Former Player Perspective

The former player perspective is a feature where a former Scarlet Knight reviews the past week's game or the season to date and provides viewpoints. This week's installment features Wes Bridges' (Class of 1994) perspective on the Pittsburgh game and his outlook for the remainder of the season.

Well, despite all of the poor calls by the officiating crew and a lack luster second half performance by RU, we are 3 and 1 (although we should be 4 and 0). My name is Wes Bridges and I was a Fullback for Rutgers University from 1990 to 1994. Now, instead of banging heads with Linebackers and Defensive Ends, I am an attorney practicing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (trust me, the pain is similar). In my house, Rutgers' football games have become an event and planning usually starts the Thursday before the game. However, because this was a Friday night game, things are a little different.

The Trip To The Game
Going to a college game as a working adult is a lot different then when I was a student-athlete. When I was on the football team, we stayed in a hotel and were bussed to the stadium well before the first fan entered. Now, I leave from my office in center city Philadelphia (home of those awful fans who love teams like Penn State, Penn, Temple, Villanova and the Eagles and who hate my beloved GIANTS) at about 4:00 p.m. for an 8:00 p.m. kick-off. On the ride up 295, I fondly remember my former teammates and our pre-game preparation. As I smoke my daily cigar, I also remember what it was like being in good shape, clearly at this point a thing of the past.

When I was a football player, I would typically take the field before team warm-ups to check out field conditions. Not now. Now, when I arrive home, my wife, Landal (a member of the Scarlet "R" Club even though she went to some university called Ohio Wesleyan), who promised me that she would be home by 6:00 p.m. calls to inform me that she "is running a little late." When she arrives at 6:45, we can't simply leave for the game because I have to play "point out the parts of my face game" with my 2 year old daughter, Taylor. Clearly, I will not be able to participate in the pre-game tailgate festivities with my former teammates. Finally, we leave the kids with their Grandmother and head to the Banks.

On the ride up, I listen to my former teammate Tim Pernetti on the pre-game radio show. Who knew that he would one day be such a good sports commentator? I confess, I missed Rutgers' first touchdown, although I heard it on the radio. My cell phone begins to ring non-stop courtesy of my former teammates who, by the sound of their voices, were not delayed by their wives and clearly made it to the pre-game tailgate festivities well before kickoff.

The First Half
When I finally arrive inside the stadium, the crowd looks great! I can't remember a student section being consistently this loud. Keep it up! Just to be a loving husband, I sat with my wife in section 128 for a few series while Rutgers man-handled Pittsburgh during the first half. By way of observation, this is the most physical offensive line that I have seen at Rutgers for a very long time. John Glass Jr. is quietly having an All-American season, while Sameeh McDonald and Jeremy Zuttah get more impressive with every game. The first half also highlighted Rutgers' talented wide receivers. Tucker, Moses and the gang gave Pitt a lot to worry about. When you throw Clark Harris and Brian Leonard into the mix, it is impossible for a defense, let alone what appeared to be a soft Pitt defense, to stop all of RU's weapons.

As usual, Leonard had a great game. It was great when the crowd erupted when he completely ran over the Pitt defender. And how about running back Ray Rice? He sure doesn't play like a true freshman. At first, I liked the idea of lining Tiquan Underwood up as a quarterback. Then, after we ran the same play four times, it became apparent that Rutgers was not setting up some play-action pass—he was only going to hand it off, or run it himself. With that, I no longer liked the idea, although with players like Tiquan, the future looks bright for RU. And, maybe Coach will prove me wrong next week and let Tiquan air one. As a final offensive note, I was a little disappointed to see Tight End Clark Harris only catch one pass. As a former fullback, it warms my heart to see a big receiver rumbling down the field while the little defensive backs try to find a place to hide.

As for the defense, it too looked impressive during the first half. Ryan Neil is a beast on the defensive line. He was clearly stronger and faster then Pitts' offensive line and his motor never stops running. When I watch him play, he reminds me of the Klecko kid from that school in Philadelphia, who now plays with the New England Patriots. Just as impressive as Neil in the first half was Rutgers' secondary which held Greg Lee, arguably one of the nation's top wide receivers, in check for the first half. Towards the end of the first half, I could no longer stand being up in the stands. It was time to hit the field. I leaned over to my wife, who by now I forgave for making me late to the game, and lovingly said to her "I'm going down on the field for a little bit." Even she knew that this meant that I wouldn't be back until some time in the fourth quarter.

On the field, my old teammates were fired up and now looking forward to the post-game tailgate activities. The first person I saw was Donald Forbes who was nice enough to remind me that I was scheduled to write this column. I also saw Terrell Willis, who I'm happy to say was just inducted into Rutgers Football Hall of Fame. It is nice to know that all of those concussions that I suffered blocking for him and Bruce Presley (who I'm sure will be inducted right behind Terrell), did not go to waste. I also ran into Tommy Wright, Joe Ciaffoni, Andy Gabel, Chris Kennedy, Jason Curry, Reggie Funderburk, Rob Seeger, Chris Brantley, Marco Battiglia, JJ Jennings and many others. As far as I'm concerned, this is where the end-product of RU athletics can truly be seen. All of these guys, once some of the most gifted athletes I've ever seen (and also some of the nuttiest people ever), are now successful businessman, attorneys, teachers, coaches, husbands and fathers. I am sure that they would agree that Rutgers University was instrumental in their success post football. Marco even let me try on his NFC Championship ring! As with every game, I missed my buddies #59 Rusty Schwartz and #50 Ibraham Washington, who were taken far too early. I'm sure that they are both looking down on the team every game.

At half time, I returned to my seat much to my wife's surprise. What she didn't know was that she had all of the money and I wanted a hot dog and hot chocolate. While we waited in the food line, I confidently told her "we are going to blow this team out!" Yeah Right.

The Second Half
To put it bluntly, the second half was ugly. But like a slow train wreck, I had to watch. The offense stopped moving the ball and the defensive seemed to loose its intensity. It was like a repeat of the Illinois game. Special teams routinely gave Pitt the ball with great field position. To make matters worse, I think that the officials placed a wager on Pitt because they were making horrible calls, all of which went against Rutgers. The pass interference call was the worst I've ever seen. At some point during the second half, I thought Coach Schiano was going to physically assault the line judge on Rutgers' sideline. The one bright spot in the second half was "The Judge," Jeremy Ito, who seemed to return to his true form. As Forrest Gump would say, that's pretty much all I have to say about the second half.

I left the stadium (after partaking in post-game activities of course), feeling pretty good and in all, the weekend was a success. I didn't go into the office and my Scarlet Knights and the Giants both won! Heck, even my old high school, Ewing High won. Now, if the Chiefs can just hold off the Eagles' comeback, it will be a perfect weekend.

Predictions For The Remainder of the Season
Call me crazy, but I think that with the exception of Louisville, Rutgers can (key word) run the table. Schiano has the team playing well and the team has yet to click on all cylinders. Coach just needs to nix his second half speech, in favor of his first half speech. Clearly, the second half one doesn't work. The UConn and West Virginia games are going to be old fashion slug fests. I think that our offense will click and we will prevail over West Virginia especially if the student section gives Rutgers home field advantage. As with UConn, let's be honest, if we lose, we have serious problems recruiting against them in the northeast. Not only is UConn nationally recognized because of its basketball program, but the football coaches there will no doubt point out to recruits that they beat Rutgers in the past and went to a bowl game. Simply put, UConn is to the Big East what Boston College used to be—a school that took Jersey talent. Rutgers must win that game. My prediction is that you should all go out and purchase your open airfare ticket for December now because we are going bowling this year after we finish 8 and 3! And if we don't use the tickets in December, we can use them in March to watch the women's basketball team in the NCAA tournament.

This is Old #32 signing out.

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