Should we use scotch tape or duct tape?

In 2004 Rutgers got off to a decent start, recovering from an inexcusable loss to New Hampshire, to post a 4-2 record heading into an important game against Pittsburgh. Then the unthinkable happened – three defensive backs were seriously injured in an auto accident following the Temple game, and were out for the season. The Knights' season went downhill from there.

Could Rutgers be facing a similar turning point this season? Three defensive players have been knocked out for the season – DE Eric Foster, S Jason Nugent and LB Terry Bynes, and all will require surgery. On top of that several defensive players are injured and will have to sit out for at least part of this week's practices, including starting safeties Ron Girault and Courtney Greene.

Coach Schiano put the current lack of depth on defense succinctly when he said, "We have three season ending injuries to guys who have played a lot of football for us and then the remaining guys are kind of being taped together."

So, once again the Knights will have to rely on untested freshmen at many positions. True freshman Peter Tverdov has already stepped in to replace Eric Foster at defensive end and freshman Chris Dirksz has also seen playing time on the defensive line. Coach Schiano said that freshmen Glen Lee will get more playing time with Nugent out, and freshmen linebackers Chris Quaye and Keven Malast will likely see time against West Virginia in place of Bynes, who is a senior. Additionally he stated that, "We're going to get the McCourty twins a lot of work. Jason did well on his special team duties, so Jason will play and Devon may play."

Coach Schiano is aware of the risk of playing true freshmen, saying "I'm not naïve to the fact that when you play true freshmen you have to hold onto your hats because things are going to happen that are beyond explanation." But, he knows that the team is in a precarious position with respect to injuries. "It would be negligent if we didn't start getting some people ready because we are running out of people and its only week five."

When asked about the chances of some little used running backs being moved to defense Schiano replied, "I think we need the running backs we have right now where they are. Dimitri Linton is slow to return. He tried to push out there and is not feeling so good, so I don't know if you can really count him in the mix right now. So really, only three guys line up at the tailback position, not including Brian Leonard."

Of course it isn't all bad - there is good news as well. Rutgers is playing West Virginia this weekend for sole possession of first place in the Big East. West Virginia is coming off of a home 34-17 defeat to the hated Virginia Tech Hokies in a game where Marcus Vick threw for an 85% completion percentage. This bodes well for a Rutgers team which has had a very productive passing game, due at least in part to an offense line which is markedly better than last year's version.

Coach said that he is impressed with the improvement from the offensive line, but they can be better.

"I think the offensive line is growing. They are gelling together more. We still need to be more physical though. We are getting better and better at assignment blocking, making sure we are on the right people, we're covering people up. I want to see us grow into a more physical group that gets a little more knockback on the line of scrimmage."

Another sign of improvement was the creativity of the offensive game plan used against Pitt. On several occasions freshman WR Tiquan Underwood took a direct snap, leading to 28 rushing yards on 8 runs.

"I like what we are doing there with Tiquan", said Schiano. West Virginia may be more prepared than Pitt for such an attack however, as they utilize a similar offense, but Coach Schiano said that "over the course of the season we will see it used." Schiano later added, after some internal deliberation, that he isn't wedded to any particular style of quarterback except "a winner".

Did you know?
The first ever meeting between Rutgers and West Virginia took place in 1916 in New Brunswick and resulted in a 0-0 tie. Since then the Scarlet Knights have only defeated the Mountaineers 4 times.

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