10 Thoughts on the Syracuse Game

Rutgers (2-3, 0-1 Big East) suffered a major setback in a 41-31 loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. A scoreless 1st Quarter yielded to a track meet. Rutgers erased a 10-point 2nd Quarter deficit but the Orange took a 13-10 lead at halftime. The lead see-sawed back and forth in the 2nd Half with no team leading by more than four points until the final minute, when Syracuse stopped Rutgers on downs and added a token TD to seal the game. Here are ten thoughts on the Syracuse game.


Rutgers (2-3, 0-1 Big East) suffered a major setback in its development in a 41-31 loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.  A scoreless 1st Quarter yielded to a track meet as the teams punted only once each over the final three quarters.  Rutgers erased a 10-point 2nd Quarter deficit but the Orange added a FG to take a 13-10 lead at halftime.  The lead see-sawed back and forth in the 2nd Half with no team leading by more than four points until the final minute, when Syracuse stopped Rutgers on downs and added a token TD to seal the game.  As it had done last year, Rutgers let a 4th Quarter lead evaporate in a hail of mistakes.  A 490-yard offensive effort – without injured starters RS So FB Brian Leonard and Jr WR Shawn Tucker – was wasted by a 503-yard defensive meltdown.  Here are ten thoughts on the Syracuse game. 

1.  Undisciplined Defense.   This isn't a smart defensive team.  The inability to read and react has been evident for awhile.  Dare I say WVU punt block?  The defense plays like a bunch of automatons.  They focus on their primary responsible and ignore their secondary responsibilities.  The DEs lose contain too easily.  The pass rush lanes aren't maintained.  The CBs and LBs don't execute their zone coverage responsibilities.  And the deep safeties let opponents behind them way too frequently.  The defense is all balls, no brains.  And suckers for misdirection.  The Orange TBs averaged 11.7 yards per carry.  Syracuse had eight gains of at least 20 yards, all but two of which occurred on designed runs – most of which were misdirection plays. 

2.  Jr QB Ryan Hart.  Hart had, without question, the best game of his career.  He completed 29 of 49 passes for 311 yards, 3 TDs, and no INTs.  Hart was in total command of the offense, distributing passes to eight different receivers.  He showed better judgment with his passing – either scrambling or finding his safety valves – rather than forcing throws into tight coverage, as witnessed by his 3-0 TD-to-INT ratio.  Hart stretched the Orange defense vertically with long passes, which opened the short and intermediate zones.  He used his TEs effectively in the red zone and threaded two TD passes through the middle of the Syracuse defense.  He even demonstrated accuracy on the move, completing a few passes outside the pocket, including a 5-yard TD pass to Sr WR Chris Baker. 

3.  Fetal Position Offense.  With 11 minutes remaining and Rutgers trailing by 3, Hart lead the Scarlet Knights on a 17-play, 80-yard, 7-minute drive to take a 31-27 lead.  RS Sr TB Walter Reyes fumbled at the SU20 on the next play from scrimmage and Rutgers recovered.  With Hart having carried the Scarlet Knight offense with a 311-yard performance while the running game struggled, Schiano played it conservative and called two running plays sandwiched around a pass.  The runs gained a single yard.  Four plays after Fr PK Jeremy Ito missed a 43-yard FGA, Reyes redeemed himself with a 21-yard TD run to give Syracuse a lead it would not relinquish.  Schiano took the ball out of Hart's hands when Hart was moving the ball and scoring points.  Schiano is four-for-four in that regard this season. Rutgers is fortunate not to be 0-5.

4.  Scouting.   The Rutgers defense cannot stop counter plays.  Syracuse and Temple killed Rutgers with FB traps in 2001.  Villanova and Buffalo killed Rutgers two years ago with counters.  Navy, Connecticut, and Boston College killed Rutgers last year with counters. Michigan State gained 46 yards on a counter.  And now Syracuse shredded Rutgers with counters.  Props to the Syracuse staff for noticing that weakness and capitalizing upon it. I'm not sure if the counter option is part of their regular offense. But it was a very shrewd strategy.  Pasqualoni's staff saw what Navy's counter option did to Rutgers and incorporated it into their game plan.  Syracuse got the Scarlet Knight defense moving the wrong way with the counter step by the QB, FB, and TD.  And then had a numbers advantage on the option.  The C cut the MLB.  The playside OG blocked DT.  The playside OT cut the OLB.  The FB blocked the safety. The WR blocked the CB. That left the DE as the only unblocked defender on the playside of the field.  To account for both the QB and the TB.  The DE drilled the QB, leaving nobody to tackle Reyes.  In that situation, the DE has to "feather".  Mirror the QB but retreat, don't attack.  String the play out towards the sideline and delay the pitch.  Buy time and give the backside pursuit a chance.  Drilling the QB is the absolute worst thing to do unless you tackle him with the ball or disrupt the pitch.  Adjusting to the counter pitch should have been a 10-second conversation between DLine Coach Randy Melvin and the DEs.  Apparently, it didn't happen. 

5.  Wide Receivers.    Through three games, the Scarlet Knight WRs had been very quiet, combining to average only 107 receiving yards per game.  The WRs exploded against a suspect Syracuse secondary, gaining 255 yards and scoring a TD.  RS Jr WR Tres Moses caught 10 passes 109 yards.  Sr WR Chris Baker caught 5 passes for 101 yards.  Two Rutgers receivers hadn't gained 100 receiving yards each since 1994 when TE Marco Battaglia and WR Reggie Funderburke accomplished this feat.  With the running game struggling against the Orange defense, the WRs stepped forward to help Hart compensate in the passing game. 

6.  Backup OL.  One of the primary objectives of the New Hampshire and Kent State games was to get some valuable playing time for an inexperienced second team OLine.  Schiano tried to put a positive spin on the nailbiting win over Kent State by rationalizing the benefits of closing out a tough game.  However, late in the 1st Quarter, RS Jr RT Sameeh McDonald injured his knee and did not return.  Enter backup LT RS Fr Pedro Sosa as RS Sr LT Ron Green slid over to McDonald's spot.  Sosa immediately committed two false start penalties and was promptly pulled in favor of true freshman Jeremy Zuttah.  Zuttah struggled mightily in his first significant action.  RS Jr DE James Wyche and RS Jr DE Ryan LaCasse took advantage of the rookie and pressured Hart off the edge.  The breakdowns continued right through the final possession, when Zuttah committed two false start and a holding penalty that contributed to a 4th-n-29 situation on the RU03.  In light of the meltdowns the backup OL had against Syracuse, somebody remind me again why a close game against Kent State was a good thing. 

7.  Sr CB Eddie Grimes.  Grimes may be a liability in pass coverage. But he's more like a safety than a CB and would seem to be the obvious choice at CB against a one-dimensional running team.  On one pitch, Orange RS Sr FB Greg Hanoian led Reyes around the left side. So CB Derrick Roberson had an angle to reach the sideline and turn Reyes back inside. But he instead chose to "contain" the inside and instead give Reyes the sideline.  Apparently, this wasn't an isolated incident.  Grimes would not have hesitated to stick his nose in there.  Why was the best run support CB sitting on the bench most of the game?  

8.  FB Drag Route.  Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg also finally realized that he can throw the play action FB drag to somebody other than Brian Leonard.  Good.  Now, let's keep doing it. You want a goal line TD?  Put Leonard at TB and throw play action drag to Medley.  While the defense swarms Leonard, Medley will be moonwalking into the end zone.  Being able to turn a drag route upfield for 30 yards would be nice.  But the purpose of that route is to substitute for an outside run and keep the defense from plugging the middle.  Medley can gain 5 yards on that play. And the OLBs won't be blowing up the Power G because they'll have to honor their coverage responsibilities.  I liked the way that Medley, like Leonard, turned the drag route inside instead of simply heading for the sidelines.  

9.  Counter Pitch.  It only took 16 games for Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg to use it. With Brian Leonard on the sideline.  But at least Rutgers finally used it.  It will work better with Leonard at FB.

10.  Sr TB Clarence Pittman.  Pittman has replaced former Scarlet Knight TB Marcus Jones as the invisible man.  I kept wondering when Pittman would get his chance against Syracuse.  Especially when Hairston coughed up the second fumble.  Pittman is Rutgers most experienced TB.  Jr TB Markis Facyson isn't a TB so much as a 3rd down specialist. Dmitri Linton is s a true freshman.  Why didn't Pittman play behind a guy who runs through the wrong holes, can't see open holes, and fumbles? 

Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the Syracuse game with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board.

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