Head Coach Greg Schiano has an incredible task in front of him and with expectations and hopes running higher than ever there is no time to sit back and enjoy the fall scenery.
The Juggernaut Offense
Thursday, the Scarlet Knights will face one of the nation's most prolific passers in Brian Brohm. Having weathered a thumb injury to his throwing hand six weeks ago he has proven himself to be a true gridiron warrior. Rutgers will have its hands full with the Brohm-led Cardinals. "The way he's playing and the way he played Thursday night is incredible. Certainly part of it is very good scheme and part of it is tremendous athletes catching the ball, but he is just a fantastic player," said Schiano. "He is a sure fire first round draft pick." The Knights will look to keep him off balance by mixing in blitzes and different coverages.
The offense goes far deeper than the quarterback and Schiano sees his hands being tied with all they are capable of. "You have to put yourself in position, and even then they make plays," said Schiano. "As a group they are very talented, and I think what goes a little unnoticed is the tight end (# 82 Gary Barnidge)." With not only their phenomenal passing game being buttressed by a fine receiving corps that features the 6'6'' Mario Urrutia, their run game is averaging 203 yards per game. Boasting strong running backs in Kolby Smith and Brock Bolen the Cardinals can hurt you in the air and on the ground making them the complete package offense.
Stopping the Juggernaught
"I think it's team football. It's our offense being able to hold onto the football, control the football," said Schiano. The team will have to play just like that: a team. As a team the Scarlet Knights have won eight straight, but they have not been able to rely on one side of the ball to win every game. Sometimes it's the rushing attack, other times it's the stifling defense, and most recently it has been the special teams that wins the ballgame. To compete with the #3 team in the land it will take a complete team to win this match.
Yet, the special teams have played a pivotal role this season and Schiano is looking to capitalize on their playmaking ability to give them the edge in this showdown. "It's our special teams being able to do some things we need to get done in both the block and return game and the coverage teams. We think we have two pretty good weapons in Ito and Radigan," said Schiano. Those weapons have got "national level talent" tattooed to their foreheads. Ito has been the go to guy inside the opponents 35 yard line, having knocked in 2 from 50-plus range, while Radigan is 6th nationally in punting averaging 45 yards per punt.
The Knights were close to breaking the UConn game wide open save for a few long passes that were close to being touchdown catches. There is positive development out of Mike Teel as he is getting closer and more accurate in his passing. He will be faced by a tough Louisville defense that requires a lot of film work. "They are constantly pressuring and they are bringing it from every imaginable different angle. They are doing it out of different fronts." With the extra week Schiano feels that his quarterback will be confident when he takes the field Thursday.
Of course he is trying to keep Teel loose as well. After being blown out last year by Louisville, Schiano feels like asking him, "oh, so are you going to avenge this one or what?" It is that trust in Teel to manage the game that Schiano feels so strongly about. "There is something about him that gets it. It's not always the way you want….but something about his demeanor makes others around him want to play for him."
The other facet of the offense that will have to play in a huge way is the rushing attack of Ray Rice and Brian Leonard. "Our running game as a whole is very important. It's a way to control the football. It's a way to play, what we think is, New Jersey – Big East football: hold the ball, run it, and throw it when you want to," said Schiano. Having a player in the backfield that could have turned pro last year, deciding to return to win a bowl game has given the program a stamp of legitimacy. For Schiano he knows what this means to his star fullback, "Knowing Brian it's huge. This is why he came back…. There's a lot of kids who will be out there on Thursday night that deserve to be out there in that atmosphere, but none more than him."
Team Mentality and National Respect
"Around me they are handling it well, I can't tell you how they are when they are outside of this building," said Schiano regarding the national attention. "They understand that the way they have gotten to be 8-0 is by choppin' away: prepare, prepare, prepare. If they leave that mode we don't have a chance."
With four games remaining the players have been focusing on the week to week stuff and avoiding the fluff of the national attention. The system that Coach Schiano has instilled in these men as far as improving week to week and becoming smarter athletes will receive it's toughest test this week as the national spotlight.
On the recruiting trail, Schiano has noticed how things have been getting a lot easier. With the fans and coaches seeing what he is accomplishing at a program left for dead it is becoming a source of local pride. He now gets cheered at the high school games he attends and the announcers have even reminded people to tune into the Rutgers game that weekend, something formerly unheard of. He was out scouting thanks to the bye-week in Central Jersey and South Jersey this past week.
Tickets cost how much!?!
All of a sudden the athletic department is running out of tickets. The tri-state area loves a winner and who more than the New Jersey fans that have waited for a winning football program with NJ stamped on it to call their own. Tickets running on EBay or StubHub.com have been ranging from $350 to $750 dollars on average. Gone are the days when a man could spread his blanket out on the seat and have a picnic during the game. Now it's limiting students to 10,500 and brining in extra bleachers to cope with the swarm of students.
When asked if he had any more tickets available for the game Schiano could only laugh and say, "believe it or not, I've had to tell a lot of people, ‘I can't help ya'." With much being made of the off-season studies regarding stadium expansion Schiano was ready to comment, "You'd like to get it where, maybe it's not up to this level every week, but you are filling the stadium every week, and then these are special nights." In the long run he would like to see the expansion of the stadium become enclosed with two decks all the way around.
Mulcahy has noticed the response from the Rutgers alumni as the Knights have brought respect to a program that had been the bane of college football for so long. "One corporate executive who sent me an e-mail saying, ‘for years I'd never made a big deal about my Rutgers degree as I was embarrassed about our football team.'" With a winning team, the long suffering alumni that were forced to grin and bear those wise cracks by coworkers can look and point to the surging program. Even Governor Corzine was calling looking for a few more tickets for what is clearly the biggest game in Rutgers football history.