With the Scarlet Knights victory of Syracuse this past Saturday they have put themselves in the driver's seat for the Big East Championship, a title Rutgers has never claimed. The only thing standing in the way of the prized championship that comes complete with an automatic BSC bowl bid is a dynamic duo known as Pat White and Steve Slaton of West Virginia. With West Virginia practically out of the hunt for the Big East Championship the boys from Morgantown will be wagering their pride in the most important game in Rutgers history.
Gravity of the Upcoming Game
If you don't have a visitor ticket to Mountaineer Field for this Saturday, don't feel too bad. Due to the ESPN Primetime coverage the game-time starting temperature is supposed to be hovering around 20 degrees, so grab a cold beer and belly up to the bar boys because it's the last week of the regular season for old Alma Mater.
"Twenty itself? Good thing we're from New Jersey, right," said Schiano as he was given the harsh news. Not to overlook the toughness of the men from the State University of New Jersey, but aren't there over twenty players from Florida? "They'll be alright. They've been here long enough," said Schiano amidst a few chuckles from the media on hand. The cold has a way of making those tough hits sting for just a bit longer due to the water in the top layer of your skin evaporating rapidly, leaving the body stiff.
Beating the #3 Louisville Cardinals was a landmark win for the Rutgers program and it also garnered national attention as the dramatic come from behind victory drew an estimated TV audience of 4,642,000 households. Despite being only three weeks removed from that historic game, a new height can be reached this Saturday. "This is an opportunity to win a league championship. That's pretty special stuff; a chance to go to a BCS bowl game. The fact that we have that opportunity is important to the development of our program," said Schiano. For the head coach, that development will culminate in a National Championship game, but for now to take the next step and play for something no analyst thought possible six years ago is big enough.
The Awesome Display That Is West Virginia
West Virginia is the home of the spread offense that was created by head coach Rich Rodriguez. The linemen don't stand shoulder to shoulder, the quarterback doesn't know what he's going to do until he hikes the ball and to make it worse they have big play capabilities. It's a defensive coordinator's nightmare as he has to prepare his team to react to anything and everything. There is nothing traditional about this offense or this team for that matter as the defense sports an odd 3-5-3 coverage scheme.
The Scarlet Knights will take on a team that can execute the spread offense to a "T" and has no fear about who they play against. "They're a very high percentage running football team and they throw the ball on some short bubble routes and then they throw the ball deep," said Schiano as he dissected his opponent. "They're close to 90% run. They don't care if you know, they're going to try and run it on you and they have the players to do it .It's option football with two tailbacks, so it's even harder than option football." Essentially the quarterback is not a stationary character and now has to be counted by the defense to be a ball carrier. This turns the tables on the defense where normally it is 11 defenders for 10 offensive personnel, now becomes 11 on 11 and takes away the defense's advantage.
Steve Slaton had his breakout game against Rutgers last year as a tough defensive battle raged in Piscataway. He rushed for 139 yards a touchdown and also had 35 receiving yards to go with it. For many onlookers the talented back seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the most dangerous backs in the country. But he didn't sneak up on coach Schiano that's for sure. "We were very aware of Steve Slaton, because I sat in his living room with coach McNulty and his parents and tried to get him to come to Rutgers when his thing at Maryland fell apart."
The Knights Counter Point
The defensive line has a tall task ahead as they face an All-American center Dan Mozes. It will be up to Ramel Meekins to battle with the tough grunt and stop the rushing attack that has caused nothing but havoc all year. "We think we have a pretty darn good nose tackle in Raymel Meekins. So that's really going to be a fine battle. People who like line play, that's going to be a fun one to watch," said Schiano. Of course as the head coach pointed out, the best way to stop West Virginia is to keep their offense off the field. Ball control will be a crucial component in determining the outcome of this do-or-die game.
Seeing the Mountaineers fall to USF this past week seemed to be the map to beating the spread option. The only problem is that you have to be South Florida to play like South Florida and the coach explained why. "South Florida runs, probably better than anyone in the league as a team," said Schiano. "There are some things they do that I'm not sure we can do they came after them almost every play and we can't do that." So the Knights will look to mix up their package defense and give Pat White several different looks to make his decision to hand the ball off or keep it more difficult.
Pulling Out All The Stops
Schiano also alluded to the possibility of some trick plays being pulled out for this game. With it being the last game of the season there is nothing to hold back. Many fans can recall the coach's early years when trickery was a staple of the football team as a way to stay close in a game. This year he has been able to remain conventional and not take chances so far, but with a chance to play in a BSC bowl game on the line he'll pull the trigger if he feels it's going to win the game.
Rich Rodriguez had yet to evaluate Pat White's status following the ankle injury he sustained during the past week's game. He was walking around today, but will be limited in practice till Saturday. The turf toe should be alright for the game, but the ankle needs to be evaluated as the week progresses.
Zaire Kitchen is possibly done for the season due to the knee injury he sustained
in the Syracuse game. Shawn Tucker has not recovered from breaking his foot
against Howard earlier in the season and will not be available for this game.
Derrick Roberson's shoulder will be evaluated tomorrow. Shamar Graves will not
play after sustaining an ankle injury this past week.