Revenge? Not exactly. Nothing will avenge the humiliation suffered at the hands of somebody not supposed to beat you because they're supposed to be the worst there is. Repaying that favor implies a stature not worthy of aspiration. Rather, I prefer "vindication". As I stated in my "Keys to the Buffalo Game," Rutgers was not nearly as bad as they appeared in a 34-11 loss to Buffalo last year. A convincing 24-10 victory over Buffalo in which the Bulls never seriously threatened Rutgers after the 1st Quarter supports that contention. The win also showed that this Rutgers team is a very different team than the one that was not ready to play, much less beat, Buffalo one year ago. These Scarlet Knights can run the football. And execute a high percentage short passing game. And make defensive stops when necessary. The youth that Head Coach Greg Schiano has trumpeted for several years, perhaps none more so than his newest crop of contributors – Fr TB Justice Hairston, RS Fr FB Brian Leonard, RS Fr P Joe Radigan, So WLB William Beckford, RS Fr TE Clark Harris, New Haven transfer RS So RG John Glass, RS Fr FS Bryan Durango, So SLB Berkeley Hutchinson, Jr DT David Harley, and JUCO transfer RS Jr RT Ron Green – announced that these aren't the Scarlet Knaughts of yesterday. The veterans, holdovers from an era of Rutgers football best forgotten, were not merely spectators either as RS Sr DE Raheem Orr, Sr CB Nate Jones, RS Sr C Marty P'zmuka, Sr LT Mike Williamson, RS Sr LG Brian Duffy, Sr MLB Brian Hohmann, Sr LG Rich McManis, and RS Jr DT Gary Gibson each made valuable contributions. And Schiano's pioneers also shined – So QB Ryan Hart, RS So WR Tres Moses, Jr TB Clarence Pittman, Jr CB Eddie Grimes, So MLB Will Gilkison, Jr WS Jarvis Johnson, RS So RT Sameeh McDonald, So WR Shawn Tucker, Jr WR Jerry Andre, So FS Jason Nugent, and Jr DE Alfred Peterson. It was a team effort encompassing all elements of the team – past, present, future, offense, defense, special teams, and coaches.
The new era of Rutgers football opened early. On the opening possession, Rutgers drove to midfield, from where Radigan launched his shortest punt of the game – a 42-yard kick that was downed at the UB8. Rutgers quickly forced a punt. After an illegal procedure penalty against Buffalo nullified a 42-yard net punt and forced another punt, Moses broke the return for a 66-yard TD. Buffalo penetrated the RU10 on the ensuing drive but a costly offensive pass interference penalty pushed the Bulls backwards, from where they missed a 38-yard FGA. The Scarlet Knights promptly drove 80 yards in 9 plays, scoring on a 15-yard pass from Hart to Moses on a crossing route near the end of the 1st Quarter. The 2nd Quarter opened with three brief possessions that culminated with a Buffalo punt pinning Rutgers at the RU9. Thirteen plays and 91 yards later, Hairston scored on a 6-yard TD run behind the left side of the OLine. After a series of punts, So PK Michael Cortese kicked short on a 54-yard FGA as the 1st Half ended with Rutgers holding a commanding 21-0 lead.
The 2nd Half momentarily brought visions of the 2002 Temple game as the Rutgers defense couldn't stop the Buffalo rushing attack and the Scarlet Knight offense couldn't muster any points and much yardage. Buffalo opened the 2nd Half with a 75-yard drive before settling for a 30-yard FG. Rutgers answered with a 54-yard drive but RS Jr PK Ryan Sands gacked a 35-yard FGA. Three plays later, backup Bulls TB RS So Dave Dawson burst through the middle of the Scarlet Knight defense for 76-yard TD run and suddenly Buffalo was back in the game midway through the 3rd Quarter. Buffalo forced Rutgers 3-n-out and returned the punt to midfield. But the Rutgers defense kept the Bulls out of scoring position and forced a punt, which Buffalo downed at the RU5. Pinned deep, Rutgers gained two critical first downs and then punted at the start of the 4th Quarter. Holding a 24-10 lead, the defense again answered the challenge as Harley forced and recovered a Dawson fumble at the UB33. However, the Scarlet Knights couldn't capitalize and Sands was short on a 45-yard FGA. The Rutgers defense again stoned the Bulls and the Rutgers offense finally reemerged with a 13-play, 62-yard, 6:30 minute drive that culminated in a 20-yard FGA, padding the Rutgers lead to 24-10. Forced to pass with only 2:35 remaining and unable to do so effectively, Buffalo punted and Rutgers ran out the clock.
Now, the perspective. Buffalo was 1-11 last season. They lost 10 straight games after beating Rutgers. The Bulls were winless in the MAC, many of whose teams inhabit the lower reaches of Division IA. The Buffalo offense and defense both ranked sub-100 in total yardage and scoring. The Bulls are only in their fifth season of the Division IA football. Buffalo is young and lacks depth. A Big East team should whip a second division MAC team. Rutgers didn't whip Buffalo. Rutgers' win is cause for relief. Not celebration.
Entering the game, I stated that Rutgers needed to pummel Buffalo. That didn't happen. Up 21-0 at halftime, Rutgers let Buffalo back into the game instead of blowing them out. That's the bad news. The good news is that, when faced with adversity, both offense and defense responded. After Buffalo narrowed the lead to 21-10, the Rutgers defense stopped Buffalo on its next three possessions while the Rutgers offense struggled. With the Rutgers defense needing an assist, the Scarlet Knight offense slammed the door with a 13-play, 62-yard drive. Rutgers recorded the following noteworthy items:
- First punt return for a TD since 1992 against Colgate;
- The 80-yard TD drive matched the season high for 2002 (against Army, Tennessee, and Miami);
- The 91-yard TD drive was the longest since a 91-yard TD drive against West Virginia in November 2001;
- The 24 points scored were the most since 44 against Army in September 2002;
- The 406 total yards gained were the most since 533 against Navy in October 2001;
- The 181 rushing yards gained were the most since 206 against Navy in October 2001;
- The 225 passing yards gained were the most since 230 against Army in September 2002;
- The 23 first downs gained were the most since 23 against West Virginia (2OT) in November 2000;
- The 292 total yards allowed were the least since 241 against Army in September 2002; and
- The 60 passing yards allowed were the least since 28 against Navy in November 1998.
While not cause for celebration, these accomplishments are evidence of improvement. Schiano has exorcized the Ghost of 1-11 to the past. Now, more evidence is needed to support the vision of a promising future. Here's an analysis of how Rutgers performed relative to my perceived keys to the Buffalo game. Original text is presented in bold italics.
1. Offensive Toughness. The Rutgers offense under former Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit was more suited to the ballet house than the gridiron. Replete with tutus for the OLine. Cubit ran a finesse offense that could not take what it needed when it was needed. First down runs were often stuffed for loss or no gain. Short yardage plays were an exercise in futility. The stance of the OL usually dictated whether the play was a run or a pass. The Rutgers offense was an anathema to a state conditioned to a culture of smash-mouth football at the professional level. New Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg has revamped the offense to emphasize power running. Ver Steeg has simplified the blocking schemes and new OLine Coach Mario Cristobal has brought a tougher attitude to the unit. And RB Coach Darren Rizzi has taught his young TBs to run hard north-south rather than to dance around in the backfield. Last year against Buffalo, two-thirds of the designed runs gained 2 yards or less. 25% of the designed running plays resulted in a TFL (or no gain). Tougher play by the OLine and TBs will result in more plays gaining at least 3 yards, which will keep the Scarlet Knights out of long yardage situations.
Rutgers first possession ended with a 2-yard gain, TFL, and INC. Ghosts of Rutgers past were stirring. Thereafter, the offense found its groove and dominated the line of scrimmage. Only 15% of the designed running plays resulted in a TFL. Only 30% gained 2 yards or less. Over two-thirds of the designed running plays gained at least 3 yards. Half gained at least 5 yards. Good runs (> 5 yards) outnumbered poor runs (< 2 yards) 20-to12. With firm control of the line of scrimmage, Ver Steeg was able to mix runs and passes to keep the Buffalo defense off-balance. The tougher attitude was best exemplified when, clinging to a 21-10 lead midway through the 4th Quarter, Rutgers ran 12 times in a 13-play and 62-yard drive. Hairston carried 9 times – including the first 7 – for 41 yards as the drive consumed 6:30. The Scarlet Knights haven't run out the clock to preserve a lead since a 23-17 win over Navy in 2000.
2. The Line of Scrimmage. Buffalo has dominated the LOS in two previous meetings. The Bulls offense has been able to run on Rutgers while the Rutgers DLine has been unable to pressure the Buffalo QBs. In 2001, Buffalo RBs gained 83 yards on 20 carries while Schiano was forced to blitz to pressure Buffalo QB Joe Freedy. While the Rutgers' OLine allowed TB Dennis Thomas to gain 177 yards on 30 carries, pass protection was awful, especially on the outside. Last year, Buffalo RS Fr TB Aaron Leeper gained 153 yards on 34 carries. And Schiano was again forced to blitz rookie QB RS So Randy Secky to apply pressure. Meanwhile, the Bulls defense limited Rutgers TBs to only 75 yards rushing on 25 carries and harassed rookie Trump. Buffalo's dominance of the LOS was one of the big keys in their victory last season.
Buffalo has two sophomores and a JUCO transfer starting on its DLine and two more sophomores as backups. The Bull DLine is young and has not yet played together. With two new starters on the OLine, Rutgers also has cohesion concerns with two new starters – New Haven transfer RS So RG John Glass and JUCO transfer RS Jr RT Ron Green – who did not play last season. The Rutgers OLine must dominate the younger, less experienced Bulls DLine. Rutgers must establish its running game as it did in 2001 and must give So QB Ryan Hart the time to operate Ver Steeg's timing passing game. Rutgers must rush for at least 150 yards.
The Rutgers OLine manhandled the Buffalo DLine as Rutgers amassed 181 yards rushing mostly between the tackles. By the 4th Quarter, the Buffalo defense had worn down and crumbled before the Rutgers rushing onslaught. Ver Steeg hit the same button – Hairston inside – seven plays in a row. Justice prevailed. Pass protection was outstanding as Hart was rarely hurried, much less hit. While some Rutgers fans complained that the final FG drive failed because it didn't yield a TD, the possession was marvelously successful from the perspective of the OLine because they were heroes instead of scapegoats. This is the smash-mouth mentality the Scarlet Knight OLine must display. No more measuring their performance in inches per rushing attempt. Larger units of scale are required. As Noah once said, "What's a cubit?"
Buffalo's OLine is young but experienced – every starter returned from last year. Buffalo lost four of its most productive receivers, including Second Team All-MAC TE Chad Bartoszek, and undoubtedly will try to establish the running game as their top offensive priority. RS So TB Aaron Leeper and RS So TB Dave Dawson can carry a heavy workload if the Bulls OLine can open the holes through which they can run. The Rutgers DLine is the deepest unit on the team, featuring a legitimate two-deep for the first time in years. However, the LB corps is very green without a single start on the resume of starters – So MLB Will Gilkison, So SLB Berkeley Hutchinson, and So WLB William Beckford. These LBs are athletic but inexperienced. The Rutgers DLine must control the line of scrimmage and reduce the responsibilities of the young LB corps. The DLine must apply an effective pass rush that will allow Schiano to blitz selectively rather than predictably.
Buffalo Head Coach Jim Hofher completely revamped its offense. Hofher scrapped the multiple receiver offense and switched to an option-based attack. Buffalo frequently employed a slot or double slot option look, very similar to that used by Navy. Buffalo has fully embraced its rushing strengths while deemphasizing its passing weaknesses. The option startled the unsuspecting Scarlet Knights as misdirection runs inside and options to the outside challenged a young Rutgers defense. However, the Rutgers coaching staff adapted ad-hoc and made on-the-field adjustments almost immediately.
The Rutgers DLine generally controlled the interior line of scrimmage, forcing Buffalo outside on its option attack. Buffalo popped a 75-yard TD run up the middle against a defense that crowed the line of scrimmage. Otherwise, the Scarlet Knights limited Buffalo to 2 yards or less on over half of their inside rushing attempts. While Rutgers struggled more on the outside against the option, the Scarlet Knights nonetheless held the Bulls to 2 yards or less on nearly half of their outside rushing attempts. Rutgers was able to string together enough of these good defensive plays to force Buffalo into passing situations. The DLine combined for 21 of 72 tackles, 5 of 8 TFLs, 1.5 of 2 QB sacks, and 5 of 8 QB hurries. Their pass rush enabled Schiano to blitz selectively and forced Buffalo RS Jr QB Randy Secky to continually read the defense and find his open receivers.
3. Outside Containment. Much of Leeper's yardage last year was gained on counter plays. The Buffalo OLine would block towards the fake direction and Leeper would take a counter step in the same direction. Then, Leeper would reverse direction as two pulling OL from the fake side ran interference. In Schiano's defense, the DEs generally pinch hard from the outside. That leaves responsibility for outside containment to the backside OLBs. Last year, the backside OLBs – especially RS Sr SLB Brian Bender – often ignored their containment responsibilities and instead pursued inside, where they were caught in traffic. With the OLB voluntarily removing himself from the play, Leeper had two OL blocking overmatched DBs. Leeper's 26-yard TD run resembled a well executed punt return as the Rutgers defense vacated the play side of the field in pursuing the counter fake and allowed Leeper to run behind a wall of blockers. The counter play worked repeatedly as the Scarlet Knights never adjusted. Buffalo certainly will test the Rutgers defense with a play that was so successful last year. The young LB corps must be disciplined and honor their assignments. The backside OLB must honor his containment responsibilities and turn any counter plays inside where the MLB and safeties can make the tackle.
Although Buffalo featured an entirely new offense, outside containment again was a key focal point of the defensive battle. Whereas Buffalo ran counter plays last year, the Bulls ran employed an option attack this year. While Buffalo generally struggled to run inside, the Bulls gouged Rutgers on the perimeter with the option. Honoring defensive assignments was an ongoing issue as QB Randy Secky gained 52 yards on 15 carries. The DEs, except for Orr, did not automatically belt Secky on the option. That indecisiveness enabled Secky to be a threat and created confusion on the perimeter. Rutgers yielded at least 5 yards on 12 of 23 outside runs. Five outside runs gained at least 10 yards. Buffalo's slot and double slot option – ala Navy – were a complete surprise to the Rutgers coaching staff and players. Considering that the young defense was not prepared in detail to face the option, the results weren't surprising. Nor unacceptable. While 232 rushing yards allowed may seem high, against a one-dimensional offense such results are commendable. In the prime of their recent years as option teams, Army and Navy routinely rushed for 300+ yards per game.
4. Man-to-Man Coverage. The biggest difference between 2001 and 2002 was that RS Jr QB Randy Secky made plays in 2002 while QB Joe Freedy could not in 2001. In 2001, Freedy completed only 21 of 40 passes (including only 8 of 22 with 2 INTs in the first half). Schiano blitzed Freedy relentlessly and Freedy misfired on passes to open receivers. Last year, Secky connected with his receivers for nice gains. The WRs were his preferred target and Secky often beat the Rutgers blitzes with fade routes to WRs covered man-to-man by the Rutgers CBs. The growing frustration then resulted in a string of pass interference penalties as the Scarlet Knight CBs futilely attempted to cover the Bull WRs. RS Sr CB Brandon Haw had an especially poor game as the Buffalo passing strategy seemed to be "throw at #24". With inexperience at LB and at FS, Schiano likely will rely upon his CBs to cover the Bull WRs man-to-man. That will allow the safeties to better support the young LBs. The Rutgers CBs must blanket the Buffalo WRs. They can't get beat deep and they must make the tackles on the short routes. If the CBs need help from the safeties, the LBs will then be exposed in the middle and such exposure is something that must be avoided.
Secky opened the game 3 of 4 for 31 yards on the first two Bulls possessions as Rutgers attempted to adapt to the new Buffalo offensive schemes. All were thrown to WRs. The longest gain was 21 yards to JUCO Jr Derrick Dyer on an out-n-up route. However, Secky completed only 4 of 17 passes during the remaining 53 minutes. Two of those completions were to RBs for minimal yardage. The Rutgers CBs were frequently placed in man-to-man coverage. Other than the out-n-up, they weren't burned again. Nate Jones successfully defended a deep pass to RS So WR Dance late in the 2nd Quarter. The CBs otherwise were tested deep only one other time. Nonetheless, reports indicated that Buffalo WRs were open and that the Bull's miniscule passing results reflected poor execution more than blanket coverage.
5. Discipline. The lack of discipline was the most significant indicator that Rutgers was not ready to play Buffalo last year. Defensive assignments were blown as detailed above. KOR Brandon Haw caught a kickoff on the sideline and stepped out of bounds on the 2-yard line. Long snapper Ryan Neil orbited a punt snap, resulting in a safety. The Scarlet Knights committed 12 penalties for 118 yards. That's nearly 10 yards each, which implies that these were the more harmful varieties. Buffalo gained 6 first downs on penalties. Three personal fouls (including two by Brian Hohmann on consecutive goal line plays), three pass interference penalties, and two offensive holding penalties cost the most yardage. An illegal defensive substitution penalty on 4th down gave Buffalo a first down. Two Bull TD drives were perpetuated by Rutgers penalties that gave Buffalo first downs. No unit on the team was immune from the malaise that afflicted Rutgers that day. Rutgers must play more disciplined football in all aspects of the game. A team can't start winning games until it stops beating itself. Penalty yardage must not exceed 60 yards.
Rutgers committed only 6 penalties for 60 yards. But three of those penalties gave Buffalo automatic first downs. A pass interference penalty against Nate Jones in the 1st Quarter gave the Bulls a first down at the RU14 but the Bulls couldn't capitalize. A personal foul moved Buffalo to the edge of scoring position late in the 2nd Quarter but Buffalo again didn't convert the opportunity. A defensive 12-men penalty on 3rd-n-10 of Buffalo's opening 2nd Half possession moved Buffalo into the red zone but the Bulls settled for a FG.
The defense was generally disciplined in defending the Bulls misdirection runs and option plays. A young defense performed well. The Rutgers offense was nearly flawless with only an illegal substitution penalty. Special teams committed illegal procedure on the XPA after Moses' punt return TD. The long snapping concerns manifested themselves in some short-hopped punt snaps that Radigan fortunately was able to field.
1. So QB Ryan Hart. Schiano burned Hart's redshirt at Syracuse in Game 8 last season after starting QB Ryan Cubit – who since has transferred to Western Michigan – suffered an elbow injury and backup QB Ted Trump continued to struggle. Hart started the remaining four games and led Rutgers in a tough loss to Miami and a heartbreaking loss to Temple. Hart is the unquestioned starting QB. Only poor play can restart the QB shuffle that was so ineffective last year. Hart makes good decisions and throws accurately. Ver Steeg's timing passing game is well suited to Hart's strengths. Hofher likely will try to rattle Hart with blitzes. Hart must simply execute the offense. Read the defense. Find the open receiver. Complete the pass. It sounds easy enough but Rutgers QB have struggled to complete 50% of their passes in recent years. Hart must complete 60% of his passes to operate the West Coast offense effectively. Hart must throw for at 225 yards against a Buffalo defense whose CBs are very inexperienced.
This is the old school West Coast offense. Before Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. Back when Bill Walsh won a Super Bowl with a bunch of no-names. In its purest form, the West Coast offense is a ball control offense based upon a short passing game. RBs and TEs are essential components in the short passing game. As is a high degree of accuracy because two incompletions in a series can stall a drive.
Hart executed Ver Steeg's offense like an old pro, completing 21 of 31 passes (67%) for 225 yards, 1 TD, and no INTs. He threw to ten different receivers and completed passes to eight of them. Hart targeted the WRs 13 times, the RBs 9 times, and the TEs 6 times. He made few mistakes – throwing deep to Moses into double coverage, throwing poorly to Marcus Daniels on a slant, and throwing to the wrong shoulder on Sam Johnson's 3rd down incompletion near the goal line on the clinching 4th Quarter drive. But otherwise, Hart executed the offense very efficiently. He found his receivers, delivered the football, and avoided TOs. Three tasks that were not accomplished frequently over the past two years.
2. So MLB Will Gilkison. Gilkison has very big shoes to fill since he replaces departed two-year starter and leading tackler MLB Gary Brackett. Brackett was undersized and slow yet had a knack for the ball. His intelligence, toughness, and leadership will be missed. Gilkison beat Sr MLB Brian Hohmann for the starting job in spring camp. Will played in eleven games last season but saw action mostly on special teams. Although he was the backup SLB, Gilkison did not see substantial action at SLB until the last two games against Notre Dame and Boston College. With this limited experience, Gilkison nonetheless is the most experienced of the starting LBs. So SLB Berkeley Hutchinson and So WLB William Beckford were academically ineligible as freshmen although Beckford was able to practice with the team. Buffalo undoubtedly will test the young Rutgers LBs. Gilkison will bear the heaviest burden at MLB. Gilkison should led the team in tackles against Buffalo if his injured shoulder doesn't limit his playing time. Gilkison must lead the rush defense without getting victimized in pass coverage. His play will be a good barometer for the young LB corps.
Gilkison split time at MLB with Brian Hohmann but logged the lion's share of playing time because Schiano wanted to concentrate on the first team defense with the defensive adjustments in response to the unanticipated Buffalo option attack. Gilkison finished with 5 tackles that limited the Bulls to only 9 yards. All but one of his stops were on the inside. Gilkison was less effective in stopping the option on the outside. Hohmann contributed 2 more tackles at MLB (and two more on special teams). While not a dominating effort from the MLBs, Gilkison and Hohmann helped Rutgers control the inside and also avoided yielding big passes over the middle or in the flats. Both played solidly if not spectacularly.
3. RS Fr FS Bryan Durango. I know. The roster lists Durango as the SS. But if it looks like a FS and aligns like a FS, then it is a FS. Jr WS Jarvis Johnson moved from FS to replace the departed Shawn Seabrooks as the run support safety, who lines up on the weak side of the field in Schiano's aggressive 4-4 stack defensive alignment. Such an alignment leaves one safety to provide deep coverage (i.e., Cover 1). And that is the job description of a FS. And that will be Durango's job.
Durango will be the last line of defense in a pass defense that is inexperienced in the middle. With three rookie LBs in front of him, Durango will have to cover for their rookie mistakes. As a rookie himself. That's a huge assignment for a player with no experience. The FS has been a prominent tackler in Schiano's defense. Durango does not need to make a big contribution in that regard, especially in aggressive run support. Durango must ensure that he isn't beaten deep, especially by any trick plays as with which Villanova victimized Johnson last year. As the last line of defense, Durango must clean up the mistakes of the front seven. Durango must prevent big plays at his expense.
Rutgers didn't give up any long pass plays. That's the most important outcome for Durango. Rutgers did yield a 76-yard TD run to Aaron Leeper, who cleanly broke through the line of scrimmage and ran untouched to the end zone. The Rutgers safeties were nowhere to be seen. I'm not sure whether this big play was the fault of the alignment or the players. However, it was the only big gain for Buffalo. Durango showed some excellent instinct in stopping an option for a 1-yard gain on the first Bulls possession. Durango finished with 2 tackles and a QB hurry as a safety (and another 2 tackles on special teams). Durango did his job by not getting beat for big plays.
4. RS Fr TE Clark Harris. Harris emerged as a potential star during the spring game with 3 receptions for 62 yards and catches for 52 and 60+ yards in the summer camp scrimmages. After spring camp, I predicted that Harris would start at TE. An ankle injury to Jr TE Chris Loomis postponed that battle for the starting TE job. Sr TE Ray Pilch is listed as the starter. But Harris is definitely the top receiving threat at TE. Ver Steeg, unlike his predecessor, uses his TEs to attack the middle of the field and occupy the safeties and LBs. In his preview of the Buffalo defense, Mike Fasano stated his expectation that Buffalo would blitz Hart. Such tactics will open holes in the middle of the field for Harris to exploit. And Clark has shown the ability to run after the catch, another element missing from the Rutgers passing game in recent years. Harris must catch at least 3 passes and gain at least 50 yards. He is the best weapon with which to paralyze the Buffalo defense.
Clark announced his arrival with two receptions – for 22 and 11 yards – on Rutgers' second possession. Harris added a catch for 10 yards late in the 3rd Quarter. Harris finished with 3 receptions for 43 yards and 3 first downs. Starting TE Ray Pilch added a 13-yard reception on the second possession. Backup TE Fr Sam Johnson was open on a goal line drag route in the 4th Quarter but Hart threw the ball to the wrong shoulder and the LB disrupted the catch. I didn't get a sense that Buffalo was blitzing much on defense. The heavy use of the TE early in the game may have pre-empted that strategy.
5. RS Fr FB Brian Leonard. Leonard emerged from spring camp as the starting FB. A TB in high school, Leonard used his redshirt year to gain weight and strength without sacrificing speed. Leonard gives Rutgers its first legitimate dual threat at FB since Dennis Thomas blocked for Jacki Crooks in 1999. Leonard will primarily block at the FB in the two back set. However, he is a receiving threat out of the backfield because he can outrun LBs and run over DBs. Schiano also can use Leonard as a RB in a one-back set or as the TB in short yardage formations. If Buffalo blitzes heavily as Mike Fasano expects, then Leonard will complement Harris in stretching the Bull LBs. While Harris stretches the Bull LBs vertically, Leonard will pressure them horizontally to defend the flats. Leonard must be the safety valve on Buffalo blitzes. He must make Buffalo pay for blitzing and force their LBs to honor their pass coverage responsibilities. Leonard must catch at least 3 passes and gain at least 30 yards.
Leonard was busy as a multi-purpose threat. Blocking as the FB. Receiving out of the backfield. And running out of a single RB formation. Ver Steeg quickly showed a willingness to get Leonard the ball with 5 carries on the first two possessions. CVS then followed with four passes to Leonard on the fourth possession. Leonard finished with 6 carries for 11 yards and 3 first downs (all in short yardage situations) and 5 receptions for 37 yards and 4 first downs. Leonard converted 3 first downs on the 91-yard TD drive that staked Rutgers to a 21-0 lead, including an 11-yard gain on 4th-n-3. Leonard also converted a first down on the clinching 62-yard 4th Quarter drive. I'm expecting a few new wrinkles with Leonard next week. What a tremendous debut.
Offensive Player of the Game – QB Ryan Hart: A difficult choice to make. But also a pleasant dilemma to have so many qualified candidates from which to choose. I'm going to award the game ball to Hart. He came out on fire, completing 6 of 7 passes for 72 yards, 4 first downs, and a TD in the 1st Quarter. Hart followed with 8 of 13 for 96 yards (including 3 yards on a scramble) and 5 first downs in the 2nd Quarter. Hart's accurate passing enabled Rutgers to twice drive the length of the field for TDs. Honorable mention to TBs Clarence Pittman and Justice Hairston, the OLine, and FB Brian Leonard.
Defensive Player of the Game – DE Raheem Orr: Orr quite possibly played his best game at Rutgers. He was the dominant defensive player. Orr had 8 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hurries, and a pass deflection. Furthermore, Orr's timing was exceptional, especially as Rutgers faltered in the second half:
- Deflected a 3rd-down Randy Secky pass in the 1st Quarter.
- Sacked Secky on 3rd down at the RU38 in the 2nd Quarter.
- Dropped Dawson for a 1-yard loss at the RU29 early in the 3rd Quarter.
- On the same drive, stuffed Chris McDuffie for no gain at the RU14.
- Tackled Dawson for another 1-yard loss and sacked Secky for a 3-yard 3rd down loss inside the RU40 late in the 3rd Quarter.
- Hurried Secky on a 3rd down incompletion early in the 4th Quarter.
It was a relief to see Orr finally asserting himself at crucial moments of the game and being a defensive leader. Honorable mention to Nate Jones who had 9 tackles and was everywhere in the 1st Half.
Special Teams Player of the Game – PR Tres Moses: Tres returned the opening KO 19 yards to the RU25. Moments later, Moses returned a punt for a TD for the first time in 13 years. His return shocked Buffalo and energized Rutgers. It was the perfect shot in the arm for a young team needing some confidence. Moses also returned a 4th Quarter punt 16 yards to the RU36. Rutgers clinched the game on the ensuing 62-yard drive. Moses only special teams gaffe occurred on a KO with Rutgers leading 21-10. Moses stumbled only 3 yards to the RU10 on a muffed KO, which gave the Scarlet Knights terrible field position at a crucial moment. Honorable mention to P Joe Radigan, who averaged 45 yards on 5 punts with several low snaps.
Best Run – TB Justice Hairston: Nine minutes remaining in the 4th Quarter. Rutgers leading 21-10. 1st-n-10 from the RU36. Hairston banged inside for 6 yards. Then again. And again. Seven straight carries gained 34 yards. Rutgers crossed midfield and entered FG range. While it wasn't one single play, the successive pounding broke the Bulls' back.
Best Pass – QB Ryan Hart to WR Jerry Andre: Seven minutes remaining in the 2nd Quarter. Rutgers leading 14-0. 3rd-n-2 at the RU17. Hart threw over the top of the Bulls defense, which was crowding the LOS to stuff the run and force a punt deep in Rutgers territory, and connected with Andre on a fade route for 28 yards and a first down. This completion removed Rutgers from the shadows of its own goal posts and sparked a 91-yard TD drive.
Best Catch – FB Brian Leonard: Five minutes remaining in the 2nd Quarter. Rutgers leading 14-0. 4th-n-3 from the UB 38. Leonard makes a one-handed catch on a flare route and gains 11 yards and a first down. Rutgers scores a TD four plays later.
Best Hit – WLB William Beckford: Five minutes remaining in the 3rd Quarter. Rutgers leading 21-10. 1st-n-10 from the UB49. Dawson took an option pitch left and Beckford pinwheeled the Bulls TB into the air for a loss of 1yard. Honorable mention to SLB Berkeley Hutchinson, who drilled Dawson for a 3-yard loss with four minutes remaining in the 2nd Quarter. And to DT David Harley, whose hard hit of Dawson forced a fumble at the UB33 early in the 4th Quarter. It was the game's only TO.
Coming Next: Non-Conference Preview, Part 2. I'll continue my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at Week 2 opponent – regrouping Michigan State. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.
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