University. Here are a few things we can look for: Howard: Fresh off of a 1-10 season and the loss of "nearly 20 players following and in-house compliance issue" (Phil Steele's words), the Bison are clearly in a rebuilding mode and are picked (by Phil Steele) to finish last in the MEAC in '09. Saturday's match up also represents their season opener.

Savage: The next two games offer a tremendous opportunity for # 7 to build on his solid performance against the Bearcats. He doesn't need to jump in there and play at an all Big East level. He just needs to get a little bit better each game, build confidence in himself, build some confidence in his line, manage the offense, minimize mistakes and let the immense talent that he is surrounded by just make some plays. Once he's got his confidence, then we can all start talking about how to use his immense talents to help this team.

Defense: I read that the Cincinnati beat writers were saying in the press box on Monday that Tony Pike should now be a dark horse candidate for the Heisman. Why shouldn't he be? Would it be too much to ask for this defense to put up the same kind of performance they did last year against Morgan State in their 38-0 win? I don't care about numbers. I just want to see a convincing, fundamentally sound performance that somehow persuades all of us that some other defense showed up on Monday and that the 2009 Rutgers defense started playing its season on Saturday.

Coaching: This week we need to take a step back, take a deep breathe and reset this team. These kids need to look like they are prepared to play every game no matter who the opponent is. The first step was announcing a starter, the next step is getting everyone in the right frame of mind to play. We can't be a step behind, we can't miss tackles and we need to execute. All of the things we didn't do against Cincinnati need to be corrected starting Saturday.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


It was about half way through the second quarter when it started. At first, it was low and inaudible but as the first half drew to a close with Dom Natale throwing three interceptions and Jabu Lovelace rushing for negative yardage out of run-gun sets the chorus of fans grew louder...."We Want Tom....We Want Tom." When # 7 jogged out onto the gridiron to start the second half our collective prayers were answered and a new era in Rutgers Football had begun. Savage, playing the entire second half and bringing the only semblance of offense to an otherwise completely ineffective unit, finished 15 for 23 for 135 yards and a TD. In doing so, Savage did what the other two QB's cold not by showing an ability to effectively manage the offense, move the ball through the air in the passing game and minimizing mental mistakes. He gave the team what Coach Schiano calls "The best chance to win" during an otherwise abysmal performance. As the the primary benefactor of Savage's positive play, WR and fellow true freshman Mohamed Sanu finished the first game of his young college career with 10 catches for 101 yards. Savage threw to Sanu multiple times on his first drive and seemed to increasingly rely on the uber talented Sanu during the final two stanzas. While Sanu is a virtual lock to start once again on Saturday against Howard, Savage's future seems far from certain despite his performance. "I definitely need to keep working to get better," said Savage. "I know I need to improve getting the ball out quicker. I look forward to going back to work and getting a little better every day." Similar to the approach he took against Cincinnati in the opener, Schiano has yet to announce a starter at QB for Saturday's 3:30PM start.


A Rutgers team hasn't played a game this poorly since the Terry Shea era. At least in those days only 30 or 35 thousand people witnessed the ineptitude known as Rutgers football on fall Saturdays. Yesterday 53,737 fans in attendance and many more on ESPN were treated to a flashback of sorts to a bygone era of Rutgers football including many of the same bumbling plays, missed assignments, blown coverages and poor decisions that have not been seen since the Clinton administration. What I saw was a team that was clearly outmatched and unprepared playing against a very well prepared opponent:

Natale: I thought the first few QB checks to the sideline were somehow ploys to confuse the Cincinnati defense. However, after 10 or 12 times of seeing Natale back off the snap and shrug his shoulders to the sideline with less then 10 seconds on the play clock, I realized that he really didn't know what play he was supposed to be running. The scary thing is that the 5th year senior didn't have the presence of mind to call a time out to reset the offense or at least to get his head back into the right place.

Tony Pike: I don't know what I was more shocked about. How easily Tony Pike picked apart the defense or the complete lack of any defensive adjustments made at halftime. What we did see is what any good QB does against a blitzing defense with short, underneath passing into space. What we didn't see was what any good coaching staff should to do at half time when facing an intelligent QB like Pike.

Brian Kelly: Can we all agree at least for now, that he is the best coach in the Big East. He does the most with his given talent and that of his players then anyone else in the league and maybe in the country.

The Bottom Line: I can't possibly believe that what we saw last night is the reality of the Rutgers 2009 defense with all its talent and depth. What I can believe is that the QB that gives Rutgers the "best chance to win" against Howard played the entire second half last night. End the drama tomorrow Coach and get this team prepared for Saturday.

Monday, September 7, 2009


It all came to me while watching the Syracuse vs. Minnesota game on Saturday. No, it wasn't the Greg Paulus interception during OT to open the door for an eventual Golden Gophers win. It was the first half, where the prodigal son did all of the little things right in his return home to the Carrier Dome.
He showed the kind of leadership you'd expect to see from your 5th year senior QB. He let his skill players make plays, he played smart, he played within himself and most importantly he didn't turn the ball over (less the botched shotgun snap on the first play from scrimmage).
These are the kinds of things that we should expect from Natale headed into today's home opener. It is also exactly what Schiano means when he talks about "game management" which he so often has during camp. In many ways, Natale represents the last piece of the Scarlet Knights offensive puzzle. With one of top 10 offensive lines in the country (according to Phil Steele), a talented trio of running backs and a mix of experienced, big play and emerging wide receivers, all we need is for Natale to establish enough of a balance in the passing and running games to allow all of the talent around him to make plays and not make any mistakes along the way. If he can play this role, consistently, beginning today with the first series from scrimmage then Natale, and Natale alone at QB gives the Scarlet Knights its best chance to win against the Bearcats.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


The moment is finally upon us. The Big East game of the week is undeniably Cincinnati at Rutgers. Kickoff is set for 4PM tomorrow (ESPN) in Piscataway at the newly expanded Rutgers Stadium (capacity 52,454). The Bearcats won last year's contest 13-10, holding Rutgers to only 62 rushing yards.

This year's games features two completely different teams, however, as Cincinnati is only returning one starter on defense (safety Aaron Webster) and Rutgers has lost some offensive firepower to the NFL. Mike Teel and Kenny Britt, perhaps the best QB-WR combination in the 140 year history of Rutgers Football, will be suiting up for Seahawks and Titans, respectively. Vegas has Rutgers as 5 point favorites which makes this game incredibly hard to pick. There are a few key questions that each team must answer to come away victorious:

1. Can the highly touted Rutgers defense contain Tony Pike (2,407 passing yards and 19 TDs in 2008) and Mardy Gilyard (1,276 receiving yards and 11 TDs in 2008)?

Part of the reason that last year's game was so close was that Pike did not play. The Knights will certainly have their hands full trying to stop the pass but should be able to contain the Bearcats running game which was 95th in the nation last year. Rutgers has depth at defensive line than it ever has under Schiano and also is solid at linebacker and in the defensive backfield.

2. Can the new Rutgers quarterback lead the team to victory in his first college start?

Although the Rutgers starting QB has not yet been revealed, it's the worst kept secret in history. Dom Natale will get the start while both Tom Savage and Jabu Lovelace will see some playing time. The inexperience of the Rutgers QB carousel may not be as much of a problem as it seems. Natale will have two reliable targets in Tim Brown and true freshman Mohammed Sanu (who is already drawing Kenny Britt comparisons). Cincinnati's inexperienced defense is also trying out a new alignment. First year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is installing a 3-4 this year, which may not be the best of ideas against the run oriented Scarlet Knights. They return sophomores Joe Martinek and Jourdan Brooks who both showed signs of greatness last year, not to mention true freshman De'Antwan Williams who has been brilliant in camp so far. Rutgers also returns all 5 starters on the offensive line, anchored by Preseason All-American tackle Anthony Davis.

3. Will the enclosed endzone at the newly renovated Rutgers Stadium have an effect on Cincinnati?

Coach Schiano has already stated the the crowd noise has nowhere to escape now that south endzone has been enclosed. Will this rattle the Bearcats?

4. Can Rutgers come from behind if Cincinnati jumps out to an early lead?

How will Natale react if the Knights get down 14-0 in the first quarter? Will he be able to keep his poise in his first college start? Even worse, how will the 18 year old Tom Savage handle the situation if he is asked to?

All of these questions and more will be answered tomorrow in what could be the game of the year for both teams. Rutgers should win the game but won't cover. Final score: Rutgers 24 - Cincinnati 20.


The last time Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone set foot in the Carrier Dome, Microsoft just released its first version of Windows, Huey Lewis and the News were at the top of the Billboard charts and Marty McFly just took his first ride in Doc Brown's DeLorean. The year was 1985 and Marrone was an offensive limeman on a Syracuse team that lost to West Virginia 13-10.

Yesterday Marrone looked to take his team back in time, to a place where bowl berths were virtually assured and Big East championships always a possibility. Not even the most die hard of Orange fans expect Marrone to lead the team to a bowl game this year, but they would like to see some tangible evidence that the team is at least headed in the right direction. Under former head coach (and current Michigan defensive coordinator) Greg Robinson, the team suffered four straight losing seasons, never amassing more than four wins or finishing higher than seventh in the Big East.

The last time Greg Paulus set foot in the Carrier Dome he led his high school team (Christian Brothers Academy, located in a Syracuse suburb) to a 41-35 victory over a New Rochelle team that featured Ray Rice and Glenn Lee (both of whom went on to star at Rutgers) to win the state championship. Paulus was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2004 but decided to give up football to play basketball at Duke. He was Mike Krzyzewski's starting point guard for three years before losing the starting job in his senior season. He took advantage of a little known NCAA rule that allows a fifth year of eligibility for two sport players at two different schools. He enrolled at Syracuse and earned the starting job.

Marrone wasted little time in naming Paulus his starter after just one week of practice this summer (Paulus did not paricipate in spring practice). He made a strong statement with this decision. Paulus is not the future of the program, as this is his one and only year of eligibility. Marrone should have started sophomore Ryan Nassib if he was interested in having something to build on for next year. He also could have started senior Cam Dantley if he was interested in building off of last year's Notre Dame game in which Dantley managed two fourth quarter 68 yard touchdown drives in Syracuse's come from behind victory in South Bend. Instead, Marrone decided to go with a publicity stunt. He feels that the "Local Boy Makes Good" headlines are more important that building a program of which the university and city can both be proud.

Truth be told, although Paulus did not put up great numbers (19-31-167-1-1), he did not do a bad job of managing the offense. He kept his team in the game and gave them a chance to win - for the first 59 minutes. After Minnesota's field goad knotted the score at 20 with 57 seconds left to play in regulation, Paulus had one last shot to lead the Orange down field and win this game. The first play from scrimmage was a 7 yard completion to Mike Williams (in bounds) that was whistled dead with 45 seconds left on the clock. The next snap did not come until the clock was at 25 seconds. Paulus could not get his team to the line fast enough and inexplicably burned 20 seconds. His biggest sin came in overtime when he threw an interception on a 3rd and 5 play. Minnesota did a good job of covering the receivers and Paulus was being chased around the backfield. He had plenty of time to get rid of the ball. Charlie Weiss could have run a 40 yard dash in the same amount of time. Most quarterbacks would have thrown the ball 10 rows into the stands and settled for a field goal. A quarterback that is playing in his first college football game is expected to make that mistake.

The problem is that Paulus is not an 18 year old kid. He's a fifth year senior who will not be coming back next year. Syracuse cannot afford to watch Paulus make mistakes this year and then start over with a new quarterback next year. Orange fans have rallied behind Marrone and are genuinely happy with yesterday's performance. Unfortunately, it did nothing to help build for the future. It's been a long time since a meaningful football game was played in Syracuse and people are counting on Marrone to turn this program around. Too bad he is focused on marketing gimmicks rather than doing the job that he was hired to do.

Friday, September 4, 2009


T minus three days to gameday. Here's the latest headed into the long weekend....

- Injuries: As expected, both Blair Bines and George Johnson will be at full strength on Monday. However, Bines appears to be locked in a fierce battle for the starting DT job with redshirt freshman Scot Vallone. According to Schiano Kordell Young will only be available for emergency situation. In other words, only if Martinek, Brooks and Rocket all simultaneous go out.
- QB Situation: Still nothing official from Schinao, but it seems like a foregone conclusion that Natale will get the starting nod followed by a bit of the Jabu run-gun sprinkled in. I'm guessing that Schiano wont' wait long to pull Natale for Savage if the offense sputters out of the gate.
- Attendance: A quick check at the RU ticket office on Thursday on the ticket situation for Monday: Much like Pernetti reported earlier in the week, limited numbers of tickets are still available, mostly in the corners of the upper deck and in the expanded end zone.
- Stadium Update: Did a quick drive by on Thursday and was nearly blinded by gigantic Brothers paper shredder advertisements beaming from the scoreboard. Talked to one of the workers who told me that the jumbotron was fully tested successfully on Wednesday. The River Road side of the expansion seems to be the primary area of focus right now to make sure it's ready for Monday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Everyone is anxiously awaiting what is prematurely being dubbed the "Big East Championship" game on Monday afternoon between Cincinnati and Rutgers. It doesn't make much sense to speak of conference championships before a single snap has taken place. Additionally, there is plenty of football to be played long before the titans take the field in Piscataway. Let's look at the rest of the Big East match ups this weekend:

Minnesota (-3.5) over Syracuse (Saturday, Noon, ESPN2)

The odds makers made this one an easy pick. The outcome of this game was never in doubt and the spread is small enough to make this one a no brainer. Minnesota comes into the Carrier Dome losers of 5 straight (including a 55-0 thrashing by Iowa and a 42-21 loss to Kansas in the Insight Bowl) they did start off 7-1 last year and have 18 starters returning this year. By contrast, Syracuse had 18 scholarship players leave the program. Orange fans are rightfully excited by the arrival of first year head coach Doug Marrone but should not expect miracles.

West Virginia (No Line) over Liberty (Saturday, Noon, SNY)

This one should be a laugher as the Mountaineers open up vs. an FCS opponent from the Big South Conference. West Virginia certainly is a different team than it was two years ago after having lost 4 offensive stars to the NFL (Steve Slaton - 2008 Texans, Owen Schmitt -2008 Seahawks, Darius Reynaud - 2008 Vikings and Pat White - 2009 Dolphins) but still have some offensive firepower. The departure of UConn's Donald Brown to the NFL means that Noel Devine returns as the leading rusher in the Big East at 6.3 yds/carry. Quarterback Jarrett Brown is 2-0 as a starter and has never lost a game in which he entered with the lead. It will also be interesting to see this team begin the transition from "Rich Rodriguez' team" to "Bill Stewart's team."

Pittsburgh (No Line) over Youngstown State (Saturday, 1PM)

While Pitt will easily roll over its FCS opponent from the Missouri Valley Conference, the real question here is what will happen with the rest of their season? The Panthers were once again praised for their recruiting class in 2009, and were picked 1st in the Big East media poll. Is Bill Stull the quarterback that can lead the Panthers to a BCS berth? It will be difficult to replace LeSean McCoy (1,448 yds., 21 touchdowns) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (312 yds., 5 touchdowns) at tailback, especially with true freshman Dion Lewis (don't worry - if he gets hurt, he'll be replaced by true freshman Ray Graham). The Pitt two-deep is currently littered with freshman (15 to be exact). There is also the Dave Wannestedt factor. He has no problem recruiting, but has difficulty bringing the best out of his players and also gets out coached each and every Saturday. Is this really a championship team?

USF (No Line) over Wofford (Saturday, 7PM)

This is the Bulls' first of two FCS opponents this year (the other being Western Kentucky). USF should win this game handily over its opponent from the Southern Conference. The Bulls have the talent this year to make a run for their first ever Big East Title and BCS berth. Quarterback Matt Grothe enters this year only 287 yards behind Pat White on the Big East Total Offense list (which he could rack up vs. Wofford) and only 1,287 yards behind former Louisville quarterback Chris Redman who holds the Big East record. That record is well withing reach for this season. On the other side of the ball, defensive end George Selvie is just as exciting. The two-time All-American decided to fore go the NFL draft this spring and will return to anchor the Bulls defense. He routinely runs over anybody not named Anthony Davis on his way to opposing quarterbacks.

UConn (-5) over Ohio (Sunday, 7PM)

The biggest question in this game is not whether or not UConn will cover the spread (they will), it's whether or not Ohio can sell out 24,000 seat Peden Stadium with tickets going for $5 each. The economy is currently in the toilet and UConn-Ohio is not exactly Florida-Georgia, but $5 to see a Division IA College Football game is a great deal no matter the circumstances. Let's see if the people of Athens agree. UConn should fall back to the bottom half of the Big East this year after losing six players to the NFL Draft, including Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher in 2008.

Louisville (No Line) over Indiana State (Saturday, 7:30 PM)

Indiana State is already 0-1 this season after losing their season opener to Quincy last Thursday. Yes, Quincy, an NAIA school. Not even Louisville, with all its troubles, can lose to Indiana State. The remnants of Bobby Petrino's time in Louisville are almost gone. Most of his players have either graduated, transferred or otherwise lost eligibility. This is truly Steve Kragthorpe's team now, and that's not a good thing if you're a Louisville fan. A sub .500 finish is certainly possible for the Cardinals this year. Even worse, they may finish behind Syracuse.

Of course, all of this is just the undercard. These games will hold us over until the main event on Monday afternoon. Until then - enjoy your weekend.


It’s was September 1, 2007…That was the last time Demetrius Jones stepped onto the gridiron to play in an any kind of a meaningful game. That was the day that Notre Dame coach Charlie Weiss tabbed the sophomore Jones to fill the shoes of the all everything QB Brady Quinn to start the 2007 season opener versus Georgia Tech. Following the loss to the Yellow Jackets where he was benched in favor of super freshman Jimmy Clausen and a loss at Happy Valley the following week, Jones was an inexcusable no show on the team bus to Ann Arbor on September 14th. It was clear that following his losing the starting job to Clausen, and the quickly unraveling Fighting Irish season, he was weighing his options.

He was first rumored to be attending Northern Illinois, a short drive from his hometown of Chicago, but in late September the former Parade All American walked into Brian Kelly’s office at the University of Cincinnati and told him that he wanted to be a bearcat. That day turned out to be the first day of the rest of his life. From the moment Jones stepped onto the UC campus he was tabbed as the future QB of the bearcat offense. Sitting out the mandatory one year per NCAA rules, Jones walked into 2008 camp as the expected starting QB. Little did he know what would take place next, the QB carousel that was Cincinnati football 2008, where from three different starters emerged the unlikely hero 6-6 Tony Pike. T

hrough the entire 2008 season, Jones did not play a single down at QB as he watched Pike from the sidelines. Down but surely not out, the 6-3 210 lb Jones thought long and hard about his next move. It was this past Spring that Kelly, fresh off of losing 10 starters on defense, approached Jones about making a switch to the other side of the ball. Demetrius, reluctantly at first agreed to try LB. Slowly but surely, Jones began buying into what Kelly was selling. “There’s no question that he’s got to (buy in),” Kelly said, “and he struggled with it, even during the summer at times. He’d go home and people would tell him, what are you doing? You’re a quarterback. But I think he’s pretty settled into the idea that that’s his position. I knew when he came back from after summer workouts that he was all in.” After committing to Kelly to becoming a full time LB entering training camp in August, Jones surprised many with his rapid ascent up the depth chart culminating with him being named a starter last week for the Rutgers opener. “You always hope for the best and adjust instead of the other way around. We saw signs of it in the spring that if we could just continue to get him to progress he was going to be a great player for us.” says Kelly.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Like a reluctant mother sending her child off to college for the first time, Coach Schiano finally released his two deep on Monday afternoon for the Cincinnati opener:

- In a sign of just how far the RS junior come during camp, Howard Barbieri is listed as co-starter at LG along with Caleb Ruch who had a less then stellar training camp as the incumbent starter.
- DC listed as #2 at TE....Since he couldn't have shown much other in the few days he worked out at TE, it is a confirmation of just how weak we are behind Graves.
- Anyone surprised by Sanu being named starter at WR? How about true freshman Steve Beauharnais being listed # 2 at strong side LB behind Damaso Munoz?
- Natale = Lovelace = Savage, but is Schiano now leaning Natale in his latest comments
- Martinek and Brooks or Brooks and Martinek? Potato, Potaato. It doesn't matter much who starts in this tandem. When used together, they give Schiano the ability to deal with the entire spectrum of possibilities on running downs.
- Lowery and Abreu listed as co-starters at weak-side LB. One of the great positional battles that was well chronicled during camp. One more week or so to pound it out Gladiator style. Schiano says he wants to chose one.