Perhaps it was the realization of what a lack of preparation means game day, which was on display in the Tulane loss. Or the fact today's contest against Connecticut at Rutgers Stadium (7:30 p.m.) is the Big East opener.
"That's definitely motivation," Rutgers defensive tackle Scott Vallone said. "Obviously, every game counts, but these are the ones that if we want to go where we want to go, these are the ones we have to win. We're very focused. We're ready to go."
Players spoke throughout the week about practice having a different vibe and intensity coming off the stunning homecoming loss to Tulane, and they understood the game day effort was tied to practicing leading up to it.
"I think we realize what's on the line," Vallone said. "I think we realize that we didn't come out (correctly against Tulane). It was obvious to see we should have come out better last week and performed in all areas of the game. We made sure we're not making those mistakes this week."
Rutgers senior linebacker Antonio Lowery was apologetic about breaking out a cliche about getting back to basics when discussing how this week's game preparation was different.
"But if you don't go back to the details, what are you going to go back to?" Lowery said. "You can notice the difference in practice. It's when you tackle the ball carrier, it's taking him back 10 yards. Knowing how we came out at the beginning of the season, like that FIU game going after the ball, that's how it has to be."
Connecticut continues to turn out productive backs, and the latest is Jordan Todman, a 5-foot-9, 193-pound junior who has outgained the Rutgers rushing attack despite missing a game. Todman has 638 yards and seven touchdowns, and has run for 100 yards in each game.
"The running back is one of a kind," Lowery said. "He was a 1,000-yard rusher last year splitting time, and now he's there by himself. It's like he hides behind that big offensive line and he's shifty."
"He's a real talented player," Vallone said. "We know he's a very fast guy, has good vision, hits the hole well and he's got a great offensive line in front of him, so we're up for the challenge.
"They're a very big offensive line, so we have to make sure we keep our pads down, make sure we're playing low, playing physical and trying to knock the line of scrimmage back."
Now, David Rowe is beginning to understand what Devin McCourty went through last season. Rowe, a junior cornerback, was the target of many quarterbacks last season while McCourty, then a senior, was thrown at infrequently.
This season opposing quarterbacks are keeping the ball away from Rowe. Last week Tulane threw 33 times. Two went toward Rowe, with one ball caught for a 5-yard gain and another batted down at the line of scrimmage on a quick slant route.
"If the ball is not thrown your way, you still have to make a play and swarm to the ball," Rowe said. "I don't mind. They've got to throw the ball somewhere, and we'll be ready for whoever they throw the ball to."
Schiano remarked how freshman Jordan Thomas was running tougher against Tulane, and the running back said it was a change in mentality that brought it out.
"I think it was just attitude," Thomas said. "I just watched the leaders. They needed something I thought I had something."