FRIDAY NIGHT WRITES

A Weekly Commentary on the State of Rutgers Football.  This week: Why Rutgers can't win against Howard.

WHY RUTGERS CAN'T WIN AGAINST HOWARD
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- Toby Ziegler: "You can't win the New Hampshire primary."
- Jed Bartlett: "I'm going to win the New Hampshire primary!"
- Toby: "Which is why you can't win it."
- Josh Lyman: "You're incredibly popular in this state.  You're a Democrat who was elected with 69% of the vote.  That's unheard of."

- Toby: "There's no way you can exceed expectations.  All you can hope for is an "as expected," and there's the possibility that you can embarrass yourself."

--The West Wing (Can you name the episode?)

After their first 3-0 start since Greg Schiano was 15 years old, a game against Division I-AA Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's Howard University Bison seems like a no brainer.  After all, Rutgers has dominated in their first three games against Division I-A opponents.  It should be child's play to defeat Howard, and with Rutgers standing on the cusp of a Top 25 ranking, surely a win against Howard should be worth the few extra votes that Rutgers needs to make the Top 25.

Surely not.

After soundly thrashing both the Illinois Illini and the Ohio Bobcats, Rutgers hopelessly raised the expectations.  Just as the fans are on cloud 9, the AP voters and coaches are waiting for Rutgers to trip, and any bad news could unravel all the public perception gains that Rutgers has enjoyed.  A 33-0 win against The Bison may not be good enough, even if the Scarlet Knights can achieve the fire needed for another dominating performance.  A badly outmatched Ohio squad managed a short-field touchdown against Rutgers last week.  A Howard touchdown against the Rutgers starters could make it much more difficult for Rutgers to make the Top 25 without an upset of one of their division rivals Pitt, Louisville or West Virginia.  A team that has only given up points in 7 of the last 8 quarters of football is expected to go for another 4 clean quarters.

The Rutgers defense and special teams have shown the ability to dominate against weaker opponents, using an improved pass defense and a speedy defensive line to keep opponents on their toes.  The weak spot has been the offense which has been revealed as sorely one dimensional.  Ray Rice and Brian Leonard have been relying on their skills and the excellent blocking of the Offensive Line to make yardage and chew up the clock, but the passing offense has become stagnant with starting Quarterback Mike Teel looking increasingly uncertain.  He has the look of a Quarterback who is playing not to lose instead of playing to win.  Even after giving the ball to Ohio twice last week (not counting an interception off of a ball tipped by Clark Harris), Teel was able to rest comfortably knowing that the Defense saved 2 of those picks from turning into points.  Another mistake-prone game may allow Howard to play a short field and put up points.  Too many of those points and the voters will forget Rutgers.

A convincing win may not be worth anything either.  If a team that has given up 7 points against two Division I-A opponents goes for a shutout, the best that can be said is that's what is expected of them.  Worse yet, the cost to the team could be significant if a key player is injured.  Last week against Ohio, Coach Greg Schiano Teel in the game up to the end so he could work out his problems.  This is a risky move and could leave Rutgers with an untested Jabulani Lovelace as their starter going into the toughest stretch of the season.  Defense may be in worse shape.  With the thinness on Defense, Rutgers cannot bear the loss of a key player heading into league play.  To avoid this, Greg Schiano must find a way to strike quickly.  A 17 point lead going into halftime should make it possible to rest the starters and give good extended experience to the younger players.  A Howard score against the backups might be forgiven.

Rutgers has not had the best experiences against inferior opponents.  In the Greg Schiano era, Rutgers has lost to Division I-AA New Hampshire (2004) and Villanova (2002), with their only convincing I-AA win being a 38-6 thrashing of Villanova last season.  Making matters worse is too many Division I-AA teams have been having good games against I-A opponents this season.  Already there have been several defeats of Division I-A squads by Division I-AA schools including:

- New Hampshire stunned Northwestern 34-17
- Montana State beat Colorado 19-10
- Portland State handled New Mexico 17-6
- Richmond shut out Duke 13-0
- Southern Illinois over Indiana 35-28

The Duke loss might be excused as they are one of the worst teams in Division I-A, but inexplicably Duke gave fellow ACC bottom-feeders Wake Forest a run for their money in a 14-13 loss.  There is no explanation for 2006 Sun Bowl competitor Northwestern or 2005 Big 12 North champs Colorado losing to Division I-AA teams.  Rutgers defenders have a vivid memory of New Hampshire's talented QB Ricky Santos running them to exhaustion, but one would expect that Northwestern could not have seen what was coming.

In a true show of how to play a Division I-AA opponent, earlier this season, West Virginia put a 52-3 hurting on Eastern Washington.  West Virginia put up 591 yards of offense and held the Eagles to four 3rd down conversions   Better yet, the Mountaineers cleared the benches, giving playing time to almost 80 players including 4 quarterbacks.  Starting RB Steve Slaton watched the second half of the game in his street clothes.  The news media barely noticed the win, but it was convincing enough to maintain their national rankings.  (Texas' loss to Ohio State dropped them below West Virginia in the AP, but otherwise they stayed the same)

The best that can be hoped for is for Rutgers to come close to matching West Virginia's performance.  A show of the latest Football player off-field fashions would make for some great entertainment for a hopefully boring second half.

AROUND THE BIG EAST
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What's with Wake Forest?  In the past you could always count on Wake Forest to play the role of patsy, but this season may be different.  They have earned a 3-0 record this season with convincing wins over the Big East's Uconn and Syracuse.  Other than those two losses, the Big East is undefeated in their 4 other games against the ACC, including some surprisingly dominating performances including Pittsburgh's 38-13 scrubbing of Virginia, West Virginia's 45-24 defeat of Maryland and Louisville's demoralization of Miami, 31-7.  Having a Big East team knock Miami out of the Top 25 is sweet, sweet revenge.  It's a real shame that no Big East teams take on Boston College this year, but don't despair.  If BC can't beat Florida State on October 21st, look for them to follow Miami.

The first 3 weeks of the season have allowed the Big East to enjoy a well-earned resurgence, and heading into league play, there are 2 Big East teams in the Top 10 and there may well be four Big East Top 25 teams at the end of the season.

The most interesting league game this week should be Uconn at the Indiana Hoosiers of the Big 10.  Both teams are coming off of embarrassing losses, but Indiana's loss may be worse, coming against Division I-AA Southern Illinois.  The bragging rights from this game won't be worth much, but UConn will want something to hang their helmets on heading into potentially tough contests against Navy and South Florida.

AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS
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Those of you who watched the Homecoming game against Ohio on television got a treat as Former Rutgers Head Coach Doug Graber provided color commentary for the ESPN Regional broadcast.  Graber appeared truly happy at the success that Rutgers has seen the past few seasons.  He told plenty of stories of his days coaching on The Banks, making the broadcast an enjoyable one for any Rutgers fan.  He told of his experiences in getting the stadium built and had a long and interesting halftime interview with Athletic Director Robert Mulcahy.  Graber told stories of the Unsportsmanlike Conduct call against the Horse during a game against Army in Giants Stadium and talked a bit about some of his old players such as the Running Back team of Presley and Willis and he told of his pleasant surprise to meet one of his old players who is now working on the academic support staff.  Just as many of us remember him, Coach Graber remains a true gentleman.

-- The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect those of StateOfRutgers.com.  If those views differ from yours, visit the message boards and tell everyone what you think.


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