END OF THE SEASON RECAP
As the wind blew through the open end of Rutgers Stadium during last month's coming out party against Syracuse, the last vestiges remaining from the past were cleansed from the stadium dissipating into the wintry afternoon. After a couple of teasers against Connecticut and Boston College, everything came together and a glimpse of the future appeared on that wind swept field. And though you would have thought from reading the Syracuse newspapers and internet web-sites that the Orangeman lost in a highly contested down-to-the-wire nail-biter only decided by divine intervention, the truth is that the game stopped being competitive from the middle of the first quarter on. Still, at 5-7, many bemoan the Connecticut and Boston College games, shouting to the Gods how close we came to being "bowl eligible." However, that old axiom in football, that you are what your record is holds true for the 2003 Scarlet Knights which in reflection is not such a bad thing.
Looking back on the 2003 season, most fans will acknowledge that we ended up right where we thought we would, somewhere between 4 and 6 wins. Although clearly, the Connecticut and Boston College games were both winnable, the team for a number of reasons was not quite ready to make the necessary leap to seven victories. Still, many believe that we will be "bowling" next year and are content with the advice of that eminent supporter of Rutgers football William Dowling, who has been heard to say, "God's delays are not necessarily God's denials."
So what can we glean from this past season and what bodes for 2004?
WE BEAT THE TEAMS WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BEAT
As opposed to a season ago, we beat the teams we were supposed to beat. Buffalo, Army, Navy and Temple all represented games that were considered "must wins" prior to the beginning of the season. Equally important, all four wins were relatively convincing indicating that the continued efforts of recruiting, coaching and strength and conditioning were putting separation between RU and the schools it traditionally shared a home with at the bottom of the Division 1-A ratings.
THE BEEF ARRIVED
was talk during the first two years regarding the collective fat turned into
muscle of the team, nothing can compensate for pure genetics. This year the
combination of three years of recruiting classes began to pay dividends. Ron
Green and John Glass helped bring the offensive line to the next level and
On the defensive side of the ball, added depth along the defensive line allowed the linemen to remain fresh throughout the game and more importantly overcome injuries as the season wore on. Overall sacks increased from 15 in 2002 to 27 in 2003 and opponents scored 124 points in the fourth quarter in 2002 while scoring only 79 points in the fourth quarter in 2003.
Two years of
successful recruiting has produced improved overall team speed that is evident
on both sides of the ball. On offense, Marcus Facyson appeared at times to
be shot through holes and served as a perfect complement to the running of
A MIND IS A BEAUTIFUL THING TO WASTE
The team went from 107 penalties for 810 yards in 2002 down to 82 penalties for 641 yards in 2003. In addition, the team lost five less fumbles from 2003 to 2002. Team discipline was apparent in all aspects of the 2003 Scarlet Knights and a lot of this can be directly attributable to game preparation and coaching. However, the fruits of labor yielded in 2003 were planted two years ago through a strict program of academic and athletic regimentation. Weight training, film study, practice are all important, but probably the single greatest accomplishment of this coaching staff next to recruiting, is the fact that the team has yet to suffer a single academic casualty. Contrary to what the Rutgers 1000 believe, most supporters of Rutgers football understand that just a few players each year will play in the NFL and as Rutgers alumni, we all want to see our student athletes graduate and have a future away from football.
The old saying, that numbers don't lie tell you everything you need to know about the 2003 Scarlet Knights offense:
Total Points Scored -----------------167 329
Average Points Per Game -13.9 27.4
First Downs ----168 237
Total Rushing Yardage ------------620 1,666
Total Passing Yardage -----------1,948 2,757
Third Down Conversion (%) --29% 42%
A number of factors came together in 2003 that turned the 2003 Scarlet Knight offense into an equal partner with its defensive partners. No longer did the defense run off the field screaming to the offense; "Just hold them till we get back." First and foremost, Craig Ver Steeg developed an offense that played to the strength of its players. It took advantage of a developing offensive line and running game and equally important didn't require Ryan Hart to always make the big play. The offense relied on a balanced running and short passing game with the occasional deep passes to keep the defense honest. The increase in first downs and third down conversions kept the defense off the field longer and not withstanding victories, kept us in the games we lost.
YOU GOTTA HAVE HART
Ryan Hart in his first full season as the Scarlet Knights QB set single season records for both attempts and completions. Hart threw for 15 touchdowns and 2,714 yards (also a school record). Hart's continued grasp of the offense improved as he completed 59% of his passes. However, compared to 15 touchdowns were 19 interceptions. The good news is that Hart was just a sophomore playing in his first full season. Overall, his performance was extremely promising. Experience will result in more balls being thrown away and less balls thrown into double coverage.
FINE TUNING THE BUS
As a work in progress, there were still a few head scratches in 2003. The last two minutes of the first half of the West Virginia game defied anything I have ever seen on a football field, oops, I forgot I am also a New York Giants fan. I will never understand why we didn't mix up the running game with more passing against Boston College. This was a team that was literally begging for a stake to be driven through its heart. I also question going for field goals of 40+ yards on 4th and short yardage situations, given our performance in that area (2 out of 10). Moving into 2004, there needs to be improvement in the defensive backfield, where a DB looking back at the ball was a rare occurrence in 2003 and the tight ends while very talented and productive, too often disappeared for large periods of games.
WHATS IN STORE
of this program, recruiting, offers every indication of producing a banner
crop in 2004. The continued maturing of the freshman and sophomores coupled
with the infusion of red shirt freshmen will produce dividends on the field
in 2004. The linebackers while young and of superior talent must translate
that talent into the overall efficiency of the 2002 unit. The feeling here
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