This was supposed to be the season. Coming off a five win performance, with maturing, young talent and a schedule sent from heaven; Rutgers had a serious shot at a winning season, the Knights had a serious shot at a bowl.
Those dreams are gone now. Saturday's first half meltdown turned them into a molten puddle of scarlet despair.
And despair is the right word.
The cupcakes on this year's schedule are all past tense. Every team we have left to play ... can play. With West Virginia, Boston College, Navy and Connecticut left on this year's dance card, 4-7 is a likely result. Even worse, if we play as we did on Saturday, more than one of those games will be blow outs.
Such a result would leave serious doubts about the direction of the rebuilding effort at Rutgers. Recruiting to a "rebuilding" program is based on selling belief. Belief is defined as "The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another." On the other hand fantasy is defined as "An unrealistic or improbable supposition."
Doug Graber, the greatest recruiter in Rutgers history, was doomed once potential recruits ceased to believe in what he was selling. Greg Schiano isn't at that point yet ... but it is not that far off. Already this season, potential recruits have passed on the Rutgers dream since they saw it as being more of a fantasy than a future.
Rutgers' play on Heinz Field on Saturday provided proof positive that they may have been right. But before giving up, let's ask the question.
What is wrong here and how can it be fixed?
The play calling on Saturday was worse than bad, it was an abomination..
Starting with Temple, our opponents have told their linebackers to watch out for the swing pass to Brian Leonard. It'll usually come on second or third down (never on first) and it develops the same way each time it is run. Hart drops back locks onto Leonard (who is on one wing or the other of the pocket), Brian steps away from the pocket, turns to pull in the pass and is hit immediately by the linebacker looking for this play. They continue to run it over and over again. It is not the play itself that is the problem, it is the brutal predictability of the Rutgers offense that is causing us to lose game after game.
For the umpteenth time this season an opponent repeatedly blitzed its linebackers and we rarely ran plays attacking the vacated line backing spots. We should have held up a poster: "Blitz us all you want, we won't do a damn thing to stop you."
For the umpteenth time this season we tried to establish the run by running up the gut on first down to our fullback. Usually ... aw, hell, you know what happens from there, as does every coach in the Big East.
Rutgers could have mixed up Leonard's power running with the speed running of Pittman or could have varied the offense in any of a number of ways but they didn't. Apparently, anything looking like creativity is forbidden to the Rutgers offense.
Rutgers has one of the best tight ends in the nation in Clark Harris. If they threw him the ball even once in the first half, I didn't see it. When they started throwing to him in the second half he caught five passes for 100 yards. By then it was too late.
The play calling is simply atrocious. At least fifty per cent of this year's problems are due to poor play calling. We have lost two games this year because of it. We lost a potentially huge win over Boston College last year due to it. Whoever is responsible for calling the plays apparently thinks that we are so powerful that no one can stop our offense, even if they know what plays are coming. That's the Vince Lombardi style of football and it went out of style the day Vince retired.
Enough is enough.
If Schiano is responsible for the travesty of our play calling he should turn it over to Ver Steeg. If Ver Steeg is responsible for it, then maybe it is time to look for a new offensive coordinator.
Greg Schiano has recruited good players but the recruiting has been terribly unbalanced. There has been an overemphasis on skill people and an under emphasis on offensive linemen. Look at running back for instance. Skill players like Marcus Facyson, Clarence Pittman, Justise Hairston and Marcus Jones (remember him) never even get into the game, This year we added Jean Beljour and Dimitri Linton to the backlog at running back corps. We have all but cornered the market on running backs and most of them sit the bench. Meanwhile an injury to an offensive lineman spells disaster since there is little in the way of backup. The players who do backup are either inexperienced or not ready to play at all. We can't even run the ball this season since there is such a dearth of run blockers on the team. How can you justify this.
Another example - we go three deep at wide receiver and three deep at tight end but when Nate Jones and Brandon Haw graduated, suddenly the secondary had no experienced players to fill the gaps. How did this happen?
Recruiting doesn't just mean getting the best players available. It means getting the best players available that fill your needs, Schiano spent his first couple of seasons acting like offensive linemen weren't needed in a modern football program. Now we are paying the price for that. Rutgers has serious needs on the offensive line and to a lesser extent in the secondary that should have been filled in prior recruiting classes but weren't. These needs absolutely must be filled now.
What has happened to Ryan Hart? I don't know but he was a better quarterback last year than he is this season. Maybe it is something personal. I don't know. But it is time to consider at least playing his back up.
Terrance Shawell got one snap yesterday, when Hart was injured on a play. Why didn't Shawell play most of the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach. At least, he would have gotten game experience.
Other teams routinely play their back up quarterbacks for one quarter each game. For all intents and purposes this season is over. Why not let the back up QBs at least get some game time experience. If we don't, what will happen when Hart graduates.
What will happen?
See "Nate Jones and Brandon Haw" above.
Getting the team ready to play
There is something wrong in the "motivation" department. There are certain games, certain times when you have to come out on fire. We succeeded in that against Michigan State but in every other crucial test this season we have failed in the motivation department.
UNH was the worst. Anyone remotely connected with Rutgers football knew that the kids would have a let down after beating MSU. Practice week before playing the wildcats should have been hell. Schiano should have started handing out suspensions to slackers early in the week as a message to all involved.
Instead, after the loss to the Wildcats, Schiano lamely said something to the effect that the game was lost during the week's preparation.
It was indeed and that was the staff's fault.
The problem has extended past UNH. We sleepwalked though the Kent State game, spotted an entire half to Vanderbilt and played Temple like the win was guaranteed.
What is going on here? Greg Schiano worked for Joe Paterno but he apparently never learned Joe's most important lesson. Every game is the national championship. Until Schiano understands that and teaches it to his players Rutgers Football will continue to embarrass the university and the fans.
Where on earth are we going?
Several years ago I found out that if I didn't stop smoking that I would die. I had a fatal but treatable problem. I quit smoking and I am still alive today. The Rutgers rebuilding effort is the same. The problems listed above are fatal to Schiano's rebuilding effort; fatal but treatable.
Schiano is a first and foremost a recruiter. However, even a great recruiter must win games in order to continue to win recruiting battles. Absent improvement on the field, even the best recruiter in the world will eventually fail.
Improvements on the field will require changes in coaching. Unless those changes are made, Schiano will eventually fail.
Right now, Greg Schiano has been presented with one of the greatest opportunities ever to be presented to a college football coach. An entirely new league is forming. The entire power balance of the East is shifting. Old stalwarts are declining, up and coming programs are rising. The opportunity is wide open for a coach to lead his team to domination of a league that (at the time it was raided) was becoming the best in the land.
The Big East was a league whose rise was driven by the incredible media saturation of the east coast. High school players saw Big East teams on TV every weekend. They saw the names of their former high school team mates in one newspaper after another, day after day after day. The allure was irresistible. Each year more and more players decided to play for the home town league. Each year the league got stronger. These same factors still exist. Because of them the Big East will surely rise again and whoever is at the top when it does will be lifted to national prominence.
Few coaches in college football history have been presented with such an opportunity.
Few coaches have ever been in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.
The opportunity is awesome and the opportunity is there.
Now, it is up to Greg Schiano to decide if he is coach enough to grab it.
Mike and the Big Dog LLC