A Weekly Commentary on the State of Rutgers Football. This week: Why can't Rutgers catch a break on the road?

The Road Game Hall of Shame
Lately, the prospect of Rutgers playing on the road has become unpleasant to me.  Never mind that 9-19 road record under Greg Schiano.  It just seems that Rutgers has a lot of bad luck playing on the road.

Here's Proof:

- September 8, 2001: Greg Schiano's first road game as a Head Coach is a sign of things to come.   Miami: 61, Rutgers: 0

- November 3, 2001: Rutgers worst loss since 1888.  WVU: 80, Rutgers: 7
- 2002: In 6 away games, Rutgers fails to score more than 14 points.  Their opponents fail to score less than 23 points.

- November 8, 2003: Tres Moses misplays a late-game punt return which UConn converts into a game-turning touchdown.  UConn: 38, Rutgers: 31

- October 2, 2004: An overmatched Syracuse makes several unanswered 4th Quarter scores in a come-back victory.  Syracuse: 41, Rutgers: 31

- November 20, 2004: Greg Schiano prevents the Midshipmen from performing a traditional pre-game ceremony.  Navy: 54, Rutgers: 21

- November 11, 2005: The Louisville players and fans accuse Rutgers of desecrating a religious icon.  Louisville: 56, Rutgers: 5

Sure, Rutgers has had their share of home-game disasters, but nothing like what they've done on the road.  Making things worse is that all of the worst road disasters were against Big East foes.  Were the Scarlet Knights really the cocky bad-seeds that the Louisville and Navy fans made them out to be after those disasters or was it simply a matter of luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Is this the year that our luck is changing?  Rutgers toughest contests in 2006 have been on the road, and both have gone to the Scarlet Knights.  Not only that, both contests were won, at least partly, due to lucky breaks.

- September 2, 2006: On 4th-and-Goal from the 1 yard line, the Defense stops North Carolina from closing to within 5 points and William Beckford strips the ball.

- September 29, 2006: South Florida misses a potential game-tying 2-point conversion attempt with seconds left on the clock.

Neither of these plays was by itself the result of luck, but by playing good football.

Maybe the highest achievement in football is to be good enough to remove luck from the equation.  Maybe that's where Rutgers is now.


Friday Night Something or Other
OK.  Let's get this out of the way.  I think NBC should have asked me before copying the name of this column so closely.  My loyal readers will realize that this column is posted every Friday while the NBC Television show "Friday Night Lights" is on Tuesdays.  Tuesdays???

Friday Night Lights follows the life and times of a High School Head Football Coach in a small Texas town that is nuts about their champion football team.  The series stays fairly close to the storyline of the original movie of the same name.

The first thing that you will notice is the unique style of the show.  Most scenes have the distinctive "shake" of a handheld camera, and the use of frequent zooms, pans and rack focus.  This technique gives the look of a newsreel and reinforces the feel of the football team being under a magnifying glass.  The town of Dillon, Texas maintains the gritty small town feel of the movie.

Coach Eric Taylor, played with calm passion by Kyle Chandler is the young first-year head coach.  The entire town expects him to copy the team's previous championship, and he reacts by pushing the players incessantly and has no bones about laying all the pressure right on their shoulders.  In the first episode he has a player who fumbled in practice stand still while the rest of the players take turns hitting him -- hard.  Each time the coach insists that he stand up to be hit again -- and he does so.   The coach's wife, Tami (Connie Britton) is pursued relentlessly by the ladies of the town to join their book club.  She discovers that they have no books, only advice on how to run a football team.   Their daughter Julie appears to want nothing to do with football.  Tami and Julie stand out starkly as the only two people in the entire town who don't really care about football so much.

The most intriguing character may turn out to be Quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter).  He is the hero of the entire town.  Girls throw themselves at him, but he tries to stay true to his steady.   College scouts are making promises to his parents.  TV wants to interview him.  He tries to remain cool to the pressure, but has a hard time of it.  In the end, the highly anticipated first game of the season shows how short lived football careers can be as Street, goes helmet-first to make a tackle after a turnover and leaves the game strapped to a backboard.  The untested backup quarterback, Matt Saracen, is forced to come into the game.  The second episode shows Saracen's transition from unknown to starter as he deals with the demands of learning to run the offense and deal with the attention.

If there is one unfortunately artificial aspect to this show, it is Saracen coming in cold to win the game on the final play.  Obviously that rarely happens in real life.  That is only a minor complaint, however.  Friday Night Lights is distinctive and well made and it is evident that the creators have a passion for football.  The final scenes of the first episode drip pathos as the town reacts to Street's injury.  The players of both teams praying at mid-field, the crowd in dead silence,  the ruckus of the gathering crowd at the emergency room, and the final scene of Coach Taylor holding the hand of his unconscious player.  Taylor is brought down to Earth, but one wonders if he is concerned more about the injured boy or the loss of his superstar.

Friday Night Lights is for anyone who loves the game of football.  It certainly doesn't share the same underdog vibe as Rudy, but if you liked Rudy, you will enjoy Friday Night Lights.  (Tuesdays, 8:00 PM, NBC)

Around the Big East
The Big East has continued to dominate out of conference play.  Last week #8 Louisville manhandled Middle Tennessee State 44-17 and #4 West Virginia took care of Mississippi State 42-14.  With two teams in the Top 10 and a third in the Top 25, the Big East has shut up their doubters.  The Big East stands with a 28-8 record against out of conference opponents and has a realistic opportunity to send two teams to BCS Bowl games.

Rutgers' next opponent Pittsburgh ended Syracuse's three-game winning streak while starting their own three-game streak and taking their record to 5-1 (2-0).  Panthers starting Running Back LaRod Stephens-Howling won Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors for his 221 yards on 27 carries including a 70 yard rumble through the guts of the Orange defense for a touchdown.  On Defense, Panther Defensive End Chris McKillop won Big East Defensive honors with 5 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery.

If there was any disappointment in QB Tyler Palko's performance, it was that he had four incompletions in 24 attempts.  His  first incompletion came on the last play of the first half after a string of 13 consecutive completions.  There is no doubt that this kid is the best quarterback in the Big East, and possibly the best ever in the Big East.

Syracuse was plagued with turnovers and penalties at crucial points in the game, was held to only 92 yards rushing and didn't get a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter.  Every Big East player who hopes to win Player of the Week honors is looking forward to playing Syracuse.

Tonight the Panthers travel to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando to take on 2-3 Central Florida.  The game will be televised live on ESPN at 8:00PM.

In Tampa, Connecticut was blown out for their second consecutive game, losing 38-16 to South Florida.  Among UConn's many demons were problems with their special teams.  UConn had a punt blocked and kicker  Matt Nunzie missed a field goal attempt and an extra point.  UConn was unable to mount a rushing attack and allowed the Bulls to control time of possession and the game.

On Monday, UConn Head Coach Randy Edsall dismissed five players from the team for undisclosed violations of team rules.  A BLOG reported that Ricky McCollum (Jr. DB), Todd Dorcelus (RSFr. WR),  Harold Stanback (Jr. DE) , Carl Teague (RSFr. LB) and Nollis Dewar (So. WR) were all caught entering the lobby of the team's Tampa hotel with beers on Friday night.  All of the players were backups, but three saw action the next evening against South Florida.  This occurred only three weeks after starting Safety Marvin Taylor (Jr) was dismissed from the team after an arrest for illegal use of a  credit card.

UConn hosts Army this Saturday at noon.

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

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