FRIDAY NIGHT WRITES

A Weekly Commentary on the State of Rutgers Football. This week: Rutgers Football September Report Card

The Rutgers September Report Card
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Trying to grade Rutgers on their first month of play is difficult and at the same time gratifying.  With a perfect 5-0 record and their first national ranking in 30 years, it should be easy to chalk up an easy A+ for this team, but those in the know have been concerned that the Scarlet Knights have not yet been truly tested, and their most difficult test will be the month-long road trip that started last week as the Scarlet Knights narrowly escaped Raymond James Stadium with a win.

The games that are behind them have played into the Scarlet Knights' strengths, and have not effectively challenged their weaknesses, but that is about to change as Rutgers prepares to take on two very different teams on the road…but more about that below in Around the Big East.

When Ray Rice wants to make the most yards, he ducks behind the big blockers like Brian Leonard and Mike Fladell.  Since I've taken on the challenge of grading Rutgers, I've asked for the big blockers of StateofRutgers.com: Matei, Don Forbes and Mike Fasano to clear the path.

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks - D+
Magic_Al (D): Despite Coach Greg Schiano's constant support, it has become apparent that Mike Teel is not performing well.  He has had a few good moments, but his 6 interceptions and numerous poorly thrown passes are a constant source of concern.  In his first 3 years at Quarterback, Ryan Hart could blame some of his interceptions on poor pass blocking.  Teel, who has received mostly excellent pass blocking has no such excuse.

Mike Fasano (D-): Teel has more talent and smarts than he is showing. The question is: will he ever live up to his potential?  Lovelace has talent but is still a year away.

Don Forbes (D): After five games, Teel has thrown 6 interceptions against 2 touchdowns with 121 yards per game average. Although Teel manages the games well by taking the offense out of potential bad plays, he has yet to show the ability to win a game or scare the defense with his play. As the schedule gets tougher, it is important for the offense to take defenses out of 9-man fronts by throwing the ball.

Matei Georgescu (C): Mike Teel has had to do what's been asked of him.  Managing a game properly deserves credit - what exactly did Manning do against the Jets last Sunday?  Until he absolutely had to engineer the big drive, he did nothing but manage the game.  Teel flunked the quizzes against Ohio and Howard, survived a passing quiz grade against USF, but he's yet to take the mid-term - until he does, game management is all he'll be graded against.

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Running Backs - A
Magic_Al (A): Rutgers most effective offensive weapon is one of the top rushing attacks in the country.  Sophomore Raymell Rice continues to impress us with his vision and balance and has tied JJ Jennings' record of 7 consecutive 100-yard rushing games.  Senior Brian Leonard continues to be an all-around amazing athlete who is willing to forgo the spotlight to win.  Heisman voters are rarely impressed by blocking, but NFL coaches will be excited by his all-around athleticism and work ethic.

Mike Fasano (A+): Not only talented but versatile. There is nothing that you can ask of this pair, that they can't deliver on. The addition of Kordell Young to this backfield should be barred by the Federal Trade Commission on the grounds of unfair competition.

Don Forbes (A): Rutgers is tied for 12th in the nation in rushing with two Heisman Trophy candidates in the backfield. Although Leonard's numbers are not Heisman material, he clears the way with his blocks for Rice to be second in the nation in rushing. Their efforts have paved the way to the team's 5-0 record.

Matei Georgescu (A): What is there left to say about the second leading rusher in the nation or the most versatile fullback in college football, who only has two Leaps on the year.

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Offensive Line - B+
Magic_Al (B): The line has done an amazing job of opening big holes for Ray Rice and has done an effective job of keeping the heat off of QB Mike Teel.  The most effective member of this squad has to be their coach, Kyle Flood.  They have allowed only 5 sacks and Rutgers has rushed for 208 yards per game.

Mike Fasano (B): Good solid performance. There is still room for improvement and if they stay healthy that improvement will probably come as the season continues.

Don Forbes (B+): The Rutgers offense is tied for 12th in rushing in the nation and one of the reasons is the play of the offense line.  Although the passing game has yet to catch fire, the line has protected Teel well.

Matei Georgescu (A): It all starts here - everything!  Solid performances were expected out of Zuttah, Sosa, and Stapleton, but Fladell and Stephenson have raised their game to a new level making this unit one of the top lines on the east coast.

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Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - Incomplete
Magic_Al (Incomplete): This squad has been consistently overthrown and underthrown by Mike Teel, and has been tested sparingly.  It is apparent that this group has speed, but who knows if they can make Rutgers the wide-open offense that everyone anticipated before the season.  To be fair, the Wide Receivers and Tight Ends have been successful in blocking for the Running Backs.

Mike Fasano (Incomplete): Who knows how good this group actually can be until someone starts getting them the ball. The tight ends are solid, that we know. Right now the wideouts are just unrealized potential. I like Underwood a lot. Tim Brown has the talent to be the next Tres Moses.

Done Forbes (C+): This unit has the talent but the play from the QB position has limited the performance of this group.

Matei Georgescu (Incomplete): This group has largely been inactive.  In part due to actual decision-making and in part due to a lack of cohesiveness between them and their QB.

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Offensive Play Calling and Coaching - B
Magic_Al (B): There were a few questionable calls, particularly in the South Florida game, but mostly the play calling has been effective.

Mike Fasano (A): Schiano's best coaching job since he has been at Rutgers.

Don Forbes (B): Players like Brian Leonard and Ray Rice make it easy to call plays. However, defenses have been stacked with 9 man fronts to stop this duo. The Rutgers offensive coordinator has mixed up the play enough to keep them guessing and be successful.

Matei Georgescu (B): Head-scratchers have been sprinkled in, (first & goal inside the UNC 10 during the 2nd quarter saw a pair of pass plays called that should never have been called -- this has since been remedied) but for the most part, the offensive play-calling has steered the team toward its strength and away from its weakness and given this team the best chance to put points on the board.

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Overall Offense - B
The offense has been able to put points on the board thanks to great field position from the Defense and Special Teams.  Excluding the Howard game, the offense has averaged 20 points per game which is acceptable, but nowhere near what should be expected considering the opposition.  Most of the credit goes to an exceptional rushing attack.  The lack of an effective passing game has not yet been a major problem yet, but upcoming teams will punish Rutgers for this major deficiency.  On the flip-side, however, add a passing attack to this mix and the offense would be unstoppable.

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DEFENSE

Defensive Line - B+
Magic_Al (A): The speedy defensive line has been a big part of Rutgers' success on defense.  Eric Foster has come back from injuries to become a team leader in word as well as in deed.  Brandon Renkart has been johnny-on-the-spot, coming up with three fumbles and leading the line in tackles.

Mike Fasano (B+): Far better than anyone could reasonably have asked for. Renkart is probably the most pleasant surprise of all. Foster is a stud. Who would believe that Meekins was ever a walk-on. Beckford has found a home.

Don Forbes (B): One of the questions at the beginning of the season was how would this undersized line perform.  To this point of the season, the unit has been able to rush the passer and stuff the run.

Matei Georgescu (B): A supposed area of weakness has, with some help, turned into an area of strength.  Last year's nation-leading sack total will not be duplicated but Eric Foster and Ramel Meekins have certainly helped take the load off RU's new bookends.

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Linebackers - B
Magic_Al (B): Devraun Thompson has been the leader of this group with constant heads-up play.  He has amassed 11 solo tackles, 4.5 for loss and 2 sacks so far.  Quintero Frierson leads the linebackers with 17 tackles, 5 for loss and 2 sacks.

Mike Fasano (B+): Devraun Thomson might be the most underrated player in the league.

Don Forbes (B): This unit has performed beyond expectations.  Devraun Thompson jumping over the pile to stuff the North Carolina Fullback will remain among my favorite plays.

Matei Georgescu (B): One missed play against UNC, resulting in what I believe was the biggest play from scrimmage against RU on the year, was the low point.  Devraun Thompson, and an emerging Brandon Renkhart have been the highlights.

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Defensive Backs - B-
Magic_Al (B): Safeties Courtney Greene and Ron Girault have been having a great season, combining for five interceptions.  Manny Collins was key in the win over North Carolina with 2 interceptions.  Greene also leads the defense with 18 solo tackles and 12 assists.  The Cornerbacks are greatly improved since last year, but they still have a long way to go.

Mike Fasano (B-): Far better than last year but still allow opposing wideouts to find seems in the coverage.  A year away from being a top notch group.

Don Forbes (C+): This unit is improved from last season but still allows big plays, however, the unit has come up with some big INTs and tackles.

Matei Georgescu (B): Like night and day compared to last year.  Derrick Roberson has stepped up immensely and he may have help behind him.  This position was the major issue of concern when considering the decrease of pressure on the opposition's QB that was to be expected this year.

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Defensive Play Calling and Coaching - A-
Magic_Al (A): Two years ago, people were wondering if Greg Schiano was the defensive genius that he was cracked up to be, but since making himself the Defensive Coordinator, the defense has improved impressively.  This season they have limited opposing offenses to 10 points a game and have kept opposing running backs under 2.6 yards per carry.  The defense has been aggressive and attacking while playing smart football.  Their toughest test so far was South Florida with their dangerous quarterback Matt Grothe, but they limited Grothe's running attack and forced him to pass.

Mike Fasano (A): A simply fantastic coaching job. The overall improvement in defense is astonishing. The ability of this team to read and react to plays is better than I have seen at Rutgers in many years.

Don Forbes (B): The play calling has forced the hand of opponents and opponents may soon be reacting to RU's defensive speed and athleticism.

Matei Georgescu (B): It's quite critical that the defense makes the play the instant it is presented to them (such as the interception in the end zone that could have put USF away this past week).  RU has had to take chances this year; but these same opportunities, had they not been taken advantage of, would have resulted in the fans quite boisterously voicing their negative opinions.  The Scarlet Knights have been making plays while the staff has had them better prepared than ever before.

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Overall Defense - B+
Magic_Al (B+): The Rutgers Defense is tied for sixth in the nation, allowing only 233 yards per game.  The aggressiveness has paid off with 16 turnovers and the 11th best turnover ratio in the country.  What more can you ask for?

Mike Fasano (B+): The basic defense is very solid. A little tinkering here and there and they could be truly great.

Don Forbes (B) The defense, which would lose games in the past is now having a direct hand in winning games.

Matei Georgescu (A): In this case, the sum is greater than each of its separate components.  The defense rescued Rutgers in 2 contests: UNC and Ohio.  These would have been losses in years past.

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Special Teams - B
Magic_Al (A): Punter Joe Radigan has made an amazing improvement this season, 47.1 yards and netting 36.3 yards.  The punting game has become a weapon with 7 of 19 punts inside the 20.  Kicker Jeremy Ito has missed two field goals and an extra point, including one blocked field goal attempt against South Florida, but his real value this season has been on kickoffs which he has prevented the opposing teams from returning 55% of the time with 17 touchbacks.  The coverage teams have been spotty, yielding significant yards, but the punt and field goal coverage teams have rocked, putting heavy pressure on kickers resulting in an array of blocked kicks, failed attempts and kicking team penalties.  Last year's Big East Special Teams player of the year, Willie Foster has been less than stellar so far with very few opportunities to return kicks and few yards when he tried.

Mike Fasano (A+): Radigan always had the leg but - until this year - he shanked half his kicks. Now he is consistently nailing it and leading the Big East in punting. Ito has been sensational. The unsung hero is the holder, Anthony Cali. The rest of the units are all on target.

Don Forbes (C+): The return game has the potential to be stellar but hasn't realized it yet.

Matei Georgescu (B): Coverage remains an issue.  Kick returning has been nearly absent so far.  Radigan has been superb and has had a hand in nearly every Rutgers victory.  Ito is - well - Ito.  If Rutgers is to continue winning, its athletic advantage on this unit must become increasingly evident because RU will need points from this unit.

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Overall - B+
Magic_Al (A+): A win is a win is a win, and Rutgers has five of those already.  One more win and they will be bowl eligible.  Two more wins will equal last season's record.  There are some tough games ahead, but Rutgers could go so far as to win five more and compete for the Conference title.  Every game from this point is critical, but the one that stands out is the last game of the season, December 2nd at West Virginia.  With two more wins, Rutgers should have little trouble being selected for a bowl.  The most attractive choices being in Texas (The Brut Sun Bowl in El Paso or the Texas Bowl in Houston).

Mike Fasano (B+): Rutgers is a quarterback away from major bowl.  If Teel can come around, Rutgers could pull a major upset against West Virginia. That just happens to be a game that matches up well for the Knights. However, unless Teel comes around that will be just a pipe dream. As to the rest of the schedule, only Louisville is probably unbeatable.  This is Schiano's best coaching performance since taking over the Rutgers job. A clear quantum leap in terms of effective coaching.

Don Forbes (B+): At 5-0, the team has played well and has attained the first top 25 ranking in 30 years. Critics might comment on the schedule but the team has defeated all of the teams it has faced. There are improvements to make but many of them can be overcome by coaching.

Matei Georgescu (A): The Bowl situation is "weird".  Will 9 victories get this team to the Sun Bowl?  10?  Is that not an unbelievable success, the likes of which fans have never dreamed of?  Does that not deserve a 'passing with flying colors' grade?  Indeed, RU is only halfway there - much football still remains to be played, but so far ...

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AROUND THE BIG EAST
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Connecticut had one of their worst games of recent memory, losing to Navy (Rutgers' next opponent) by a score of 41-17.  Heading into the game, UConn's defense was ranked 10th in the nation, but the unit was completely bumfuzzled by Navy's triple-option offense, giving up 605 yards, including 464 on the ground.  Coming just a week after holding Indiana to zero yards rushing.  UConn Quarterback Matt Bonislawski had an "OK" game in his first start after replacing D.J. Hernandez.  Tomorrow, UConn travels to South Florida for a 7:00PM game.  Rutgers will see UConn on October 29.

Meanwhile, Navy is having an impressive season and now enjoys a 4-1 record that might have been 5-0 except for a single missed PAT in overtime against Tulsa two weeks ago.  Tomorrow they travel to Colorado to take on the Air Force Academy.  You can view this game at 2:00pm on CSTV.

In two weeks, Rutgers will take on 4-1 Pittsburgh.  The Panthers have had an excellent season with easy wins over Virginia, Cincinnati, The Citadel and Toledo.  Their only loss was to an improving Michigan State team.  The Panthers will be playing Syracuse tomorrow in the Carrier Dome and will be hoping to end Syracuse's 3-game winning streak.  Pitt had an easy time against Toledo, converting numerous Rocket miscues into touchdowns.  QB Tyler Palko threw two more touchdown passes before sitting out the fourth quarter.  This game has been designated Big East Game of the Week and should be available on MSG Network at 12:00 Noon.

OTHER NEWS
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The Columbus Dispatch reported last week that seventeen Ohio Bobcat football players (that's 14% of the roster) have been arrested for various charges since the start of the year, but not one has missed any playing time as a result.  Most of the offenses have been the usual collegiate hijinks: drugs and booze, but there have been charges of assault and disorderly persons offenses.  Some of the charges have resulted in jail time.  Two players, including one charged with punching a police horse, were arrested on April 29. Another was charged May 6 with threatening to kill an employee of a local bar.

Coach Frank Solich claims to have a 1-strike rule, but the Dispatch was able to document at least one starter who has been arrested twice and will be jailed for 10 days starting after the last game of the regular season, but will miss no game time.  Solich claims that since the first offense occurred before he was coach that it doesn't count.  Coach Solich was convicted of drunk driving last year.  He has been placed on probation and is participating in campus alcohol-education programs.

-- 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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