I have been a college football fan all my life. I have been a boxing fan most of my life.
I stayed away from boxing after Tommy Hearns faded from the scene and only recently came back to the sport.
I have noticed something interesting. More and more fighters are stopping opponents with body shots. Prior to this year, I had only seen one fight in my life where a boxer stopped an opponent with a body shot. That was when Alexis Arguello crumpled Andy Ganigan with a body shot in the fifth round of their fight in Hawaii many years ago.
Now things are different. In the past year I have seen four fighters stopped with body shots. Four fighters in one year! Fighters get hit with awesome body blows and they just can't get off the canvas.
Now I know how that feels.
Of all the emotional brutality I have endured in my years supporting Rutgers football, this is the worst. Worse than Shea's 0-11 year. Worse that WVU's 80-7 romp over the Knights, worse than anything.
This one hurts so bad, I don't know if I can get off the canvas.
This wasn't a talent poor, overmatched Terry Shea team and this wasn't a young Greg Schiano team just out of high school.
Those losses you could understand.
Hell, I knew Terry Shea's teams couldn't beat their opponents. It was just a matter of waiting out Terry's tenure. I also knew that Greg Schiano's first few, young teams were going to take more than their share of bruises. That was to be expected.
But this is different.
This was a team with real talent and with enough years under their belt to beat Syracuse on the road.
They didn't do it and they broke my heart falling short.
Things to feel good about
Ryan Hart - Despite good statistics, this hasn't been a good year for Ryan Hart. In the first three games Ryan was not his old self.
That changed on Saturday. Ryan picked apart the Syracuse defense. He was 29 for 49 for 311 yards. Ryan got off pinpoint passes under enormous pressure and in critical situations. He connected time and time again.
Best of all, his old nemesis, the interception failed to show its evil face.
The Rutgers skill people - In earlier articles I had repeated a mantra ad nauseum. "Spread the ball to the skill people, especially the tight ends". In this game, Rutgers did that.
They were almost unstoppable. Hart's 29 completions went to 8 different receivers. Tres Moses had ten catches. Two wide outs had over 100 yards in receiving yardage. Clark Harris had 5 receptions and 2 touchdowns. And Chris Baker ...
Chris Baker - Chris Baker had 5 catches for 101 yards but that wasn't the big news. The big news was that the lanky Baker could make a catch, take a ferocious hit and hang onto the ball.
This is huge.
Baker's height creates significant mismatch problems for opposing corners. He'll be the difference in a game before the season is over.
Depth at Wideout - It is not just the tall wideouts who impressed. Check out that Willie Foster. He had three catches for 45 yards, but it his was ability to go up for the ball that really impressed. Like Baker, Foster can take a hit. He also has speed and now has shown he can go up and "get it." Rutgers is not just three deep at wide out , they are three deep with talent.
Depth on Offense - Rutgers' top offensive player, Brian Leonard did not play. One of Rutgers top wideouts Sean Tucker did not play. Many teams would have found trouble putting points on the board with absences like that. Not Rutgers. The Knights scored 31 points and, absent a couple of fumbles, could have put up 45.
That is some reservoir of talent and it is actually better than that. Dimitri Linton adds a dimension that Rutgers did not possess prior to this game, speed to the outside. If the Knights can get the outside pitches to develop faster, it will be hard for opponents to rely upon plugging up the middle.
Things to be concerned about
Flowing to the point of attack - Last week in this article I said that Paul Pasqualoni was a good coach. He proved it in this game. Pasqualoni found a weakness in the Rutgers defense that wasn't obvious to anyone. When PP ran a counter option, there was no one home on the Rutgers defense. While the Rutgers linebacking corps can follow game plans, they seem to have problems adjusting "on the fly". With one counter option play Pasqualoni exposed that weakness with devastating consequences for Scarlet expectations. It is hard to figure out how to fix this one, since it seems to have more to do with football instincts than anything else.
Getting into Schiano's head- Despite the productivity on offense I had a nagging fear. The fear was: if Brian Leonard had been able to play, would Rutgers have gone back to the "anemia offense" that they had shown in the first three games. You know, two runs by Leonard up the gut and then let Hart try to bail the team out on third and eight.
Had we run the "anemia offense" in this game, Syracuse would have beaten us by 20, maybe 30.
I keep wondering what happened: Was Rutgers new offensive philosophy just a temporary reaction to Leonard's absence or had Schiano finally woken up to Div 1A play calling?
If the new offensive plan was a temporary adjustment to Leonard's absence, you can kiss this season goodbye. When the "anemia offense" returns, so will a string of losses.
On the other hand, if Schiano has woken up to Div 1A play calling, RU's offense will be strong for the rest of the year.
On that one, only time will tell.
Same old Rutgers
Probably the most discouraging aspect of the game was that it was the "same old Rutgers", falling short in key games.
Yes, I know next week is another game, the team is still learning and the coach is still "growing" into this job.
But the real sign of the growth of a team is when that team finds a way to win.
This was the same old Rutgers; they found a way to lose.
With all the talent on this team and all the expectations for this year, that hurt and it hurt bad.
And you know,
... old Rutgers fans just take one body shot too many.
Mike and the Big Dog's LLC