With a short week to prepare for the Friday night lights at The University of South Florida there is little time to celebrate a stepping stone in Coach Schiano's goal of building a national championship program. With a couple more TV cameras and fewer open seats at the conference it would seem that the buzz is catching on about Rutgers. With that buzz comes expectations and Schiano is working overtime to get his coaches up to date on his plan for the nationally televised game. With the means to influence recruiting and act as a boon for the alumni and fans, national television is a terrific tool, but "If you take your eye off the preparation, TV may not be the best thing in the world for you." For Rutgers, that statement rings true as the embarrassment last year started with a stomp on a certain cardinal and ended with a terrible performance.
A Wideout's Call To Arms
With a chance to prove his team's development and that they belong among the nation's top 25 teams by earning a road victory in their Big East opener, Schiano is planning minute by minute this week. This planning, unfortunately, will not involve the senior wide receiver Shawn Tucker. The report is in that he is out for now, with an ankle injury and he will wear a cast for the next few months. However the doctors have said that he may be able to come back for the last few games of the season if he heals properly. There will be no medical redshirt for the sage of the wide receiver corps.
Friday this young band of very talented receivers will see their first action alone. It will be trial by fire as they head up against an athletic defense without their mentor and leader. With the absence of their top receiver, Schiano will have to find out who can step up and go across the middle of the field. All of Rutgers' top receivers will be in the mix for Friday with an opportunity for top recruits Shamar Graves and Kenny Britt to showcase their new talent. While Dennis Campbell and James Townsend will see more time, expect to see Tim Brown get a few more chances to showcase his speed.
Tiquan Underwood has been the hard worker of the bunch and has been an avid student under Tucker's tutelage having already made some important catches this season. Now there will be a chance to see if he can perform under the pressure that comes with his being anointed as lead receiver. "They are very talented young guys that can make some things happen," said Schiano. The coach expects to see some mistakes as this group gets more game-time experience but he certainly has seen what they can do in practice when they get the ball. Needless to say the sideline streaking passes require only a little fine tuning before Rutgers deep-ball potential becomes a reality.
QB Position Set In Stone
Despite having a mediocre game against Howard, Coach Schiano and the team have complete confidence in sophomore quarterback Mike Teel. "Mike's played in high pressure situations in high school," said Schiano. He has managed to stay loose despite the adversity he has faced and has an even keel that the coaching staff appreciates and makes them think that Teel can still lead this team to victory.
As far as being able to move the offense, despite the obvious heavy dose of running Rutgers likes to dish out, defenses have not been able to prevent the Knights from scoring.
"We're seeing a lot of eight men in the box… you could put 9 in there" joked Schiano.
But this speedy defense out of South Florida is no laughing matter. The players know that this will be a whole new level of play as they enter conference play and plan on delivering down the field to open things up for Ray Rice and Brian Leonard.
When the questions regarding Teel's efforts continued to come, Coach Schiano burned his eyes into the reporters and fired ... "We are gonna hit some of those shots and then all of a sudden there is not going to be any more conversation." He understands that those deep-ball passes are what makes everybody oooh and ahhh, but the young receivers are getting better at beating the coverage. It takes time and pretty soon those passes are going to start becoming completions.
So folks, don't turn on your TV Friday and have money on Jabulani Lovelace starting the second quarter. Teel is here to stay and the he will be given every opportunity to evolve and allowed to get a handle on this offense and lead the Scarlet Knights.
As a defensive coordinator, Schiano has been up late working on the film to get ready for a team that came into Rutgers Stadium last year and capitalized on several mistakes by the Scarlet Knights. This was a huge let down for the Knights last year as their comeback fell just short. Schiano has no intention of repeating history and feels that the team that shows up the most prepared for this game is going to win.
He focused on their offense which boasts a quarterback that is a legitimate threat against the Knight's secondary. The speed that they have, given the wealth of talent in Florida, will be a challenge the RU defense has yet to see this year. Particularly the South Florida offensive line is the tough nut to crack, "they have certainly adjusted to their strengths. Their interior offensive line was as good as any we played against last year." Schiano went on to say, "They are an athletic big front and they get on you and stay on you. That's not such a good match-up for us because we are an athletic, but smaller front. These guys are big and athletic … we are going to have to be on point."
If the Knight's defensive line is not able to penetrate the line then it could mean plenty of time for upstart freshman quarterback Matt Grothe. He is completing almost 60% of his passes and thrown for close to 850 yards so far. If the Knights are to maintain their reputation for having a staunch defense this season they will need to keep a solid rotation of defensive backs. The Bulls feature a freshman wideout who has been burning up the sidelines by the name of Ean Randolph (#8). He has the ability to make people miss once he has a handle on the ball.
Fortunately for the Knights, Jason McCourty, who started against Howard and made some progress in regaining his speed. That speed makes him such a threat at the cornerback position and could be a critical difference in the contest versus the Bulls. He should be back to full speed by the end of the week, in time for the showdown with South Florida.
I trust every Scarlet Knight fan will be glued to their TV or huddling in a bar with friends as they watch their team take the field to this call:
"Welcome everyone to Tampa Bay, Florida on a warm night here at Raymond James Stadium. Tonight the 23rd ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights look to take on the South Florida Bulls on Friday Night Football here on ESPN2!"