Progress for sure, but work continues

At Saturday's post-game press conference, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano had much praise for his defense and special teams after the Scarlet Knights 33-0 dismantling of Illinois. He also praised the play of quarterback Mike Teel - and while stating that his team is not totally where it could be, he did acknowledge that they are getting there.

A football game is broken down into three distinct components: offense, defense, and special teams. Win each component and increase the chance of winning said game. The Scarlet Knights, during their 2006 Rutgers Stadium home opener, had a decisive advantage in two of these facets: special teams and defense. "They did a great job," stated Schiano in reference to his squad's special team's play. "Things didn't go well on our first drive. Then Joe hit that and pinned them down there", he said of Radigan's school-record 78 yard 1st quarter punt. He said this early series, with Illinois pinned deep at their own 4 yard line, was impressive: "We made a big stop", he said of his defense, which then set up Manny Collins' blocked punt (see image to the right) and Derrick Roberson's recovery for the first RU score. He said "the kids made plays. They executed to a tee."

He also acknowledged his kick-off team, which repeatedly forced the Illini to start each drive at their own 20 yard line. "We were kicking it with good hang time today", he said.

"It's a lot easier when they have to go 80 yards each time". And so, with the punting game in full gear, the special teams units was in complete sync on Saturday afternoon and kept the Illini on their heels for most of the day.

He said his defense, which scored its first shut-out with Schiano serving in dual capacity as defensive coordinator, "executed very well on 3rd down. We were very precise on 3rd down. I thought we executed better this week". The significant improvement on 3rd down, from the opener at UNC, was an often stressed point this past practice week, after the Tar Heels converted on better than 50% of their tries. He also said that the strong play of the defense was a factor in calling Ray Rice's errant flea-flicker toss (which shouldn't cause Mike Teel to be looking over his shoulder): "You feel comfortable when you're playing good defense", Schiano said, suggesting that such trickery is more easily attempted when you know just how reliable the defense is.

Offensively, Schiano said, "it was a weird game. We kept getting the ball at advantageous positions". However, he said, "kids didn't play up to their abilities. We didn't feel like we were very precise". One person that seemed exempt from that, however, was Mike Teel: "I thought Mike did a good job running our offense and taking what was there. He's doing exactly what we've asked him to do". He also had praise for Teel's handling of the atmosphere in his first home start, saying, "I think Mike handled it well".  

"To be a good football team", Schiano said, "we need to be able to score in different ways. Today we were able to score in different ways". Still, when asked, in view of the final score, could he still be upset by two turnovers in the red zone, he answered flatly: "Yes".

Though acknowledging the progress that the program has made, he also said that "it's hard to win at this level. The moment that you think you've got it beat, that you're over the hump, it comes back to bite you". He said that's the reason there was "not an ounce of let up in the whole organization leading up to this game".

Much had been made of last year's Rutgers-Illinois game this past week – especially in the media - and Coach Schiano stressed that the now-infamous 2005 collapse on the road against Illinois was not a factor in this game. "It was nothing about last year", he said. "A lot has happened since then – recruiting classes, a bowl game".

Finally, when asked what impact he thought this game and the team's start would have on recruiting, he said, "I don't know. Hopefully this will keep a lot of the recruits believing that this program is continuing to go places. It's a lot easier to call after a win like this".

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