Monday, November 30, 2009

Scarlet Chop Top 25 (Week 13)

Over the past few weeks I've compiled my own personal Top 25 polls based on the criteria that I outlined a few posts ago. Probably would have made a lot more sense to post it back then, but then again, better late then never. Here's this week's installment of my latest Top 25 along with some of my comments:

1. Florida (12-0)
2. Alabama (12-0)..Does it really matter though. We'll know who # 1 is around 7PM on Saturday.
3. Texas (12-0)
4. TCU (12-0)
5. Cincy (11-0)..Will jump TCU if win at Pitt. Let's hope the voters agree along with a Huskers upset.
6. Boise St (12-0)
7. Ohio St (10-2)...Best two loss team in country and playing its best football at the end of the season.
8. Oregon (10-2)
9. Georgia Tech (10-2)
10. Penn State (10-2)
11. Iowa (10-2)..Not the same team without Ricky Stanzi and thus behind PSU
12. Pitt (9-2)
13. V Tech (9-3)
14. Miami (9-3)
15. BYU (10-2)
16. Oregon St (8-3)
17. LSU (9-3)
18. Houston (10-2)
19. Cal (8-3)
20. Oklahoma St (9-3)
21. Wisconsin (9-3)...Only move up b/c of loses in front of them
22. West Virginia (8-3)
23. USC (8-3)
24. Nebraska (9-3)
25. Stanford (8-4)

Also Receiving Votes (In No Particular Order): Ole Miss, Texas Tech, Rutgers, Kentucky

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sanu and the Emergence of the Savage, Brown Chemistry

Rutgers did a lot of things right to bring its season back on track, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions along the way to a 34-14 victory over Louisville at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. On the Scarlet Knights first possession, Tom Savage connected with Tim Brown on a key 20 yard pass play to set the tone as well as a one yard Joe Martinek TD plunge. One of the major contributing factors of success of both Tom Savage and Tim Brown this season is the development of a chemistry element between the two. Over the past few games, you can clearly see Savage throwing the ball into spaces based on where he anticipates the wide out to move, cut and handle coverage packages on the field. While Brown seems to becoming more opportunistic by identifying holes and gaps in tight space knowing that his QB has the ability and confidence to deliver the ball into him successfully.

A slightly different wrinkle from the offense that we saw in the first half was the use of Tom Savage in the option package which he ran on two occasions, once for a touchdown, during an impressive 87 yard 16 play drive early in the second quarter to put RU up 14-0.

Mohamed Sanu, stole the show though with a nearly complete game performance (he did fumble a punt) going 148 yards and two TD’s on 18 carries. Sanu showed the ability to bull and stiff arm his way through would be tacklers running out of the emerging wildcat set for much of the day. Sanu is a truly gifted athlete with the size, speed, cutting ability and vision required to run the Wildcat. Given that though, just about everyone in attendance yesterday knew he was going to be the ball carrier each time he lined up behind center. He just didn’t seem to be able to sell the fake reverses to D’Antwan Williams very well although he did just miss Tim Brown on one downfield throw in single coverage. With time, he will learn to run the Wildcat with the same kind of success that I’m sure Schiano had once envisioned for Jabu Lovelace running out of his own run-gun set which will truly encompass the vast spectrum of his talents.

Other News and Notes:
• Once again the Rutgers offense failed to put a complete game together. After scoring on four consecutive drives to start the game, Rutgers next six drives end in six punts and a total 20 yards before the game is put away in the fourth quarter on Sanu’s 33 yard run out of the wildcat
• Zaire Kitchen’s devastating shoulder to the helmet hit on Louiville’s Doug Beaumont in the 3rd quarter was the result of the inherent violent nature of the game rather then an unsportsmanlike helmet to helmet hit as called by the referees.
• Overall the O-line had a strong performance vs Louisville. However, Kevin Haslam was helped off the field following a 4th quarter Joe Martinek run and appeared to be heavily favoring his left leg. It was not clear what the cause of the injury was but he was replaced for the remainder of the game by Des Stapleton.
• Up Next: Well, our wishes for a WVU loss vs Pitt did not come true last night and it seems that the recharged Noel Devine along with thousands of ‘eers faithful will invade Piscataway next Saturday with a lot to play for. RU hasn’t played a regular season game of this magnitude since a certain December Saturday in 2006. Just like the Mountaineers exacted their revenge of sorts for the 2007 Backyard Brawl (And subsequent BCS title game birth), it’s time to get ours. With the exception of the visiting WVU section, each and every seat in Rutgers Stadium had better be filled with a scarlet wearing Rutgers Fan.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

RU Failing to Seize Momentum

It seems that the growing theme over the past few weeks is the Scarlet Knights offensive ineptitude for converting game changing plays by the defense and special teams into momentum swinging points on the board. While this was masked somewhat in the 31-0 route vs USF it was clearly evident in Saturday’s 31-13 loss at Syracuse. Whether we call this a the product of stating a freshman quarterback in Savage, the atrocious play by the offensive line (particularly the right side), inability to make offensive adjustments or simply poor preparation by the coaching staff, putting the team in the frame of mind to convert these opportunities into actual points needs to be Schiano’s primary concern beginning with Friday’s match up at Louisville. Here’s a summary of the latest offensive miscues following key plays in Saturday’s loss:

Coming off of a Syracuse TD in the 1st quarter, Devin McCourty returns a Syracuse kickoff 54 yards setting the offense up deep inside Syracuse territory. On a key third down play, Savage, who got pressure from all directions the entire day, telegraphs a pass to Tim Wright with Syracuse’s linebackers read the entire time and picks off the pass killing the possession on three plays.

Following the Joe Lefeged’s safety in 2nd quarter Savage gets sacked by Syracuse’s Doug Houge (this week’s national defensive player of the week) after hanging onto the ball too long. While it’s easy to understand Savage not wanting to turn the ball over with an errant pass, he needs to recognize that when no receivers are open, he needs to either move outside of the pocket and create something or simply throw the ball away to avoid the sack. This led to another three and out as Savage gets pressure the entire possession which totaled a mere three downs.

After another McCourty partially blocked punt in the 4th quarter, Rutgers has the ball on its own 42 down 24-13 in the fourth quarter but with more then 8 minutes on the clock. Joe Martinek gets buried for a loss on second down run to the right side and the possession ends after three meaningless plays.

That’s a total of three big plays between McCourty and Lefedged that totaled zero points on Saturday. What this team needs to understand is that its being able to convert these key opportunities is what separates a team like Rutgers from teams that can consistently maintain a top 25 standing year in and year out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is Rutgers Deserving of a Top 25 Ranking?

I think so but the performance of other teams will decide if it will last unfortunately. Each week I do my own personal Top 25 which I factor in current results, overall record, strength of schedule, head to head results, previous week's AP poll and my Top 25 from the previous week. I use the AP because for one, its a human poll and two it takes the emotion out of me being the one deciding who should be in the Top 25 based on my personal feelings, likes and dislikes of other teams (I am a fan after all). Honestly this week there were 4-5 teams deserving of # 25 but I did put put Rutgers at # 25 because I couldn't find a reason why I should put a three loss BCS team ahead of them. UNC could easily have been there coming off of their impressive home win vs Miami. Even at 7-3, they were only one vote short of cracking the Top 25. Also right there is Nebraska who is hosting K-State this weekend and is coming off of a win at Kansas and is also at 7-3. Cal is also right there at 7-3 following their win at Arizona.

My feeling though is that even if we win convincingly at Syracuse this weekend, there are no guarantees when the new AP poll comes out on Sunday. If UNC wins at BC this weekend, they could very well pass us because voters would view their win over a 7-3 Eagle team as more impressive then a potential RU win over the 3-7 Orange. Another concern I have is Cal coming off of their win at Arizona is now facing Stanford in the annual "Big Game." If Cal wins, there is no reason why voters wouldn't put them past us in the polls. The emerging theme here is that Big East teams are at a disadvantage in that they consistently need to have one less loss then other BCS conference schools in order to be viewed on an equal basis in the minds of the voters. The bottom line is this: Rutgers right now is deserving to be in the Top 25 and, as long as they continue to win they deserve to stay there. However, whether they actually do stay there doesn't depend so much on what they do but it depends largely upon what the other teams around them do this weekend. I find it hard to imagine an 8-2 BCS conference team not ranked in the Top 25 at this stage of the season but it certainly seem like a very real possibility.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Syracuse Football Adding By Subtraction

Doug Marrone has been cleaning house since he took over the Syracuse football program in December. Gone from the GRob era of Syracuse Football are 21 scholarship players (25% of the 85 maximum NCAA allotment) who either weren’t buying what Marrone was selling or simply couldn’t cut it in the new Syracuse era of accountability.

Included on the casualty list is star receiver Mike William’s who decided to hang it up following a post game visit and subsequent car accident outside of the Turning Stone Casino near Syracuse on November 1st. While I am sure that many of these departures as well as the 2-2 start (including a 37-34 win over the now 7-4 Northwestern) caused hope for the future, the injury bug over the past several games has not been kind to Marrone and the Orange. Gone for the year are nine players on both sides of the ball including All Big East DT Arthur Jones who suffered his season ending knee injury during the November 7th Pittsburgh game in which Syracuse was able to travel with just 55 healthy players.

Staring into what has now become a 3-7 record with Rutgers and UConn left on the schedule, most coaches would have resigned the season and begun preparing the team and its younger players for the future. That kind of “sacrifice now for the future” attitude just isn’t part of Marrone’s make up though.

“We're still going out there to win games, not to give people experience for next year,” Marrone said. “It's not next year until the last game is over. The way people are getting experience now on this team is through injury."

The kind of attitude Marrone is trying to instill in this team comes from what he learned as a player under Dick MacPherson during the early 1980’s.

“I've always played to win," Marrone said. "I think this team will always play to win. Coach Mac ... I don't want to speak for Coach Mac, but we always played to win. I think that's what you do here at Syracuse - you play to win."

It wasn’t too long ago that a 34 year old first time coach came into Piscataway with the same kind of rhetoric talking about winning the Big East and going to bowl games. We all thought that guy was crazy when he got up at his introductory press conference and started talking about his vision of the State of Rutgers. We all know it can happen and why can’t it happen again. After all, a good, competitive Syracuse would be a good thing for the Big East.