A Weekly Commentary on the State of Rutgers Football. This week: In Passing Interest

In Passing Interest
Who is Mike Teel? Maybe the right question is which Mike Teel will show up tomorrow night when the 19th ranked Scarlet Knights complete their 3-game road trip with a nationally televised bout against #26 Pittsburgh.

The best Mike Teel that we've known has not been seen since 2003 when he passed for 1,891 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior at Don Bosco Prep, leading his team to 24 consecutive wins.

After sitting out 2004, Mike Teel became the Rutgers starting quarterback on October 15th of last year against Syracuse. His 13 of 27 completions for 203 yards and two touchdowns made Greg Schiano's course correction look correct as Rutgers rolled to a 31-9 victory. Little did we know at the time that Syracuse was in the middle of their first-ever winless season in conference play.

The next week was trouble, however. Starting against Connecticut, Teel played a disappointing first half, completing only 10 of 22 attempts with 2 interceptions, ending the half down 10-3. Greg Schiano returned to Ryan Hart in the second half. Aided by a 217 yard breakout rushing performance by Ray Rice, Hart successfully led the team on three long scoring drives, throwing touchdown passes to Brian Leonard, Tres Moses and Sam Johnson. A safety in the 4th quarter provided the margin of victory.

Teel's final start of 2005 occurred in a blow-out, losing to Louisville. Starting for an injured Hart, Teel completed 12 of 24 passes to go with 2 interceptions.

At the start of this season, Teel became the unchallenged starter. Unfortunately, his inconsistency continued from last season. Through the first 5 games of the season he completed 56.6% of his passes for 2 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He overthrew open receivers frequently, including nearly every time he has used his strong arm to go deep. His timing and finesse have been poor at best.

Through it all, Greg Schiano has stood behind Mike Teel, praising him for his "management" of the team. That's a kind complement, but you know as well as I do that it really means that there was little else that Teel could be complemented for. In one respect, the compliment is justified. The most important statistic is wins and losses, and Teel's most important statistic is that in his entire football career through High School and College he has lost only one game as a starting quarterback. It would be very unfair to say that this is due to him being in the right place at the right time. Whatever he's doing, it's been winning games.

Last week may have represented the turn-around for Teel in the other statistical categories. He completed 15 on 26 attempts with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception (which was the fault of the receiver) for 215 yards including a dazzling 34 yard completion to Clark Harris. Teel also gave Tiquan Underwood and James Townsend their first collegiate touchdowns in the game.

BUT … Navy's defense was obviously focusing on the Rutgers running game. They stacked the box and held the Rutgers running backs to a season low 124 yards rushing and left the receivers in single coverage for most of the game. So once again we must ask, did the Navy game bring out the return of the hero of Don Bosco or the false hero of Syracuse? Will the Mike Teel of 2006 follow up his Navy victory with another error-filled game against Pittsburgh?

Against Pittsburgh the passing game will be needed more than ever. Pitt leads the nation with 19 passing touchdowns and has been averaging over 400 yards per game on offense. Even against the #1 Defense in the nation, Pitt will be scoring. On the defensive side, Pitt has solid, if unspectacular numbers. Rutgers will need to put points on the board and cannot rely completely on the rushing game.

One game did not make Mike Teel a good quarterback. Rutgers must develop an efficient passing attack or upcoming teams will stack the line and stop the run. If that happens, then the best that Rutgers fans can hope for is to spend bowl time in sunny downtown Toronto.

It is way too soon to start making alternate plans, but Mike Teel's faults may make for an interesting competition for next season's starting Quarterback. Here are the QBs on the roster right now:

- True Freshman Chris Paul-Etienne from Edison High School in Miami, Florida has arguably the strongest arm on the team. His natural stance is to stay in the pocket, but he is athletic enough to be a bona fide dual threat.

- True Freshman Tom Lang from Middlesex School in Concord, Mass is a very smart quarterback who has the ability to stay very calm under pressure. He's very big and difficult to bring down.

Red shirt Freshman Jabu Lovelace from Tenafly, NJ is the only quarterback on the squad with game experience, having played mop-up duty in two games this season. Having played Safety and Quarterback in High School, he is very close to the prototype dual-threat quarterback. He has great speed and size and can make moves on the run.

Red shirt Freshman Andrew DePaola, a walk on from Hereford High School in Maryland is a the true dark horse on the squad. He throws some of the most beautiful passes on the team and is very much a journeyman, able to do well everything that the other quarterbacks do without excelling in any one area.

Sophomore Domenic Natale from The Hun School in Princeton, NJ originally signed to play for Michigan State, but returned to Rutgers when it appeared that he would not get a chance to play. He is extremely athletic and a very accurate thrower who can be a threat running or passing.

With so many good options at Quarterback, it appears that Greg Schiano may have a difficult decision to make next year.

Red shirt Sophomore Mike Teel is a proven winner with brains and a strong arm, but any of the quarterbacks on the roster may be able to win over his position during camp. The smart money seems to be on a close competition between Teel and Natale, but there is a good chance that Jabu Lovelace will work his way into any mix as a situational option threat.

Around the Big East
Not only does the Big East have three Top 25 teams for the first time in several years, but Pittsburgh is sitting in the #26 position, ready to join the fray if they beat Rutgers. The only flaw with that plan, however, is that Rutgers would likely lose their Top 25 spot if they lose to Pitt. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just fine if Pittsburgh stays off the Top 25 for another week.

There's also something that the Big East doesn't have. They don't have the Miami Hurricanes. Does anyone miss the Hurricanes? As members of the Big East, Miami was always brash, but they were never known for taunting and fighting. Is it any wonder? With all those national championships, they could let their play speak for them and got their aggressions out on the field.

Some pundits have suggested that the ACC is a bad influence, but I have no doubt that the Miami players are simply taking their frustrations over a dismal season out with cheap taunting against cross-town non-rivals Florida International University. Most of these players chose Miami to compete for a national championship. Having only one win against an opponent with a winning record, this is not the Miami that these players have signed up for. Their school has let them down. Is it any wonder that they would develop a bad attitude? This is in no way an excuse for the actions of the players, but Miami will be in for more trouble until they fix their real problems.

This Week in the Big East
Tonight, UConn hosts #4 ranked West Virginia. The Huskies 105th ranked rush defense will be hard pressed to stop Mountaineer running back Steve Slaton. UConn finally broke a 2 game losing streak, defeating Army 21-7. The game was over in the first quarter after a 98 yard touchdown by RB Terry Caulley and a 72 yard punt return for another touchdown. If UConn has anything going for them, it's the slight possibility that West Virginia will be looking past them with their November 2nd Show-down against Louisville looming. With games against #19 Rutgers, #26 Pittsburgh and #6 Louisville still to come, UConn's hopes of reaching a bowl game this year are quickly dwindling. That game is broadcast on ESPN at 8:00PM.

#6 Louisville is looking to go 7-0 for the first time since 1925, and going against the slightly-less-hapless-than-last-year Syracuse Orange may be the easiest way there. Even with the solid, but not spectacular return of starting quarterback Brian Brohm, the Cardinals won a squeaker over Cincinnati 23-17. Brohm went 20 of 37 completions for 324 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Syracuse has a very difficult schedule coming up, and probably will miss bowl eligibility again this year, but their improvement has been noticeable. Louisville at Syracuse is at 12:00 on Gameplan.

Cincinnati has had a rough season. With contests against three ranked opponents already (including #1 Ohio State) and two more ranked opponents to come, one has to give them credit for gravitas. They showed that gravitas by staying close against their long-time rivals Louisville. Their defense held the Cardinals to 22 points (half their average score this season) and their offense kept Louisville off the field by rushing for 212 yards and dominating the clock with 36:43. Quarterback Dustin Grutza's last chance drive put the Bearcats on Louisville's 22nd yard line with 9 seconds left in the game and a chance to win, but Grutza's 4th down pass was knocked down by Cardinal cornerback Gavin Smart with 3 seconds left on the clock. This Sunday, the Bearcats will host 5-2 South Florida. The game will be on ESPN on Sunday at 8:00PM.

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