Great teams find ways to win. Rutgers too often finds a way to lose. Case in point: Saturday's 38-31 loss at Connecticut.
Seemingly headed for no worse than overtime as the clocked ticked down to the final minute of regulation, the Knights gave the Huskies a last shot at victory when the normally reliable Tres Moss tried to field a rolling punt at his own 25-yard line and couldn't get a grip on the ball. Connecticut recovered and took three plays to score the deciding touchdown in its 38-31 victory.
Several earlier mistakes -- a fumble that led to a UConn touchdown and an interception that the Huskies turned into a game-tying field goal -- were costly, too, as Knights saw their nascent bowl hopes pretty much squashed. The Knights fell to 4-5 overall with games against Boston College, Miami and Syracuse the next three Saturdays wrapping up the schedule. They are 1-3 in Big East play.
The Knights had their chances in this one.
They jumped to a 17-7 lead, and then after falling behind 21-17 bulled their way to a 24-21 advantage behind the hard running of sophomore RB Brian Leonard (33 carries, 184 yards). Leonard scored with 1:29 left in the third quarter, and the Knights regained possession and were driving again on the ground before inexplicably going to the air. QB Ryan Hart was intercepted, and the Huskies drove for the tying field goal.
UConn scored on a 72-yard pass play with 4:25 left in the game for a 31-24 lead, but Rutgers quickly countered with Leonard's 35-yard touchdown run with 1:52 to go. When the Knights forced a punt on the ensuing series, they appeared back in control, but instead of letting the ball roll dead, Moss tried for the futile pickup.
Rutger's offense was in high gear, but most encouraging was the rushing game, with 244 yards on the ground. This was the second time the Knights have topped the 200-yard mark this season, the first time was against Navy (249 yards). Leonard gained 56 yards in the first half then really poured it on in the second half, finishing with 184 yards on 33 carries against Connecticut. He had scoring runs of 1 and 35 yards.
The Knights had only 625 rushing yards all of last season, but have been over the 100-yard mark seven times in their nine games.
Obviously the defense needs some help, after giving up 31 points. They held the Huskies to 99 yards on the ground but gave up 222 passing with no turnovers and only one sack.
"It was certainly a heck of a football game - a game that we came up on the wrong end of," said Coach Greg Schiano after the loss.
It wasn't supposed to be as bad as this at Boston College this season. Yes, the Eagles were replacing a veteran quarterback, but they had two candidates in junior Quinton Porter and junior college transfer Paul Peterson.
But after Saturday's 35-28 home loss to West Virginia, the Eagles are 5-5 overall, 1-4 in the Big East, and in danger of seeing their current streak of post-season appearances snapped at four. Only the Big East's arrangements with four bowls, plus the BCS berth, and Notre Dame's fall from glory might save the Eagles. That and a date at Rutgers ob Saturday.
"The first thing that has to happen is you have to win your sixth game," coach Tom O'Brien said, "and we haven't done that."
The loss to the Mountaineers particularly hurt because the Eagles piled up 475 yards and had a two-touchdown lead early in the game. After falling behind by two touchdowns twice, the Eagles also were driving at the end of the game but a deflected pass in the end zone denied them a potential tying touchdown.
The defense couldn't maintain the early advantage and proved vulnerable to West Virginia backup QB Charles Hales, who was 11-for-16 passing in his first start. Hales went 8-for-10 after a slow start.
"It was a strange game," O'Brien said.
"We got up and then got down and then got back up in it and got back out of it and got back in it again and had an opportunity to throw the ball and catch it in the end zone and put it in overtime. But we didn't do it, so give West Virginia credit. They hung in there and we ended up losing a tough one."
Peterson had to shoulder the load when Porter went out with injuries and responded by throwing three touchdown passes. Overall he was 22-for-41 passing for 231 yards and also rushed for 52 yards. On the downside, he was intercepted three times. Porter left after cutting his hand on the first play of the game, then went to the bench for good with 8:42 left to go in the game.
Even with the three interceptions, the passing game kept the Eagles in the game. They amassed 317 yards and three touchdowns through the air between the combination of QBs Porter and Peterson. Junior WR Joel Hazard had five catches for 59 yards in the losing effort.
The loss saddled the Eagles with a 2-4 home record for 2003. After Saturday's trip to Rutgers, they finish the season Nov. 22 at Virginia Tech.
"I don't know if I've ever lost a game where I had 30 first downs." -- Coach O'Brien.
The same ills that have plagued Miami nearly the entire season showed up again Saturday when the Hurricanes dropped a 10-6 non-conference game to Tennessee: penalties and failure to score touchdowns after reaching the red zone.
Couple those flaws with costly turnovers -- QB Brock Berlin threw two interceptions and lost a fumble -- and it's little wonder the Hurricanes saw their winning streak at the Orange Bowl stopped at 26. It was the first time since a 38-3 loss to Florida State in 1984 that the Hurricanes failed to score a touchdown in a home game.
They hadn't been held without a touchdown anywhere since being shut out 47-0 by Florida State in 1997, and they hadn't lost back-to-back games since losing three in a row -- Penn State, East Carolina and Florida State -- in 1999. The Hurricanes lost to Virginia Tech their previous outing.
As in last week's loss at Virginia Tech, the defense played well enough to win, holding the Vols to only 170 yards. Tennessee's touchdown drive was aided by a roughing-the-kicker penalty for a first down and another 15-yard personal foul penalty that gave the Vols a first down instead of a third-and-long situation.
The Hurricanes were penalized 12 times for 121 yards and had another unsportsmanlike penalty negated by a similar call against Tennessee. One penalty followed a big pass completion to TE Kellen Winslow, thwarting a potential fourth-quarter drive for what could have been a go-ahead touchdown.
"Some were effort penalties," coach Larry Coker said. "The thing we want to do is eliminate the foolish penalties."
The Hurricanes also made three trips inside the Tennessee 20-yard line but came away with only two field goals. The third ended with an interception. For the season, they have made 42 trips to the end zone but scored only 17 touchdowns.
Two other issues will dog the Hurricanes this week as they prepare for Saturday's game against Syracuse.
One issue is the quarterback situation. Berlin has thrown 14 interceptions against only nine touchdown passes. Backup Derrick Crudup did not play against Tennessee, but Coker said that position, along with the offensive line and running back situation, will be evaluated this week. Clearly, Berlin's confidence is shaken.
After the game, Coker was asked if QB Derrick Crudup might get the starting nod over Brock Berlin on Saturday against Syracuse and replied "Possibly. There's always that possibility."
The other issue was the meltdown of Winslow after the game, featured on many TV wrap-ups. Winslow said he had no regrets about the injury his block -- a clean play -- caused to a Tennessee defender, calling it a "war" out there. He also ripped the Southeastern Conference officiating crew for penalizing him, though he had been warned about his outbursts.
"My feeling is one of embarrassment," Coker said when asked his reaction. He blamed much of it on Winslow's immaturity. Winslow later apologized in a statement released by the Miami sports information office.
Senior linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Darrell McClover had good games in the loss. Vilma showed his leadership on defense, getting in on 14 tackles, including eight solo and four for minus-yardage. His tackle of Tennessee FB Troy Fleming for a 2-yard loss on a third-down screen pass gave Miami what turned out to be its last chance for a touchdown to pull out a victory. McClover, who is overlooked as the third linebacker in Miami's scheme behind Vilma and D.J. Williams, was in on six tackles, including a key sack of QB Casey Clausen and another tackle for minus yardage on a third-and-goal situation.
CB Glenn Sharpe (knee) was lost for the season after being hurt in the fourth quarter. DTs Orien Harris (knee) and Santonio Thomas (ankle) remained out for the game. It is hoped they will be ready for the Pittsburgh game in the season finale Nov. 29.
Even with the two-game losing streak, the Hurricanes at 7-2 overall and 3-1 in conference play, can still win the Big East and a BCS bowl berth by winning out, thanks to Pittsburgh's victory over Virginia Tech.
It isn't often that a team looks at a game against Temple as "payback" time, but such was the case Saturday when Syracuse played host to the Owls. Consider the account paid in full.
The Orangemen, who lost 17-16 to the Owls in 2002 when an extra point attempt banged off the upright, took no such chances on Saturday and pounded the Owls 41-17 in the Carrier Dome.
The Orangemen compiled 232 of their total 453 yards on the ground and were ahead 24-0 before letting the Owls put together a scoring drive late in the second quarter. Just so there would be no doubts as to who was in command, the Orangemen stopped the Owls at the outset of the third quarter and added a touchdown of their own to take a commanding 31-7 lead into the final 15 minutes.
QB R.J. Anderson was the key man. The senior threw for 221 yards and a touchdown and ran 14 times for 39 more and the first touchdown. He was 16-for-21 passing. Anderson threw one interception, but that was on a long throw near the end of the first half.
"The quarterback was accurate today," Temple coach Bobby Wallace said. "Some days he isn't and some days he is. We got him on a good day for him. When he's accurate like he was today, Syracuse is a very tough team."
In addition to Anderson's contributions, Syracuse got 93 yards rushing and two touchdowns from RB Walter Reyes, and the defense intercepted Temple QB Walter Washington twice. WR Johnnie Morant had five catches for 53 yards, including a 14-yard grab on third-and-8 from his own 14-yard line to spur a 99-yard scoring drive. Sophomore WR Rashard Williams had four catches for 72 yards, including a 43-yard reception that was the big play in the Orangemen's 99-yard touchdown drive for a 17-0 lead.
The victory put Syracuse at 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big East. The Orangemen will need one victory in the final four games to become bowl eligible, starting Saturday when they visit Miami. A home game against West Virginia follows. The Orangemen go to Rutgers on Nov. 29 and finish against Notre Dame on Dec. 6 in the Carrier Dome.
"I said there was going to come a point in this game where we were going to break their will. And I really felt that 99-yard drive really took a lot of steam out of them." -- Syracuse offensive coordinator George DeLeone on the 99-yard scoring drive the Orangemen put together against Temple.
Temple couldn't have been sure what hit them Saturday when they lost 41-17 at Syracuse. The Owls were down 24-0 before mounting any kind of offense, which proved to be far too little, far too late to save them from their fourth straight loss.
With junior college transfer Walter Washington taking over for an injured Mike McGann at quarterback, the Owls didn't have a completed pass until seven minutes remained in the first half, and an early interception stopped their first drive. Washington got the Owls on the scoreboard just before halftime with a 6-yard toss to RB Makonnen Fenton, but the Orangemen led at that point 24-7 and were never really threatened.
The Owls had the ball for less than 10 minutes in the first half.
"The first half wasn't very good, to be honest with you," coach Bobby Wallace said. "We weren't doing anything offensively."
The Owls even gave up a 99-yard touchdown drive in the first half and ended up allowing the Orangemen 453 yards total offense, including 232 on the ground. The Owls played the Orangemen fairly even in the final two quarters, matching them in points 17-17 and compiling 163 yards to Syracuse's 175. A penalty and turnover stymied the Owls in the third quarter before they finished with 10 points in the final quarter.
Washington was 19-for-34 for 183 yards and a touchdown and was Temple's leading rusher with 60 net yards on 14 carries. He had two interceptions, but one was on a deflection, and overall he provided about the only offensive spark the Owls had. Coach Bobby Wallace said the junior college transfer, who has two more seasons of eligibility after this one, earned the start Saturday against Virginia Tech.
The inability to run -- 94 yards on 30 carries -- and stop the run -- 232 given up -- was very much in evidence in the loss. When your quarterback is your leading rusher, as Washington was, you know you're in trouble.
LB Troy Bennett, apparently healed from a pulled chest muscle, was a lone playmaker in the rush defense. The senior was a busy man with two tackles for minus yardage among his half-dozen stops against Syracuse.
"The defense was on the field too much, and that's partly because they gave up third-down conversions. But overall, I was pleased with how hard we worked, and that's about where we are," said Coach Wallace after the loss.
Now 1-8 overall and 0-4 in Big East play, the Owls get their next two games at home. They are host to what could be a deflated Virginia Tech team Saturday before playing their home finale Nov. 22 against Pittsburgh. The Owls finish at West Virginia Nov. 29.
About everything that Virginia Tech gained with its impressive whipping of Miami a week earlier was lost Saturday night when the Hokies couldn't stop Pittsburgh from driving for a late touchdown, saddling the Hokies with a 31-28 defeat.
Wiped out were the Hokies' hopes for a berth in the national title game in the Sugar Bowl and likely eliminated were their possibilities for a Big East title.
With a 3-2 conference mark, they would need an unlikely combination of events to gain a tie for first in their final season as Big East members. That scenario would include a complete collapse by both league leader Pittsburgh and second-place Miami or West Virginia in the remaining games.
At 7-2 overall, and because of their weak early schedule, the Hokies also remain outsiders for one of the BCS at-large berths.
The Hokies lost at Pittsburgh despite getting a spectacular performance out of junior RB Kevin Jones, who had a school-record 241 yards rushing and a personal-best four touchdowns. It was his 80-yard run after Pittsburgh scored to take a 24-14 third-quarter lead that kept the Hokies in the game. He later scored from 13 yards out to give the Hokies a 28-24 lead they held until late in the fourth quarter. Jones stamped himself a legitimate Heisman contender with his performance.
The Hokies appeared in good shape even after QB Marcus Vick, who took over near the end of the first quarter, overthrew sophomore SE Justin Hamilton on a fourth-down pass deep in Pittsburgh territory with less than five minutes left. The Panthers had to go 70 yards to get a winning touchdown.
That, of course, is just what they did.
They got two big completions to WR Larry Fitzgerald to get their drive started, and punched it in with only 47 seconds left. Tech saw its slim comeback hopes end abruptly when Vick was intercepted on the first play of the ensuing drive.
"I give Pittsburgh credit," coach Frank Beamer said. "They had some big-time players who made some big-time plays. And we had some big-time players who made some great plays, too."
Having lost two of their last three games sandwiched around the victory over Miami, the Hokies go back on the road Saturday at Temple. They get Boston College at home Nov. 22 before finishing at intrastate and future Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia on Nov. 29.
"I'm not thinking about that right now." -- Coach Frank Beamer, asked if QB Marcus Vick had earned the starting nod over Bryan Randall after playing more than three quarters of the loss to Pittsburgh.
West Virginia didn't seem to be in a good situation Saturday with starting QB Rasheed Marshall sidelined because of a concussion suffered the week before, and Boston College off to a 14-0 start. But, suddenly, backup QB Charles Hales found the range.
He threw three touchdown passes, and CB Adam Jones came up with two big plays to rally the Mountaineers to a 35-28 victory over the Eagles.
Jones, the sophomore they call "Pac-Man", scored two touchdowns on a 47-yard interception return and 84-yard kickoff return to rally the Mountaineers from a two-touchdown deficit against the Eagles.
The victory was the fourth in a row since the Mountaineers suffered a heart-breaking last-second loss at Miami last month and kept them in contention not only for a bowl bid but also for the Big East title. The Mountaineers are 5-4 overall, 3-1 in the conference, with a key clash against Pittsburgh coming up Saturday in Morgantown. The Panthers are 4-0 in league play.
If West Virginia wins out and Pittsburgh beats Miami in the season finale, the Mountaineers would be assured of no less than a tie for the Big East championship and a possible BCS bowl bid. After playing host to Pittsburgh, the Mountaineers have a road game at Syracuse and a home clash against Temple.
Down 14-0 against BC, the Mountaineers got on the scoreboard when sophomore WR Chris Henry hauled in a 37-yard scoring pass midway through the second quarter, then tied it when Jones returned his interception 49 yards for a touchdown.
Hales then threw TD passes of 32 yards to Henry and 14 to TE Tory Johnson to give the Mountaineers a two-touchdown advantage. When BC cut the deficit in half early in the fourth quarter, Jones came up with his second big play by returning a kickoff for a touchdown to give West Virginia 35-21 cushion.
BC again got to within a touchdown and was driving for the tying score in the closing seconds when LB Scott Gyorko knocked away QB Paul Peterson's final throw to preserve the victory.
Henry led the Mountaineers offensively with five catches for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has seven touchdown receptions for the season. After a slow start, Hales gave the Mountaineers a solid day in the passing game with 167 yards on 11-for-16 completions. He also didn't throw an interception. Coming in, the Mountaineers were averaging only 150.4 yards per game passing and had completed fewer than half their attempts (72-for-152 with five interceptions).
The Mountaineers gave up 317 yards passing to Boston College, not a good sign with Pittsburgh coming to town Saturday in their next outing. The Mountaineers did come up with four interceptions, however.
"Adam Jones obviously may have been the difference in the game with the two big plays he had." -- Coach Rich Rodriguez after the victory over Boston College.
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