The Scarlet Knights will host Howard University at 2 p.m. looking to get off to their best start since 1980 when they started 4-0. Many fans want to write this game off and look towards that away game at South Florida which has the potential to vault the Scarlet Knights into the Top 25. This may be all well and good for the fans, but for Coach Schiano that is not an option. He's seen the writing on the wall this season as Division I-AA teams are making a statement. With at least 3 wins over I-A schools and a few squeaker losses to North Carolina and South Carolina by a combined score of 10 points there is reason for Schiano to look over his shoulder.
"The 85 scholarships, the trickle down effect that has on I-AA programs…(playing a I-A program) is always a huge game for I-AA players…. and you usually get their best game," says Coach Schiano. Having played for a I-AA team himself, Schiano tried to get an extra year of eligibility so that he could be there for Bucknell's game against Army. So with the rise in talented players finding playing time among the I-AA ranks more upsets are being had between the two divisions.
Schiano did not give off any indication of this match-up being something of a trap-game. Instead his mind was on how his own team has performed. Citing an inefficient offense as his primary goal to fix, it would not be wise to put money down on seeing Jabulani Lovelace in the first half.
"We have not been able to hit it on all four cylinders yet. And that is what we need to strive for," lamented Schiano. With so much of the team's star talent lying on this side of the ball, it is a failure when they have 10 collective second half points this season.
Teel did not have a solid game like his previous two where he played within the system to usher the team along to a victory. Saturday he made those rookie mistakes that became his trademark from last season when he threw 10 interceptions. The upcoming game offers the Rutgers offense a chance to make some amends and put some serious points on the board and realizing the potential of their skill players.
Another facet of the offense's potential that Schiano was trying to lasso was the deep ball. A number of times on first or second down, freshman burner Tim Brown was sent deep, only to have the ball thrown far out of reach. This option could become a game breaking play that could give the Knights that extra threat they didn't have with Ryan Hart at the helm. By preventing the safeties from being able to crowd the box, the pressure will finally ease up for running backs Brian Leonard and Ray Rice. However, without proving that it can be executed Rice and Leonard can look forward to more bruising hits by linebackers and safeties.
Something that has been kicking around the Coach's mind is the punt team coverage. Joe Radigan is having a stellar year so far, but the punt coverage gave up far too much to the Ohio return man. Giving up returns of 26, 15, and 61 yards was not a good sign for the Rutgers special teams. To be fair, Ohio was, in fact, the first opponent this season to return a punt against Rutgers. Schiano pointed out that they are missing one of their best flyers in Marcus Daniels who is out for the season, and they are usually only an arms length away from making that hit to keep the opponent pinned down. So with a bit more experience these new flyers will find their groove and the vision to pick up on the returnee's direction. This improvement can most certainly be made when you consider the strides the kickoff return team has made since the North Carolina game to get the returnee pinned.
The bright spot for Rutgers has been the defense, in fact it's not merely bright - imagine looking directly into the Sun to get a good idea how this defense has played (of course I accept no responsibility if you should actually look into the Sun and hurt your eyesight). With the exception of Mike Teel throwing an interception within the Rutgers 30 that set up Ohio's first quarter touchdown, the Rutgers defense has pitched an 8 quarter shutout. They gave up -5 yards rushing and scored points in the process.
In the preseason folks were very concerned by the losses of Ryan Neil and Val Barnaby, but Schiano has definitely got his defense to play with confidence and tenacity. No matter how big the offensive linemen have been that Rutgers' defense has matched up against it's been no concern to them. 290 lb.? So what. 300 lb.? Who cares. 315 lb.? Fuggetaboutit! They have accumulated 9 sacks, 6 interceptions and 24 tackles for a loss not to mention the 14 points they've scored as they lead the Big East in total defense (in addition to being ranked tenth nationally in this category). The defense is playing well thanks to more competitive scout teams and higher stress situations during practice.
Performing under pressure has been Schiano's touch on the defense, "Whether it's fatigue stress, where we drive to the football for eight plays, ten plays straight. Or it's noise where we're pumping [it] into the practice session," said Schiano, "It's the key in this sport. People say, ‘why didn't you do it from the beginning?' you can only do it when they are ready to handle it. They are ready to handle it". Perhaps we are starting to see that stifling Miami defense Schiano was heading up back when he was the defensive coordinator at "The U". It would seem that great defense has now come to "The Block" as the speedy defense is giving offenses fits.
On The Attendance
Once again the student section received accolades from the coach. Seeing over 8,000 loud and raucous students pack the corner of the end-zone was terrific. They would get so loud that the marketing staff on the field was commenting to him on how deafening it was down on the field. Seeing the visitors flinching offside when near the closed end of the stadium has the ability to make a difference in a game. Having a true home field advantage has been a focus for Greg as he has put a hand in getting the word out about getting kids to the game. Posting bi-weekly full page ads in the Daily Targum asking students to come out has finally paid off. Gradually he would like to get the other end of the stadium closed off so that no opponent can escape the noise levels possible in R-House.
On The Top 25 Spot
For those looking for that Top 25 spot, Schiano is making sure that Rutgers has the best chance to get that spot. By coming out every week and expecting to improve in every facet of the game, Schiano is coaching his players how to be that Top 25 team. The initial steps have been taken in securing an opportunity for a spot as the Scarlet Knights close in on the make or break stretch of their season.