Looking Back and Ahead

Head Coach Greg Schiano finally got the breaks to go his way in this season's opening game against UNC. Having avoided a repeat fourth quarter collapse from a year ago, courtesy of two Manny Collins interceptions, Schiano asserted that this was a good win. Following the emotional game on Saturday and having reviewed the film Sunday night the coach came in ready to set his sights on Illinois.

Given the extremely physical run games employed by both teams on a relatively hot day that saw players cramping up late, it was very fortunate that there were no serious injuries for Rutgers. The only injury to the Knights was an ankle sprain sustained by Jason McCourty. His condition will be evaluated on Tuesday when the team returns to practice following today's off-day. Should he be held out, Joe Porter, Manny Collins and Leslie Jackman are all in the mix to replace him at the cornerback position.

The offense turned in a solid performance highlighted by Ray Rice's 201 yards and 3 TDs. Rice has improved not only in his vision and patience, but his mental toughness as well, which was tested by the coaching staff. They had him to carry the ball 31 times on a hot and humid day often in several successive plays with virtually no rest. Yet the Tar Heels couldn't risk giving Leonard the chance to break for a big run. So Rutgers' offensive coordinator Craig Ver Steeg and offensive line coach Kyle Flood called Rice's number until he was blue in the face.

Noticeably absent from the offensive stats was Heisman Trophy candidate Brian Leonard. He had been limited to just 25 yards as the Tar Heel defense made him their primary focus. Schiano was quick to put down any theorizing that Brian might be unhappy with not getting the ball, even when most fans expected to see number 23 when Rutgers came within the Tar Heel red-zone. Schiano made it clear that Brian came back this season to win games as he is a team player first and foremost. Brian, like all the other recruited Scarlet Knights are part of a football family that does what is best for the team and doesn't worry about personal statistics. Schaino pointed out that when they look at recruits they look to see if he can fit within the Rutgers family, or if they are incompatible as a "ME" oriented person. This "ME" orientation that Schiano described almost hinted at Tar Heel's Jesse Holley and his much publicized personal vendetta against Rutgers that aimed to prove Schiano missed out on recruiting him. Holley, who finished the game with 25 yards off 3 catches, did not make his statement, while Brian Leonard threw down an impressive block that sprung Rice for a touchdown run in the first half.

Looking Ahead to Illinois

The Scarlet Knights will need to stop an Illinois offense that put up 345 rushing yards against Eastern Illinois that included long rushes of 38 and 39 yards. Their top back Pierre Thomas ran for 126 behind an impressively sized offensive line that features all five tipping the scale at 300 plus pounds. This should prove to be a strong focal point for Schiano as the Scarlet Knights' smaller defensive line managed to barely touch Joe Dailey. The Illini that garnered most of Schiano's attention was Akim Millington, a 6-6 310 lb. left tackle that transferred from Oklahoma a year ago. He has All-Big Ten potential featuring impressive size and good foot speed.

Schiano wasn't so quick to dismiss the Illini's spread offense. Considering their tendency to mix up the formation featuring an under-center and a shotgun formation from which they balance their attack of run and pass, the defense will have its hands full this week getting ready. "They do a lot of things offensively and they have a lot of offense to defend," said Schiano.

For the Knights to stop the Illini rushing attack they will need to improve their tackling on both defense and special teams. Against North Carolina, Rutgers' would be tacklers missed chances to pin the Tar Heels deep. Instead, those misses led to potential game changing plays that put Carolina in good field position. It was disappointing for the team considering tackling was a major point of emphasis during camp this year. Schiano will go back and consult with his staff to see what small changes can be made to improve the defense's tackling ability. He denied any radical changes would be attempted in this area although another poor performance in this area would be unacceptable to the Head Coach.

On the Quarterback Situation

Many Rutgers fans were looking forward to a quarterback battle between the top two Scarlet Knights, Mike Teel and Jabulani Lovelace. The pre-season featured much hype over the starting position, and that perhaps Jabu was putting himself in a position to be worthy of sharing time with Teel. His much talked about scrambling ability was not put to use as the Knights leaned on Ray Rice to lead the offense. Schiano put this down as being all fluff from the media: "He's a very good quarterback, but all along I've been saying Mike's our guy." He did hint that Jabu's playmaking abilities might be put to use in the future, but not in a manner that would disrupt Teel from being the starting quarterback. After shaking off a few jitterbugs, Teel settled in and ran the offense soundly, completing 14 of 20 for 145 yards. He did not allow an interception for the first time in the past six games he has played.

On Fan Turnout

For those who watched the game on TV via ABC, as the camera crews panned the beautiful Kenan Memorial Stadium a sea of pale blue could be seen. The only thing that destroyed this serene picture was the sharp contrast of a large contingent of scarlet clad Rutgers faithful that acted like a large Cabernet wine stain on a newly pressed oxford dress shirt. Schiano applauded their turnout specifically saying how impressed he was with the number of Rutgers fans that made the trip.

Coach Schiano hopes that this win over North Carolina will do what a lot of people are hinting at: a sold out, raucous Rutgers Stadium to open up the home slate. Of note, the coach mentioned the student section, which while it has seen increasing attendance during the Schiano era, it has not witnessed a crowd as impressive as the 2004 Michigan State season opener. Citing that student attendance peaked at upwards of around 12,000 per game last year, Rutgers is starting to achieve a true home field advantage. Whether it was pumping up the players during a big series or rushing the field after the game, the student section has become a bright spot in the development of the football program.

Praising the students for getting there early and knowing how to rev up the fanaticism of the rest of the crowd, the coach understands what an emotional difference they can make. Seeing the college student's plight with the noon start for the Illinois game as a little early for most students, Schiano petitioned all students to attend the home opener saying, "We ought to encourage them to stay up all night, come to the game and go to sleep after. I'm sure their parents would love to hear that, right?"

If they're football fans, you can count on it!

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