Preparing to Win

The Scarlet Knights return home for what is to be a grand homecoming of sorts. Having just swept a three-game road series, Rutgers has earned the spotlight as the Cinderella story of the season.

These are the days that die-hard fans live for: those great years after a prolonged absence from respectability. Having taken on the nation's leading rushing offense and the nation's leader in passing efficiency in consecutive weeks, giving up a grand total of ten points is a very loud way of earning respect. The Knights return to the comfortable confines of Rutgers Stadium this Sunday to learn that the excitement can't be packed into the stands. Perhaps having taken a cue from the visit to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Rutgers is going to offer seats on the grass hill to fans. Coach Schiano knows that everything goes away the minute he loses a grip on his team, and so despite being very appreciative of the support he says that there is still a football game to be won.

Schiano's Secret Recipe
He has been talking about it all season, every Monday he comes in and pounds it home: preparation, preparation, preparation. Of course he isn't giving this motivating speech to his players - he's giving it to the reporters covering his press conferences. For the past few weeks questions have swirled around the legitimacy of the program.

Are these quality wins? What about the new quarterback? Is Rutgers ready for the elite of the Big East Conference?

The answer to all of these questions can be answered with one word: preparation. Out-preparing their opponents has led this Rutgers team to its best start since 1976 when it finished 11-0.

"Everything we do is about preparation. We prepare a little better than we did last week, which is our goal," said Schiano as he pounded it home once again.

The way that this philosophy has worked so far this season, why would you change anything? They out-prepared the top rushing offense in the country and then followed through by repeating the process to defeat the nation's leader in passing efficiency. But until Head Coach Greg Schiano finds himself winning the national championship he promised when he was brought on board in December of 2000, every week is about preparation.

As students of both the game and the university the Rutgers football team is finding out just how much it pays off to study. "They really are starting to understand the confidence they can feel when they prepare the way we ask them to do," said Schiano as he delved into the new mentality of his team. The players are finding out why they have to put so much time into film and drills for some obscure situation. Whether it is coming from behind against USF, how to keep control when you are leading by a high score such as the Howard and Navy games, or when you are in a close game similar to the Pittsburgh game. Now they have to prepare for a game where they are favored heavily.

The Conn is On
Connecticut comes to the Banks this Sunday looking to define a young team that is starting seven freshmen. They also bring an added problem to Schiano's schedule of preparation; the quarterback position is undecided between Matt Bonislawski and D.J. Hernandez.

"You have to be prepared for both. They're both mobile, they're both athletic, they both have strong arms and they're accurate passers. They haven't thrown the ball a whole lot because they're running the ball well," said Schiano. So it can be assumed that the defense will be getting an extra couple video sessions to make sure that both quarterbacks are dissected and readied for.

Simply because the Huskies sport a 3-4 record is no cause to think they are a pushover. They have a very talented back in Terry Caulley whom Rutgers fans have gotten to know intimately the past few years. He is the senior tailback that is averaging 5.6 yards a carry and was averaging 4.7 yards a carry the year before. He has become the anchor of an offense that is learning with each game.

The thing that makes his numbers so impressive is that he is doing it with a relatively inexperienced offensive line. With three freshmen starting this season and the lone senior being left guard Matt Applebaum, it's striking to see that he has to find the creases like he has. The success they have had may be due in part to their effectiveness with the play action pass forcing defenses to sit back on their heels. Yet this style may not have a great effect on the number two defense in the country.

Locusts or Bees?
Schiano plans to counter Connecticut's mobile backfield with his "Swarm." The Rutgers defense has been a….well…swarm. The dilemma still remains though: locusts or bees?

Is this the defense that brings pestilence and leaves a path of destruction, or is it the defense that hits you and once you've been spotted they are going to swarm and keep hitting you with their stingers? I think we can ask the Husky offense to answer that one after the game.

The great pressure the defensive ends have put on opposing quarterbacks has been a statement of this team. Shifting several of the defensive ends into the game each has contributed in their own way. This has allowed them all to get enough rest while they ready to get back in and play Schiano's physical, quick, attack. The secondary has been breaking up passes, picking off tipped balls and not letting receivers get deep. Coach Schiano has figured out how to utilize his player's strengths and uses blitzes that cause confusion and disrupt the opposing offense's ability to get into a rhythm (For those of you who read last weeks article Next Chop: Pitt, that was the key to taking Palko out of the game).

The defense this season has had a full year under Schiano's schemes and he has had a lot of fun coaching that side of the ball once again. "I get paid an awful lot of money, so I don't know if people are worried I'm having fun or not," said Schiano. Well it's been a lot of fun to watch as well. With one of the top scoring defenses in the country the "Swarm" has quelled any questions about Rutgers ability to recover since the loss or Ryan Neil and Val Barnaby or develop an effective secondary.

"Putting together the plan….installing the defense….on the practice field, getting intimate with the planning and the execution. And then during the game…and having the kids looking you in the eye looking, waiting for the next call," said Schiano as his let his passion for defensive scheming loose on the assembled media. Schiano has his players as fired up about playing defense as much as he does scheming it.

Injury Report
Chenry Lewis was alright after the game and looks like he is ready to return to practice. Jean Beljour suffered a bad bruise and his status will be evaluated on Tuesday. Shawn Tucker is not going to be ready for Sunday night, but he is getting better as he stays on his rehabilitation schedule. Derrick Roberson's status will be better known by the end of the week as far as playing on Sunday. James Townsend is alright after suffering a collision with two members of the Pittsburgh band while warming up before the game.

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