ARMY POST MORTEM
The Army game was a dirtier mirror image of the 2002 Army-Rutgers game that the Scarlet Knights won handily, 44-0. In 2002, the Rutgers defense and special teams dominated the Black Knights while the slow-starting offense joined the party late. In my Keys to the Army Game, I noted that Rutgers must demolish the likes of Army on its schedule. In this regard, Army would provide a bad measuring stick for the Scarlet Knights if the game was not a blowout. Saturday, Rutgers struggled to a 29-7 4th Quarter lead and then held its collective breath as Army blitzed the Scarlet Knights for two TDs 30 seconds apart in the final minute. Rutgers escaped with a 36-21 win over an Army team that was every bit as bad as advertised.
As it did a year ago, the Scarlet Knight defense set the tone early. RS Fr P Joe Radigan pinned Army on the MA06 after the opening possession. On 3rd down, So MLB Will Gilkison and RS Sr SLB Brian Bender sandwiched Army So QB Zac Dahman. Gilkison forced a fumble that Bender recovered in the end zone to stake Rutgers to an early 7-0 lead. The score would not change for 25 minutes as the Rutgers defense stymied the Army offense and the Rutgers special teams won the field position battle, only to see their offense repeatedly squander scoring opportunities. A shanked punt after a Black Knight 3-n-out put Rutgers at the MA48. A wheel route to So TB Markis Facyson – ala Jaren Hayes of Michigan State – gained 39 yards to the MA04 but So QB Ryan Hart threw an INT. The teams exchanged three successive 3-n-outs before RS So PR Tres Moses returned an Army punt 14 yards to the MA41.
Rutgers gained a 1st-n-goal at the MA01 at the start of the 2nd Quarter but two failed TFLs (no gain) and an incompletion led to a fake FGA, which was ruined when backup RS Sr QB Ted Trump tripped over RS So RG John Glass after moving under center. An 11-yard punt return by Jr CB Eddie Grimes after yet another Army 3-n-out gave the Rutgers offense field position at the MA34 but RS Jr PK Ryan Sands missed a 39-yard FGA. The Black Knight offense finally awakened and drove to the RU09 before a 4-man dime blitz buried Dahman and forced Army to attempt a 44-yard FGA, which it missed. With 3 minutes remaining in the half, Hart drove Rutgers 74 yards in 10 plays, hitting Jr WR Jerry Andre for a 39-yard TD on a stop-n-go route. RS Fr PK Justin Musiek missed the XPA, leaving Rutgers with a13-0 halftime lead that should have been at least 30-0.
Army also self-destructed to open the 2nd Half, as RS So DE Piana Lukabu stripped Army So RB Carlton Jones at the MA19 and Grimes recovered the fumble. Three plays later, Hart found Moses for a 16-yard TD on a slant route that saw Moses break three tackles en route to the end zone. After a 59-yard KOR, Army again penetrated the red zone but Gilkison broke up Dahman's 4th down pass from the RU04. In his only carry, Facyson fumbled at the RU19and Army scored a TD two plays later on a 5-yard carry by Fr RB Tielo Robinson to trim the Rutgers lead to 20-7. Rutgers responded with a 10-play, 77-yard drive to end the 3rd Quarter, concluding with a Hart–to–Moses fade route. Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano inexplicably attempted a 2XPA, which failed when Army Jr DE Keenan Beasley intercepted Hart.
Army opened the 4th Quarter with only its third drove into scoring position and again failed to score after a 4th down incompletion from the RU27. After Rutgers went 3-n-out, Sr CB Nate Jones intercepted Dahman at the RU40. After an 8-play, 42-yard drive, So PK Mike Cortese kicked a 36-yard FG to extend the Rutgers lead to 29-7 midway through the 4th Quarter. The game appeared over but Army refused to quit. Backup QB Jr Matt Silva replaced the ineffective Dahman and drove Army's backups 81 yards in 12 plays – aided by two drive-sustaining Rutgers penalties and soft pass coverage – for a TD. Army failed on a 2XPA but recovered the ensuing on-sides KO at the MA50 with 1 minute remaining. Four plays and 50 yards larter, Silva scored on a QB sneak. After Silva found Jr WR Aaron Alexander on a slant route for a 2XPA, Army had drawn within 8 points at 29-21. But Moses recovered the on-sides KO and RS Fr TB Brian Leonard burst through the middle for a 61-yard TD run to ice the game.
The scoreboard doesn't lie. Rutgers couldn't demolish Army and the Black Knights unfortunately did provide a measuring stick with which to gauge the as yet unsatisfactory progress of the Scarlet Knight football program. This victory has cast doubts on Rutgers' prospects for the remainder of the year. Here's an analysis of how Rutgers performed relative to my perceived keys to the Army game. I did not see the opening 24 minutes because the Ohio State – North Carolina State game on the ESPN Game Plan package went into 3OT. Therefore, my observations are primarily based upon viewing and reviewing the final 36 minutes. Original text is presented in bold italics.
1. Run Blocking. Rutgers discovered a rushing attack against Buffalo. However, Michigan State knocked the Rutgers rushing game back to 2002 in holding the Scarlet Knight TBs to 50 yards on 28 carries. Michigan State stuffed the Rutgers rushing offense with its base 4-3 defense. The Spartans did not need an eighth man on the line of scrimmage. The Spartan DLine completely dominated Rutgers OLine on the line of scrimmage. Spartan DL repeatedly stalemated, beat, or blew up Scarlet Knight OL, TEs, and FBs. Michigan State frequently penetrated the backfield on running plays, forcing the Rutgers TBs out of the designed holes. As a result, other Spartan defenders – blocked away from the designed hole which was plugged – were able disengage their blockers and make the tackles elsewhere. Or the Spartan DLine fully occupied the Rutgers OLine, freeing the LBs to make tackles at the point of attack. Michigan State held Rutgers to 2 yards or less on 19 of 29 designed runs. Six of the 19 were TFLs (or no gain). Only 3 runs gained at least 5 yards. The longest run was 15 yards.
Michigan State showed that Rutgers still needs much improvement before it can run against a legitimate Division IA opponent. Until Rutgers can, its offense will continue to be one-dimensional. And Rutgers lacks the experience at the offensive skill positions to successfully operate a one-dimensional offense. Army does not constitute a legitimate Division IA opponent. The Army rush defense was ranked #109 (of 117) in Division IA last season, allowing an average of 210 rushing yards per game. Army yielded this yardage will employing a 4-4 defensive scheme that put eight men on the line of scrimmage. Rutgers' rushing offense should get well against the undersized Black Knight defense despite the eight-man front. I'm expecting Schiano to emphasize the running game even to the detriment of scoring. A 27- to 35-point offensive output behind a dominating running game would be preferable to another 44-point effort that resulted from an all-around effort – defensive scores off TOs, special teams production, rushing, and passing. Rutgers must rush for 200 yards. That's a high goal but the running game needs the work. Achieving this high mark won't mean the running woes are cured. But it will provide the live repetitions that the OLine needs to improve its blocking techniques.
Rutgers nearly achieved the 200-yard goal. The TBs combined for 189 yards on 37 carries. These rushing statistics exclude one sack for minus 3 yards and four QB stumbles/fumbles for another minus 7 yards. However, these rushing statistics also include 59 net yards gained on two carries in the final 30 seconds as Rutgers ran out the clock. Otherwise, Rutgers gained only 130 yards on 35 carries (3.7 yards per carry). The Scarlet Knights gained only 56 rushing yards on 16 carries (3.5 yards per carry) in the 1st Half. Army held Rutgers to 2 yards or less on 15 of 37 designed runs (41%, compared with only 30% versus Buffalo). Nine of the 15 were TFLs (24% overall, compared with only 15% overall versus Buffalo). Only 59% gained at least 3 yards (compared with 70% versus Buffalo). Only 19% gained at least 5 yards (Compared with 50% versus Buffalo). Poor runs (< 2 yards) outnumbered good runs (> 5 yards) 7-to15. This ratio was inverted (20 good versus 12 poor) against Buffalo.
Rutgers executed 37 designed running plays and 27 designed passing plays. This doesn't include four QB stumbles that short-circuited the designed play. Nor does it include the final play of the 1st Half – a kneel down. On the surface, it appears that Schiano made s a strong commitment to the running game. However, 20 of 36 1st Half plays were designed passes. While protecting what quickly became a three TD lead in the 2nd Half, Rutgers ran on 21 of 28 plays. Rutgers was not able to run on Army's 8-man front in the 1st Half, when the outcome was undecided. The Scarlet Knights were forced to throw at the overmatched Army CBs. Schiano was not able to enforce his running game on Army's defense.
Against a comparably poor opponent in a key facet of its offense, Rutgers failed miserably. Rutgers ran almost exclusively between the tackles except for one pitch – which was nullified by a holding penalty on RS Fr TE Clark Harris – and three runs off-tackle. Of the 23 designed runs that I reviewed:
- 12 were compromised by OL either getting beaten or missing blocks;
- 3 were compromised by the TE (Harris) missing or failing an assignment;
- 2 were compromised by the TBs missing the hole;
- One was compromised by the QB failing to change a doomed play;
- One was compromised by the TB fumbling the exchange.
That's nearly 80% impacted by errors in execution. The "Power G" is the primary running play, featuring a pulling backside OG and the FB leading the TB through a hole between the playside OT and TE. Of the 23 designed runs I reviewed, the Power G was called 13 times. This is the bread-n-butter of the Rutgers ground game but the OL are still struggling with their assignments. The playside OT occasionally either doesn't help the playside OG block down on the DT or he fully double teams the DT and doesn't double-tap the backside LB. The pulling guard occasionally engages an inside slanting DE, who has already removed himself from the play, rather than leading up through the hole. The TBs occasionally compound the problem by failing to follow their lead blocks up the hole. All these "occasionally's" add up to "frequently". Ten of the 13 Power G plays had a breakdown that limited yardage. Nonetheless, Rutgers still gained 125 yards on these 13 runs, including Leonard's romps of 61 and 23 yards. Excluding Leonard's late TD run, Rutgers still averaged over 5 yards per carry on the Power G. Despite the breakdowns. Unfortunately, the lead draw, isolation, and off-tackle runs are much less effective than is the Power G. But at least the Power G gives the running game a foundation upon which to build. And improve. The run blocking of the OLine must be a priority during the bye week.
2. Man-to-Man Coverage. Rutgers man-to-man coverage has been poor in the first two games. Buffalo lacked a QB capable of exploiting the Rutgers secondary. Michigan State did not. The Spartan WRs abused the veteran Rutgers CBs, who generally played loose man-to-man coverage that conceded the short and intermediate routes. Although the spread offense is predicated upon quick throws and precise timing, Rutgers' large cushions conceded a free release and short/intermediate throws to the Spartan WRs. Spartan QB Jeff Smoker completed 15 of 23 passes for 293 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs in the first half alone. Of those 23 first half attempts, Smoker threw 17 to his WRs, mostly short/intermediate routes – slants, outs, ins, flares, screens, curls, sidelines, hitches, and crossings. The Spartan WRs caught 10 of those 17 first half passes for 201 yards, 9 first downs, and a TD. The Rutgers CBs were not victimized on all these gains (i.e., the 62-yard TD pass) but yielded most of them. The large cushions allowed Michigan State to push many of the routes into the intermediate zones. Smoker gained at least 10 yards on each of his 10 first half completions to his WRs. Despite this focus on short passes, Schiano generally refused to tighten the coverage. The Rutgers CBs aligned in press coverage only 9 times the whole game.
Although Army also operates a spread offense, the Black Knights do not pose a fraction of the threat that Michigan State did. The Spartans featured a four-year starter at QB and a stable of fast, athletic WRs. The Black Knights will start a sophomore QB with only 11 games of experience, including only four starts. And Army doesn't have the athletes at WR that Michigan State did. Rutgers' secondary should perform better against the slower, less athletic Black Knight WRs. I'm expecting Schiano to tighten the cushions that the CBs give the WRs and I'm expecting Schiano to use more press coverage. Rutgers must limit the Army WRs to less than 100 receiving yards. That's a stingy amount against a spread offense. Realizing this goal won't mean the pass coverage problems are solved. But it will provide the live repetitions that the CBs needs to improve their coverage techniques. And improved pass coverage on the WRs in a spread will be a vital component in recipes for road wins at Morgantown and at the Linc because both West Virginia and Temple also feature spread offenses.
The Scarlet Knight CBs were on target for achieving this aggressive goal through three quarters but slackened in the 4th Quarter. Rutgers yielded only 5 completions for a net gain of 37 yards (including 15 yards lost on an offensive pass interference penalty) and 2 first downs in the 1st Half on 11 passes to WRs. Unfortunately, I missed most of the 1st Half waiting for Ohio State and North Carolina State to finish their 3OT marathon. The Rutgers-Army broadcast commenced just as Army got its offense untracked late in the 2nd Quarter. Of the last 7 1st Half passes to WRs that I reviewed, Dahman completed only 3 for a net gain of 13 yards (including the penalty). However, the intended receivers were open on 4 of the 7 attempts, including a post route in the end zone that was incomplete because Alexander tried to catch the pass in his chest and not with his hands at the highest point.
Rutgers kept up the pressure in the 3rd Quarter, allowing Army 4 completions for a net gain of only 26 yards (including 15 yards gained on a defensive pass interference penalty) and one first down on 7 passes to WRs. Three of the completions gained 2 yards or less. The Rutgers secondary got careless in the 4th Quarter, allowing Army 11 completions for 172 yards, 7 first downs, 2 TDs, and a 2XPA. Half of the damage was inflicted in the final 6 minutes by the Army backups against the Rutgers backups. But Army's second team shouldn't dominate Schiano's second team. The slack play of the Rutgers backups was unacceptable and ruined an otherwise solid effort.
The passing yardage allowed could have been worse as Army, similar to Buffalo, was constrained by a QB who couldn't read the defense, find the open receiver quickly, and deliver the ball accurately. The Scarlet Knight secondary did not lockup the Army WRs. Hardly. Rutgers applied heavy pressure to Dahman with a variety of blitzes from a variety of defensive schemes. Such blitzes left Rutgers vulnerable in the secondary but Dahman was incapable of capitalizing upon his opportunities. Especially in the red zone.
Rutgers has a big problem covering underneath in the dime package. Especially against 3WR and 4WR sets. Army would run the outside WR deep to drive off the outside CB while the slot WR ran a shallow cross. Either the TE or RB would run a drage route into the flat. The outside CB had to choose between running with the outside WR or staying in the flat. The deep safeties often blew their assignments as Army WRs beat Rutgers CBs deep five times – 3 post routes and 2 fade routes – when the deep safety was either absent or late. The slot DB had to choose between covering the crossing route or the drag route. The other route was often wide open. A single LB often was in a 10-15 yard drop as several LBs and DBs blitzed, completely out of position to cover either the drag or the crossing. Army had both open all the time. Dahman was just incapable of reading the defense and throwing decisively. The Rutgers secondary switches receivers way too much in coverage but to often the expected DB is not there to pick up the handed off WR. An experienced QB, like Michigan State's Smoker, will dissect the Rutgers secondary with ease. The communication must improve and the backs (DBs and LBs) must better recognize their coverage assignments.
3. Tackling. I counted at least 13 missed tackles against Michigan State. The Spartans gained 91 yards and 4 first downs on these plays. Three gained at least 14 yards. The LBs missed 6 tackles. The DEs missed three. Rutgers lacks the defensive playmaking capability to compensate for such breakdowns. The tackling must improve. Especially when the opponent spread the field and formationally limits Rutgers' ability to gang tackle. Rutgers must limit the missed tackles to less than a handful. As with the other keys, accomplishing this assignment won't indicate the problem is remedied but will simply be a sign of progress as young players refine their techniques.
ESPN Plus did not provide the courtesy of any Rutgers updates or highlights during the Ohio State-North Carolina State OT drama. And I wasn't listening on the Internet, either. I had no idea what was happening when the Rutgers-Army broadcast finally commenced with 6 minutes remaining in the first half. The scoreboard contained the first piece of bad news – Rutgers led only 7-0. Army's next play from scrimmage was more bad news as So RB Seth Gulsby broke an option down the sideline for 27 yards as both Gilkison and RS Jr DT Gary Gibson missed tackles. Not a pleasant first impression. Or second impression. The tackling did not improve.
I counted at least 10 missed missed tackles in only 2-and-a-half quarters (36 minutes). Against an unathletic Black Knight team that would lose to a lot of Division IAA teams. The Black Knights gained 140 yards and 5 first downs courtesy of these missed tackles. Three gained at least 27 yards. RS Sr DE Raheem Orr missed two tackles – and committed a flagrant facemask on one because he failed to maintain backside containment on a reverse. Grimes missed two tackles on Army's final possession. Special teams chipped in with two missed tackles on a 59-yard KOR. Most of these missed tackles occurred out in space. The open field tackling must be a point of emphasis during the bye week. It demands attention.
4. Place Kicking. Last week, the placekickers did not see action except for KOs. Cortese did not put any of his 5 KOs into the end zone. Against Buffalo the prior week, Cortese put only one of five KOs into the end zone. Ultimately, I would like to see Cortese put half of his KOs into the end zone where they can be returned only at risk to the opponent. Cortese has a month to improve his kicking before the season really starts in Morgantown against West Virginia. Army will provide an intermediate test with which to measure the progress of the KO team.
Cortese did not put any of his 7 KOs into the end zone. The last was a squib kick with 14 seconds remaining in the game. Of the remaining six, Cortese put five inside the MA05. Cortese's other short kick occurred with 39 seconds remaining in the 1st Half. Cortese also puts some hang time under his KOs, allowing the coverage team to converge closer to the KOR. The long Army KOR (59 yards) was a coverage breakdown, not a kicking breakdown.
Meanwhile, the placekicking was abysmal against Buffalo. Sands missed FGAs of 35 and 45 yards. Cortese understandably missed from 53 yards. Rutgers left nine points on the field against Buffalo. The Scarlet Knights aren't so potent offensively to be able to afford the luxury of wasted scoring opportunities. I would like to see Schiano to give Musiek an opportunity to kick against Army. Regardless who kicks, FGAs under 40 yards must become automatic.
The placekicking was abysmal. Again. Sands was short on a 39-yard FGA. Short! Schiano immediately replaced Sands with Musiek, who slipped on his first attempt – an XPA – and hit the upright. DOINK! Schiano didn't give Musiek a second chance, replacing him with Cortese. Cortese made both XPAs and a 36-yard FG. I've seen enough of Sands. He's not the answer to Rutgers ongoing kicking woes (five seasons and counting). I would hope that Schiano gives both Cortese and Musiek fair opportunities in game situations to cement the PK job before allowing Sands to kick again. And by "fair opportunities", I mean more than one kick. Regardless, Schiano must resolve the placekicking situation because Rutgers can't afford to have its PKs repeatedly leave points on the field.
5. Punting. Radigan had a rough game at Michigan State last week. While Radigan averaged 40 yards on 9 punts, he was wildly inconsistent. Three of his punts went 20 (rolling another 17), 25, and 30 yards. Two of these kicks occurred during the first half, while the outcome was still undecided. The long snapping is also still unsatisfactory. Against Buffalo, the punt snaps were too low, skidding before reaching Radigan. Against Michigan State, the snaps forced Radigan to move laterally to handle them. Radigan looks like a soccer goalie behind the punt formation. Special Teams Coach Darren Rizzi has a month to work out the kinks in his punt team before the Scarlet Knights travel to Morgantown to face West Virginia. Army will provide an intermediate test with which to measure the progress of the punt team.
Radigan did not have a very busy day as the Scarlet Knights scored on six possessions, ttempted a FGA on a seventh, attempted a 4th down conversion on an eighth, and ended two other possessions with TOs. Radigan punted only 3 times, which is good news itself. Reports from the game indicated no problems with the long snapping – another relief. Radigan averaged 40 yards (gross and net) on his three kicks – two of which were downed and one of which was fair caught. Radigan placed two kicks inside the MA20 – including a 48-yard punt downed at the MQ06 and his shortest punt of 32 yards, which was fair caught at the MA15. Radigan apparently will be a fine replacement for the departed Mike Barr. Radigan just needs the repetitions. But not too many. No more punting records, please. He needs another strong effort against Navy before facing the biggest challenge of his young career – Virginia Tech.
1. Sr LT Mike Williamson. When Rutgers ended summer camp with Williamson listed as the starting LT, I was concerned. After yielding 51 sacks last season and gaining only 620 rushing yards (including sacks), Schiano badly needed to overhaul his OLine and upgrade its talent level. The arrival of Glass, JUCO transfer Jr Clint Dato, and JUCO transfer Ron Green was supposed to supply an infusion of experienced talent that Schiano had not yet accomplished with developing his high school recruits. Yet despite this supposed infusion of talent, Williamson maintained his grip on the starting LT job throughout summer camp. Even before Dato suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for six weeks. The much-heralded Green is serving backup duty behind starting RT Sameeh McDonald. And Williamson, who was unable to displace any of the non-performing OL at any position last season and who has only started three games, is manning the crucial LT slot on Hart's blind side.
Williamson performed terribly against Michigan State. The Spartan DE blew up Williamson on the first play from scrimmage and Jr TB Clarence Pittman gained only one yard after dodging the intruder in the backfield. Williamson committed a false start on the second possession that put the Scarlet Knights in a long yardage situation. Spartan DE Clifford Dukes blew up Williamson on the third possession and badly collapsed the pocket, causing Hart to get sacked. Pittman again was victimized on his only other carry when Williamson again was blown up on a running play, getting knocked back into Pittman, who lost 5 yards. The second half was no better. On the second possession, Williamson was beaten as Fr TB Justise Hairston was tackled for no gain and Williamson missed a block on Moses' reverse that lost 3 yards. Spartan DE Greg Taplin blew up Williamson for another sack late in the 3rd Quarter. Williamson was beaten on another block in the 4th Quarter on Facyson's only carry – a 2-yard gain.
Williamson must improve or Schiano must find a more effective replacement. Such performances are not acceptable. Left tackle is the most important position on the OLine. Williamson cannot be a sieve at LT because it will disrupt the entire offense, especially the passing game. Williamson must pitch a shutout against Army in pass protection – no sacks. He also must cut by two-thirds the amount of blown running assignments. He's got three games to get better. Or get replaced.
Against Michigan State, Williamson was clearly noticeable as the weak link of the OLine. The OLine did not play well against Army and Williamson again was the least effective performer although many of miscues were not as noticeable as they were against the Spartans – a reflection on the caliber of competition. Rutgers is perceived as a right handed team, running and throwing predominantly to the right side. The Scarlet Knights actually ran to the left more often than to the right. Therefore, Williamson was at the point of attack more often than not. Of the 13 blown blocking assignments by the OL (excluding the TEs and FBs) that I observed, Williamson was the culprit for six:
- Late in the 2nd Quarter, Williamson didn't chip block Army DE Odene Brathwaite, who recovered from his upfield rush to limit Leonard for a 4-yard gain on a lead draw to the left side.
- Late in the 3rd Quarter, Williamson was beaten on a backside seal block on Brathwaite, who nonetheless overran the play as Leonard cut back on a 23-yard gain on a Power G to the right side.
- On the next play, Williamson didn't disengage the DT on a Power G to the left side and double tap the backside pursuit. The backside ILB misread the play and didn't fill the hole, allowing Leonard to gain 7 yards.
- Two plays later, the same thing happened but this time Army ILB Brian Hill filled the hole, limiting Leonard to a 5-yard gain.
- The next play, Brathwaite stopped Pittman for no gain on a run off left tackle after beating Williamson on a seal block.
- Midway through the 4th Quarter, Williamson didn't chip block Army DE Chuck Wilke, who pinched hard and tackled Leonard for a 1-yard gain on a lead draw.
Otherwise, Williamson's run blocking was sound:
- Rutgers ran the Power G to the left side 6 of 13 times that I reviewed. While Williamson twice missed assignments as noted above, he executed the proper blocks on the final three attempts.
- Rutgers ran isolation runs to the left side 4 of 5 times that I reviewed. Williamson executed the proper blocks on all of these plays.
- Rutgers ran off tackle to the left side 2 of 3 times that I reviewed. While Williamson missed an assignment as noted above, he executed the proper block on the second attempt.
- While the lead draw is supposedly another basic play in the Scarlet Knight offense, Rutgers ran the lead draw to the left one of the two times that I reviewed. Williamson missed the chip blocks against the DE on both plays.
- Williamson's pass protection was generally good. Hart was sacked midway through the 2nd Quarter by Army DE Karl Davis but I couldn't determine whether Davis beat Williamson or McDonald.
Williamson's performance was not a lightning rod for criticism as it was against Michigan State. But a detailed review of the game tape showed that his performance was still lacking. Williamson must better sell the lead draw with at least a token chip of the DE otherwise the TB is going to get hit in the backfield. Williamson also must improve his reads on the Power G Left and properly execute his blocking assignment. While OC Craig Ver Steeg may not prefer to run left, Williamson's run blocking must at least make running left a viable alternative.
2. So MLB Will Gilkison. Gilkison has struggled in his first games since he replaced the departed Gary Brackett as the starting MLB. Gilkison is faster and more athletic than was Brackett but lacks Brackett's instincts, fundamentals, and toughness. Brackett had a nose for the football and was among Rutgers top two tacklers the previous two years. Brackett exhibited the type of production one expects from the MLB in a 4-3 defense. Through two games, Gilkison is 5th on the team in tackles, behind Jr SS Jarvis Johnson, CB Nate Jones, DE Raheem Orr, and So WLB William "Papa" Beckford. Gilkison played poorly at Michigan State. He recorded only 4 tackles but missed at least three others. All three were in pass coverage. Two of them resulted in Spartan first downs. Gilkison has the speed to make plays but his tackling fundamentals are shaky. He beat Spartan RB Jaren Hayes to the sideline on a flare pass but failed to breakdown, getting beaten as Hayes cut back inside Gilkison. Hayes beat Gilkison on another flare that Gilkison had covered when Jaren faked the cutback and darted outside. Gilkison also blew a coverage assignment when he allowed Spartan TE Jason Randall to get behind him on slant route that gained 15 yards. Gilkison is paying the price for his lack of playing time at LB last season, as he was limited primarily to special teams even though he was the backup SLB. Gilkison must improve his play at MLB. Gilkison may not lead the team in tackles against Army's spread offense. But he should get his share when Army comes his way. Army will run counters and draws from its spread offense, much as Michigan State did. The Black Knights will also flare their RB out of the backfield. Gilkison has to make the tackles on those plays.
Gilkison made some big plays, but he also blew some assignments. He's still very inexperienced, so this inconsistency shouldn't be unexpected:
- Early in the 1st Quarter, Gilkison tackled Jones after an 8-yard gain on a counter play.
- Two plays later, Gilkison blitzed Dahman off the edge, sacked him, and forced a fumble that Bender recovered for a TD, staking Rutgers to an early 7-0 lead.
- Midway through the 2nd Quarter, Gilkison missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage on an option and Gulsby gained 27 yards and a first down before he was tackled – by Gilkison.
- Three plays later, Army Jr WR Lamar Mason beat Gilkison on a shallow crossing route but Dahman instead found Jr WR William White on a deep crossing route.
- On the next play, Gilkison was again beaten on a shallow crossing route but Dahman instead found Alexander on a deep in route.
- Later on that drive, Gilkison again blitzed out of the dime package and sacked Dahman for a loss of 15 yards.
- On the second play of the 3rd Quarter, Gilkison took a poor angle to the ball carrier and was carried for a 7 yard gain by Gulsby on an inside run.
- On the next Army possession, still early in the 3rd Quarter, Gilkison filled the hole and tackled Jones for a 2-yard gain on an inside run.
- On the next play, Gilkison failed to cover for a blitzing Bender and Gulsby gained 14 yards and a first down on a flare route.
- On the next play, Gilkison hurried Dahman on an incomplete throw into the end zone to Army Jr TE Doug Horaist on a drag-n-up.
- On the next play, Gilkison filled the wrong hole, enabling Gulsby to gain 4 yards on a run off tackle.
- Two plays later, Gilkison filled the hole at the point of attack, enabling So DT Luis Rivas and Jr DE Alfred Peterson to tackle Jones for a 2-yard gain on an inside run.
- On the next play, Horaist beat Gilkison on a post route in the end zone but Dahman threw incomplete to Alexander on a fade route.
- On the next play, Gilkison correctly read the reverse to White and was in position to make the tackle but Orr committed a flagrant facemask.
- Three plays later, Gilkison jammed Alexander on a crossing route in the end zone and broke up the pass. Will committed pass interference but was not penalized.
- On the next play, Gilkison jumped a post route to Horaist and broke up the 4th-down pass. But he dropped an INT for a touchback that would have given Rutgers possession at the RU20. Instead, Rutgers started at the RU04.
- Late in the 3rd Quarter, Gilkison quickly read a developing screen pass and tackled Robinson for a gain of only 1 yard.
- Later on that drive, now in the 4th Quarter, Gilkison was beaten on a drag route but Dahman found Alexander on a deep curl.
- Three plays later, Gilkison knocked down Dahman, forcing him to throw short to Mason on a shallow crossing route for a 5-yard gain.
- On the next play, Gilkison blew coverage of Sr WR Clint Woody on a drag route. Woody – the only player outside the hash mark – was looking at a big gain but Beckford hurried Dahman's throw, which fell incomplete.
Gilkison excelled in a blitzing role but struggled in pass coverage, except on the goal line where the compressed field limited his responsibilities. On a longer field, Gilkison often failed to cover either RB/TE drag routes into the flats, WR shallow crossing routes over the middle, or RBs flaring out of the backfield when blitzes left him in man-to-man coverge. Gilkison also struggled to contain the option. With Navy and their double slot option up next, Gilkison has a lot of improvement to make in two weeks.
3. RS Fr FS Bryan Durango. In his first assignment as FS against Buffalo, Durango was one of my key players and responded with a solid if not spectacular performance. But that was all I expected from the rookie. Don't get burned. Such was not the case against Michigan State. Durango was burned in the 1st Quarter on a throwback wheel route to Hayes. With responsibility for the deep half of the field, Durango bit on a play action fake and then stayed put as Smoker rolled to the other side of the field. Meanwhile, Hayes wheeled outside after the fake handoff and streaked up the sideline. Durango, who saw the play action fake, somehow missed Hayes on the wheel route and let Hayes get behind him. Durango could have caught Hayes because Smoker slightly underthrew the pass but Durango leaped for the throw instead of running through the tackle. Hayes scored a 51-yard TD, breaking Durango's subsequent tackle attempt at the RU10. Durango also missed a tackle on a Hayes draw that gained 18-yards and a first down. Army will test Durango similarly but at a slower speed. This game will be a good learning experience for Durango and will offer him a chance to put last week's lesson to use. Durango must not get beat deep this week.
In need to clear something up, first. Durango is not the free safety. That's his listed position, but that isn't where he plays on the field. The FS is the deep safety – the centerfielder – in a Cover 1 scheme. That isn't Durango; it's Jarvis Johnson. Durango is the run support safety in a Cover 1 scheme – aligned on the weak side. Or, he is the one of the two deep safeties in the base Cover 2, again aligned on the weak side. In the 3-2 Cover 2 dime package employed in obvious passing situations, Durango is aligned as a hybrid OLB – again on the weak side. What is the weak side? It is the side of the offensive formation featuring fewer eligible receivers. For example, against a trips formation, the weak side is the opposite side. So, Durango is a WS, not a FS. As the WS, Durango is used more in run support than as the last line of defense (i.e., Johnson). So, Durango is not frequently put in position to get burned badly, except when playing the WS in the base Cover 2 scheme (as happened on the wheel route against Michigan State).
Against Army, Durango recorded only 5 tackles. Four of these tackles occurred in a run support role, with an average allowed gain of 4 yards per carry. He was twice beaten in pass coverage, only one of which resulted in a completion. He often blitzed as the WOLB from the 3-2 Cover 2 dime package but only recorded one QB knockdown – he was incorrectly credited with a sack that belonged to Grimes. Durango also dropped an INT that was a certain TD. Durango had an unremarkable game but was not beaten deep:
- Early in the 1st Quarter, Durango tackled Jones after an 8-yard gain on a counter play.
- On the next play, Durango tackled Jones for a 1-yard loss.
- Early in the 2nd Quarter, Durango tackled Jones after a 5-yard gain on an inside run
- Late in the 2nd Quarter, Durango tackled White for a 16-yard gain after White beat Haw to the inside on a deep crossing route and encountered Durango on the far side of the field.
- In the final minute of the 2nd Quarter, Durango dropped an INT at the MA30 when Dahman threw behind Mason on a crossing route as Durango closed in to make the tackle. Durango was in the slot and had a clear path to the end zone. Seven more points left on the field, for a total of 27 in the 1st Half.
- Two plays later, Dahman threw incomplete to Gulsby on a delayed drag route that Durango had covered.
- Early in the 3rd Quarter, an Army WR kicked out Durango on a QB option that Dahman ran past Durango for a 17-yard gain and a first down.
- On the next Army possession, still early in the 3rd Quarter, Durango filled the hole and tackled Jones for a 2-yard gain on an inside run.
- Two plays later, Durango covered Horaist on a drag-n-up that Johnson broke-up and nearly intercepted. Durango didn't bite on the drag fake and his underneath coverage forced Dahman to make a perfect throw. He didn't.
- On the first play of the 4th Quarter, Durango bit on a play action fake and was beaten on a drag route to Horaist for a 15-yard gain for a first down.
- Still later on that drive, Durango blitzed from the dime package and knocked down Dahman, whose pass to Mason on a shallow crossing route was deflected by Orr.
- On the next Army possession, still early in the 4th Quarter, Durango covered Mason on a deep crossing route on which Dahman threw incomplete under pressure.
- Three plays later, Durango blew the coverage on a shallow crossing by Mason, on which Dahman threw incomplete under pressure.
Durango did not struggle in his coverage assignments. Especially in the dime package, where his strong side counterparts did. A contributing factor to Durango's performance quite probably was the scheme itself. Army was less capable of flooding the underneath zones on the weak side of the field and therefore could less effectively create the conflicting coverage assignments with horizontal and vertical routes that created openings in the secondary on the strong side.
4. RS Sr CB Brandon Haw. Haw intercepted Smoker on a miscommunication with his WR and retuned the pick 61 yards for a TD. Despite that big play, Haw had a rough day as Smoker picked on him repeatedly, completing at least 3 of his 10 first half passes to WRs against Haw. Brandon yielded completions of 12 yards to WR Matt Trannen on a sideline route, 13 yards to WR Ziehl Kavanaght on a deep out, and 12 yards to Kavanaght on a deep in. All resulted in Spartan first downs. The last two occurred on Michigan State's 10 play, 63-yard, 1:14 drive to end the half. Smoker seemed to be avoiding Nate Jones and targeting Haw or the other CBs. Haw is a three-year starter at CB. He should not be getting picked on like this. Haw must tighten his coverage and lock down his man against Army. The Black Knights must not complete more than two passes on Haw. And none over 10 yards. And none for TDs.
Haw – with Grimes – was the defender most frequently targeted by the Army QBs. Haw was also the defender most frequently assigned man-to-man coverage. His running mate Jones moonlights as the WS in the dime defense and has no man-to-man responsibilities in that role. Grimes is the nickel back. CB Derrick Roberson is the dime back. The LBs rotate frequently, are replaced in nickel/dime packages, and often blitz. So, the law of averages dictates that that defender most often in coverage will be targeted most often. Army threw at Haw 10 times, completing 6 for 60 yards, 2 first downs, but no TDs. He broke up 2 passes. Haw struggled with conflicting coverage responsibilities but played strong at the line of scrimmage:
- Late in the 2nd Quarter, Alexander beat Haw on a post pattern in the end zone but didn't catch the ball with his hands at its highest point. Instead, Alexander attempted to catch the ball with his body, allowing Haw to break up the pass. It should have been an Army TD.
- On the next play, Haw quickly read an out pattern to the slot WR and drew a 15-yard offensive pass interference penalty when the outside WR blocked Brandon while the ball was still in the air.
- On the next play, White beat Haw to the inside on a deep crossing route for a 16-yard gain and a first down.
- In the final minute of the 2nd Quarter, Haw jumped a 3rd down hitch route to Alexander but Dahman through incomplete.
- Early in the 3rd Quarter, Haw tackled Gulsby for a 5-yard loss on a run off tackle.
- On the next play, Haw quickly read a middle screen to White, avoided the seal block of the slot WR, and tackled White for a 1-yard loss.
- Haw saved a TD when he tackled White on a 59-yard KOR to begin the next Army possession.
- Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Haw gave Alexander the inside release (e.g., slant) on the goal line but Dahman threw incomplete on a miscommunicated fade route.
- Early in the 4th Quarter, Alexander beat Haw inside on a deep curl for a 21-yard gain and a first down that was negated by a chop-block penalty on an Army OL.
- Three plays later, the slot WR sealed Haw on a middle screen to Mason that gained 5 yards.
- Late in the 4th Quarter, Army Fr WR Walter Hill beat Haw inside on a shallow in route for a 7-yard gain. Haw was giving a big cushion that widened when Hill initially released outside.
- On the next play, Haw quickly read a RB drag route, released his WR, and tackled Robinson for a 3-yard gain.
- Later on that drive, Alexander beat Haw inside on a hook route for a 12-yard gain and a first down.
- On the next play, Haw broke up a pass to Alexander on a sideline route.
Haw was generally responsible for the outside WR on his right (offense's left). The Cover 2 scheme apparently funnels outside WRs inside, towards the safeties and LBs. The outside CBs apparently have responsibilities for the flat, which creates a coverage conflict when the outside WR runs deep or inside. Does the outside CB stay with the outside WR or does he stay in the flat? That's a good question and one that I'm not convinced the Rutgers CBs fully understand. Or can even honor. Opposing WRs are finding big holes and room to run inside the outside CBs. Haw was beaten inside on 4 of these 6 completions, plus a fifth pas that he recovered to breakup.
5. Jr CB Eddie Grimes. Grimes also had a rough day in the defensive backfield. And I'm not even considering the terrible pass interference call against Grimes for allowing himself to be pulled into Spartan WR Matt Trannen. Spartan WR Agim Shabaj beat Grimes on a 27-yard corner route late in the 2nd Quarter when Grimes moved up into press coverage. Late in the 3rd Quarter, Grimes whiffed on Hayes on a flare route that eventually gained 6 yards. Later on the same drive, Spartan WR Jerramy Scott beat Grimes up the seam for a 20-yard gain. Grimes did not play much the previous two season behind Jones, Haw, and the departed DeWayne Thompson. So, he's still learning. But he must improve if he is to force Haw to improve. Grimes will see lots of action against Army, especially in the dime package. Grimes also must tighten his coverage and lock down his man against Army. The Black Knights likewise must not complete more than two passes on Grimes. And none over 10 yards. And none for TDs.
Grimes recorded 7 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery. Grimes – with Haw – was the defender most frequently targeted by the Army QBs. However, Grimes was on the field much less frequently than Haw, who didn't leave the field until late in the 4th Quarter. Army threw at Grimes 10 times, completing 8 for 61 yards (including 15 yards on a pass interference penalty), 3 first downs, but no TDs. One completion was called back on a penalty elsewhere. Three completions gained more than 10 yards. Like Gilkison and Haw, Grimes made some big plays but also made some mistakes:
- Early in the 2nd Quarter, Grimes jumped a 3rd down bubble screen and tackled White for a 1-yard gain.
- On the next play, Grimes returned a punt 11 yards for an injured Moses but fumbled. Fortunately, he recovered the football and gave Rutgers possession at the MA34.
- Midway though the 2nd Quarter, Mason beat Grimes on an out pattern from the slot WR position for an 8-yard gain. Grimes, as the SOLB in the dime package, gave the outside release where Haw was monitoring the flat. Haw, who read the play, drew a 15-yard offensive pass interference penalty when the outside WR blocked Brandon while the ball was still in the air.
- Two plays later, Alexander beat Grimes on a deep in route for a 12-yard gain and a first down.
- Three plays later, Grimes blitzed out of the dime package and redeemed himself with a sack of Dahman for a loss of 15 yards. This sack was incorrectly credited to Durango and shared with Gilkison.
- Early in the 3rd Quarter, Grimes jumped a drag route and tackled Woody for no gain. Grimes had coverage on the slot WR in the nickel defense against a 4WR trips set. Grimes quickly read the drag, released his WR, and made the tackle.
- On the next play, Woody drove Grimes 12 yards downfield with a block on a QB option on which Dahman gained 17 yards and a first down. Grimes was on roller skates on this play. He was badly manhandled at the point of attack.
- Three plays later, Lukabu stripped Jones on an inside run and Grimes recovered the fumble at the MA19. Moses scored three plays later to extend the Rutgers lead to 20-0.
- Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Grimes filled the middle of the field on a 2-man dime blitz. Grimes jumped Mason on a 3rd down shallow crossing route and tackled him for a 2-yard gain. Unfortunately, Beckford was penalized for roughing the QB and Army continued its drive.
- Later on that same rejuvenated drive, Alexander beat Grimes inside on a crossing route in the end zone but Beckford jammed Alexander and broke up the pass.
- After Army recovered a Rutgers fumble at the RU20, Alexander beat Grimes inside on a post route. As with Haw earlier, Alexander didn't catch the ball with his hands at its highest point. Instead, Alexander brought the ball into his body, allowing Grimes to break up the pass. It should have been an Army TD. Instead, Grimes was penalized for 15 yards and a first down for pass interference.
- Early in the 4th Quarter, Grimes tackled Alexander for a 21-yard gain and a first down after Alexander beat Haw to the inside on a deep curl, where he encountered Grimes. The play was negated by a chop-block penalty on an Army OL.
- Late in the 4th Quarter, Grimes was beaten by the slot WR on an out route but Silva threw to Robinson on a drag route for a 3-yard gain.
- Three plays later, Grimes quickly read a developing screen pass and tackled Army So RB Recardo Evans for a 2-yard loss.
- On the next play, Walter Hill beat Grimes inside on an in route for a 14-yard gain.
- In the final minute, Grimes gave Mason a big cushion and missed the tackle on a hitch route, adding 4 more yards to an 11-yard gain for a first down.
- On the next play, Grimes delivered a big hit to Mason after Mason beat the slot coverage to the inside on a shallow crossing route and encountered Grimes on the far side of the field. But Grimes didn't wrap, Mason maintained his balance, and he gained an additional 5 yards for an 11-yard gain for another first down.
Offensive Player of the Game – FB Brian Leonard: At the pace young Leonard is setting, I'm going to run out of superlatives by his sophomore campaign. Leonard was one of few bright spots in a lackluster offensive effort that saw the Scarlet Knights leave at least 17 points on the field. Leonard saw more carries at TB than either Pittman or Hairston. Leonard gained 132 yards on 16 carries, including the game ending 61-yard romp to finally extinguish Army's comeback hopes. Excluding the final series, Leonard nonetheless averaged nearly 6 yards per carry. He also broke runs of 18 and 23 yards. Brian caught 2 passes out of the backfield for 38 yards. One was a safety valve hook that Leonard broke to the outside and tiptoed along the sideline for a 13-yard gain on Rutgers' scoring drive late in the 2nd Quarter. The other was an Alstott-esque flare route that saw Brian break four tackles – stiffarming the first, squaring his shoulder pads on the second, and breaking leg tackles on #3 and #4 before tripping himself up 25 yards later. Leonard also performed well as a lead blocker – I didn't notice any blown blocking assignments. And Leonard picked up blitzing Army Sr OLB Ryan Kent on Hart's the second TD pass, giving Hart the extra second to find Moses breaking inside on his slant route.
Defensive Player of the Game – MLB Will Gilkison: Gilkison's play had some warts. But he also made some huge plays. Gilkison led the team with 7 tackles. He recorded 2 sacks, two pass breakups, a FF, a QB knockdown, and a QB hurry. One of his sacks included the forced fumble, which was recovered in the Army end zone for a Rutgers TD. His other sack pushed Army of out of the red zone and into a long FGA – which Army missed. The two pass breakups occurred in the Rutgers end zone and denied Army TDs. All in all, a very productive day at the office. He'll need another one against Navy.
Special Teams Player of the Game – P Joe Radigan: This was a difficult game ball to award because special teams didn't play especially well. And nobody consistently stood out. However, Radigan had the best performance in his limited appearances with three punts for an average of 40 yards, both gross and net. Radigan also twice pinned Army inside its 20-yard line.
Best Run – FB Brian Leonard: Final minute. Rutgers protecting a 29-21 lead after recovering an onsides KO. 2nd-n-12 from the RU39. Rutgers aligned in a 2TE I formation with Leonard as the TB; Army was in its base 4-4 Cover 1 scheme. Rutgers ran its bread-n-butter Power G to the right side behind pulling LG RS Sr Brian Duffy and Jr FB Cedric Brown. Army blitzed both its ILBs into the C-RG gap, forcing Glass and Green to block down on them and leaving Army Jr DT Will Sullivan unblocked. Harris inexplicably ignored Beasley (DE), who was directly in front of him, and instead moved across the middle and sealed So FS Rob Davis on the backside. With Jr CB Delente Brewer positioned outside of Beasley, that left Brown and Duffy to face three Black Knights converging on the designed hole. Duffy kicked out the penetrating Sullivan and Brown went after Beasley while Brewer was left unblocked on the outside. Brown could not engage Beasely, who moved inside to fill the hole but Beasely hesitated momentarily when Leonard faked as if to bounce outside. Leonard cut back through the hole behind Duffy's kickout block and past the frozen Beasely. Leonard cut back further inside to split OLB So Taylor Justice closing from the outside and Jr CB Jonathan Lewis closing from the backside. Leonard then just outran the Army CBs to the end zone. It was not a well blocked play considering that Harris left the DE unblocked at the point of attack, forcing Brown to leave somebody unblocked. But Leonard setup his blockers perfectly and two quick cuts enabled him to elude two unblocked defenders.
Best Pass – QB Ryan Hart to WR Tres Moses: Late in the 3rd Quarter. Rutgers leading 20-7. 2nd-n-G from the MA10. Moses faked a slant route and then ran a fade, beating Brewer to the outside. Hart threw behind Moses and to his inside. Moses came back to make the catch and restore Rutgers' big lead.
Best Catch – WR Tres Moses: Early in 3rd Quarter. Rutgers leading 13-0. 3rd-n-7 at the MA16. It wasn't the catch so much as it was the run afterwards. Rutgers aligned in a 3WR formation with Moses in slot WR position. Moses went in motion and then reversed course. Moses sold Army Jr OLB Curt Daniels on a drag route before cutting inside on a slant. Moses caught the dart from Hart at the MA06 and broke three tackles to score a TD to break the game open at 20-7.
Best Hit – MLB Will Gilkison: Early in the 1st Quarter. Scoreless game. Army 3rd-n-3 at the MA13. The Black Knights aligned in a slot 2TE formation; Rutgers was in a 4-3 Cover scheme. When the Army TB went in motion as WR, leaving an empty backfield, Bender and Gilkison each moved to the end of the of the DLine and blitzed. The Black Knight TEs blocked neither and both came untouched. While Bender tackled Dahman around the waist, Gilkison hit him in the chest and dislodged the football. After a scramble, Bender fell on the football in the end zone for a TD and 7-0 Rutgers lead.
Coming Next: Non-Conference Preview, Part 4. I'll continue my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at Week 4 opponent – reborn Navy. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.
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