Underwood Hitting His Stride

For those of you who had fears about Rutgers ability to present a balanced offense this year, fear no more. This past weekend the Scarlet Knights traveled down to Annapolis to face the Navy Midshipmen and put on a clinic. The defense made it clear how speed has turned them into "The Swarm" by suffocating the Navy triple option that had led the nation in rushing offense. But the concern ...

... that had been restricting fans to cautious optimism was Rutgers ability to throw the ball effectively. The passing game had struggled through the first five games but was never pressured to win games due to a rushing attack that seemed unstoppable. But when Navy found a way to limit Rutgers' rushing attack, quarterback Mike Teel found an answer with a nimble target in Tiquan Underwood.

So far this season Underwood has 9 receptions for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns. His numbers are nothing worthy of a Heisman Trophy candidacy, but with the way the passing game is developing his numbers may just start to explode. He can be that integral piece of the puzzle that turns Rutgers into the big time threat Schiano knows he can be: the wide out who has the ability to dance through defenders once he has the ball.

Having seen limited action as a true freshman as he ran the dive up the middle, Tiquan Underwood, got the game time experience that has fueled his development under the tutelage of senior wide receiver Shawn Tucker.

"Shawn is a great leader. He is still there at practices, meetings, and during the games giving us little pointers about things we need to work on in practice," said Underwood. "He is the father figure for all the receivers."

With the work he has put in, Underwood has made huge strides in his game play. This past week saw his efforts come to fruition as he was able to get off the initial block by the defender and still stay in his route. By keeping his timing down the same way he had done in practice, Teel was able to spot him and connect for two touchdown passes.

From the Practice Field to the Playing Field

Typically the practice field is where it all begins for these young guys. It's where they get most of their experience and if they are lucky, they get into the game late if it is a blowout. But with their top receiver out, Coach Schiano has turned to his young troupe to step up and prove that their hype meets their play. Fortunately by working together the guys have bonded and grown as a unit pushing each other to be ready for the next game.

"We're just going to go into practice and prepare, trying to out-prepare our opponent like we do every week," said Underwood.

Having a young group of receivers and a young quarterback to boot, it takes time to find that rhythm. Now that Teel has found some comfort in the pocket and the receivers have made their adjustments you can expect a lot more fireworks as this season progresses.

"Teel has been making some great reads, and I think we can start to take this to the next level with our passing game. We already have a great rushing attack which is the backbone of our offense," said Underwood. If the athleticism exhibited by Underwood is any indication of what level this receiving corps is capable of taking their game to, you can expect it to be elite.

After making a catch, Underwood effortlessly juked out the remaining defender whom almost fell backwards as he dashed into the endzone. In the South Florida game a catch by Tiquan had to be reviewed for an extended period because the officials couldn't believe he had the arm strength to pull a ball up that was hovering a mere inch from the ground. With the benefit of being at all of the practices Head Coach Greg Schiano knows first had Underwood's true ability, "I've seen Ti make some of those acrobatic catches," and now he is starting to do that in the games as well.

Beyond the Game

The philosophy of out-preparing an opponent has been an integral part of Coach Schiano's One-Eleventh philosophy: every man takes care of his job. They prepare because that is what they can control. The same thing can be said for the classroom.

The one that out-prepares the professor is going to get the good exam grade. "That first year it takes a little adjusting, but I'm a sophomore now so I'm pretty used to it," said Underwood. "Coach Schiano always stresses the fact that we are here number one to get our degree."

Rutgers is third among Division I football programs in graduation rate behind the Naval Academy and Stanford.

Once that school work is taken care of it is off to the field for practice, weight training, and film study to prepare for the next week. As a student-athlete, time management is the most important skill you can learn. College is a big jump from high school for any student, but when you add on what is essentially a second job, each day needs to be broken down and scheduled to the minute.

With all of the national attention being thrown at this squad it is easy to get lost in the limelight. With a head coach that has been there for a national title run he has kept his guys focused each week and not allowed his team to have delusions of grandeur. Certainly, it would be easy for an underclassman that has felt he made the right decision to come to Rutgers and take a minute to reflect on how his faith in Schiano has paid off.

That's not the way Underwood has responded to the glitz and glam, "With the polls and everything, that is pretty much for the fans. We know what we have to do day in and day out, just keep preparing, just keep getting better."

Spoken like a true national title contender.


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