Rutgers Vs. Villanova Football – August 31, 2002
Well … I don't even know where to start. What a horrible, disappointing loss. In many ways this loss is worse than last year's loss to Connecticut. And maybe that is where to start. Why is this loss worse? After all, I believe after watching this game, along with last year's game, that Villanova is actually a much better team this year than U. Conn was last year. So it really should not be a worse loss, should? Here are some reasons:
1) Last year was Schiano's FIRST year as a head coach at any level, and you could argue he was very low on the learning curve. But this year we have no such excuse.
2) Last year RU was short scholarship players, and this year we should be as short. But it seems we are in some areas just as shallow and that is disappointing a year later.
3) Last year RU struggled, but Schiano put together a relatively strong recruiting class, even in the face of on field struggled. This loss makes his task that much more difficult after all, last year Connecticut was at least nominally a Division 1A team, even if Nova is a better team.
4) RU lost to Connecticut in a struggle, while this year Nova, a Division 1AA team just dominated RU in every facet of the game except the punting and punt return portion of the game.
5) The new season always starts with hope and that has been killed in the first game, with a brutally tough schedule ahead.
I am not even sure where to really start the analysis. I mean RU was relatively putrid in almost every aspect of the game, as best I could tell. Sure, there were glimmerings, but all too brief. I guess I will start with some general comments about hopes before the game and how they failed, and then go to the position analysis.
First, and most importantly, we all hoped after comments from Spring Camp and August Camp that the offensive line would be much improved. Also, much of the line was healthier than usual throughout camp, giving us even more hopes. So much for hopes, eh? Villanova's strength was its offense, not its defense. But RU could not produce a single scoring drive of over 48 yards, or of over 7 plays the entire game. And the poor line play was a key part of that (more on this later).
Second, we hoped to see Cubit show improvement, greater accuracy, more play making, less deer-in-the-headlights. So much for those hopes. More on this later.
Third, we hoped to see the defensive linbe improve, with its improved depth and improved skills (due to the return of Burnett, the added strength and technique for Orr, Peterson, and Neill). Well, there were some flashes, but there was no pressure put on the Nova QB except for a stretch in the second half of the 2nd quarter and the first half of the 3rd quarter. More on this later.
Fourth, we expected our secondary to be the best part of our defense. Hmmm … Seabrooks beaten on a deep post pattern on the 5th play Nova ran. Brackett burned on a post pattern over the middle with no safety help. ALL the secondary burned on a flea flicker. No safety help on the late 40 yard TD run. Nova receivers constantly open on the sideline, in the flat, over the middle, on curls, outs, seam routes, etc.
I guess I could go on, but maybe I should just move to the unit analysis.
Offensive Line: One of the most disappointing parts of the game was the awful line play. I do not have official stats, but I keep stats during the game. In the first half, RU had about 45 yards rushing in 16 attempts. Cubit was sacked for an 8 yard loss, so forward rushing was about 53 yards in 15 attempts. RU did lose 10 or so yards on a busted play between Cubit and Facyson—but it was busted because several Nova defenders busted in on the play—so that certainly counts. More importantly, RU had a 24 yard run by Facyson, a 20 yard run by Pittman, and a 10 yard bootleg run by Cubit. So RU had 54 yards on 3 carries, and minus 1 yard TOTAL on its other 11 carries (6 of which were for losses, and 3 others were for no gain. In other words, RU rushed 16 times in the first half (including the sack). Of those 16 carries, TEN (10) were for a loss or no gain. How pitiful is that? In the second half RU had 17 carries for 33 yards, by my unofficial count. Of those 17 carries, 4 were sacks, totaling about 10 yards of losses. Three others were for losses or zero gain. The longest gain was 8 yards. Ugghh. Oh yeah, RU had numerous 3rd and 4th and short opportunities. I believ RU converted just TWO 3rd or 4rth and less than 3 yards to go—one on a play action pass to Pilch, and one run up the middle. The line allowed incredible penetration on EVERY other attempt (and there were at least 5-6 other chances), which of course failed.
The pass protection was not much better. It seemed to me Williamson was beaten regularly, especially when Cubit stepped up into the pocket—Williamson's man would then step back and harass Cubit, while Williamson did not stick with the block. Late in the 4th quarter, it got so bad that Pittman started yelling at Williamson, and smacked him on the helmet several times after a sack. But the 5 starting lineman played every offensive down. Every one, with no substitutes. Where was that vaunted depth? Schiano had commented that MacDonald had showed so much promise, and had developed so well. He is a back-up tackle, where was he when Williamson did so poorly?
Running backs: Okay. It was tough to judge with such poor blocking. I though Facyson ran with terrific energy, and showed the ability to cut within the hole. He looks like he has great potential. Of course, like many true freshman running backs he has zero capability to block on the blitz, and was the direct cause of at least one bad play by Cubit as a result of that (I think that was Cubit's first half sack). Pittman looked like he was very smooth, and showed some ability to move the pile when given SOME type of hole. He does run a little upright. He also did not show great pass catching ability. Jones had several nice moves in the second half. Both Jones and Pittman blocked relatively well on the blitz. It is clear that Facyson in #1 and Pittman is #2. Jones is clearly #3.
Receivers: Showed some real potential, especially Baker and Andre. Last year Andre had trouble holding onto the ball. This game showed no indication of that. I think Baker is going to be great, by the way. He really showed some good moves—ran a great slant pattern for a reception, a good out pattern, and a good in pattern. All 4 of his catches went for 10 or more yards each. Hobbs also played okay, though he dropped a key pass. Moses was clearly not 100%, and dropped a long reception that was thrown on the money. Martin did not play at all, and it probably hurt RU a bit.
Tight ends: Smith was excellent, except for blocking. He had another hold that cost RU a 17 yard run, though RU scored on that drive anyway. And I did not notice any particularly good blocks in the game. But he did not get the ball thrown at him enough. Out of Cubit's 1st 16 passes in the first half, just 3 were directed at Smith. Smith could not be covered by the Nova defenders. Of the 11 times he was thrown at, he caught 5 for 2 TD's, and he drew a big interference call. But he was wide open in the end zone 3 times, though each time Cubit missed badly. He was well covered once, and was double covered the other time (though Loomis was wide open underneath Smith in the right flat, but Cubit forced it to Smith instead). I do not think Boehrer got in on a regular offensive play. Loomis dropped a pass and was not seen at least twice when open.
QB: Fairly consistent, unfortunately. Cubit was off target way more often than he was on target. I fear Cubit does not have the tools to be anything more than an average Big East QB, and it is certainly not clear he will even achieve that. Though the O-line was poor and did not offer him enough time, enough of the time, Cubit had many opportunities to make plays, and missed or made bad judgements. The problem is that Trump is not the answer, and does anyone actually want to go with another true freshman QB? Cubit was 9-17 for 117 yards in the first half, his better half. And those stats overstated his effectiveness. Until the last 4 play drive to close the half, Cubit had been 6-13 for 69 yards in the first half, with 27 yards coming on one pass (meaning that he was 5-12 for 42 yards for most of the half). Example of 1st half misses included a time when he had all the time in the world, and badly overthrew an open Andre 25 yards down field on an outside curl, a time where Hobbs was wide open for a 1st down and was badly missed, and the interception thrown into double coverage.
But Cubit's 1st half performance was a gem compared to his 2nd half performance. Here is a log of Cubit's first 9 passes in the 2nd half: Incomplete; 5 yard gain to Smith; incomplete intended for Smith (double covered) when Loomis was in his sight line underneath Smith and completely uncovered for what would have been a sure first down; incomplete; incomplete; incomplete intended for Smith (who was wide open in the corner of the end zone but was overthrown by 4 yards); incomplete intended for Smith (again he was wide open, but was badly UNDERTHROWN this time. This last sequence resulted in RU being forced to attempt a FG, which was muffed. This sequence directly cost RU a TD.at a crucial time. Cubit followed that sequence with an 11 yard completion to Andre, and then missed an open Smith in the end zone—again under-throwing him (Smith stared at Cubit and pointed to the sky, clearly telling Cubit to get the ball higher. This did not cost RU, as Cubit than ran in for a TD. Cubit was 4-12 to open the half, for just 29 yards, missing a number of wide open receivers, often rather badly.
Overall I counted 9 terribly thrown passes by Cubit, and 2 drops by receivers. Several other passes were thrown poorly, but caught on the ground (but prevented larger gains because the passes were poor. And I almost forgot, on RU's 2 point conversion attempt, Pilch was open, but Cubit threw behind him, costing RU the 2-point conversion, and helping to slow RU's momentum.
Defensive Line: I have to admit, I am not sure how well or poorly they did. I know they were not great, because they got almost no pressure on Gordon (the Nova QB). And in fact, except for the equivalent on a 1-quarter stretch from the middle of the second quarter to the middle of the 3rd quarter, they put ZERO pressure on Nova's QB. And in fact, after they got their one and only sack of Gordon midway through the 3rd quarter (at the Nova 10 yard line), no more pressure was applied. And it seemed that Burnett is not yet in full game condition, as he kept removing himself. Nova also ran quite a few successful runs right up the middle, on quick hitters and slight delays, all misdirection plays, usually when RU was in the nickel or dime packages, with just 1 or 2 LB's in the game.
Linebackers: Very, very disappointing. I know that Brackett and Hohmann each had nice interceptions and returns, and that Bender knocked down the first pass of the game. But until the 4th quarter, with the exception of those 3 plays, I don't think I saw Bender or Brackett make a single tackle (and I do not remember hearing their names mentioned at all—and those around me agreed with me). Plus, until Bender got hurt very late, not a single substitute was used by Schiano. True Bender came out for the nickel package, and oihmann also came out for the dime package, so maybe they did not need subs. But what does it say about the back-ups that none got in whatsoever. Brackett played every single down, and other than the interception, hardly had any material impact on the game. I thought the LB's played very poorly. Maybe Bynes might have made difference—or maybe not.
Secondary: I thought they were a big disappointment. Nova receivers, though known to be experienced and talented, just ate up our secondary, as did Gordon the QB. There was ONE stretch in the game when the combination of the defensive line play and the secondary play dominated—but it was just from the middle of the second quarter to the middle of the 3rd quarter. During that time Gordon was forced (by line pressure and close DB coverage) into just 2-10 completions for just 8 yards, and 1 interception. But other than that stretch Gordon was 22-29 for well over 300 yards. So, how good could the secondary have been? And as stated above, the secondary was victimized badly by 3-4 plays, including 2 long TD pass plays.
Special teams: There were 3-4 bad snaps, a muffed place hold that cost RU an extra point (that WAS important), a muffed FG attempt (the kicker's fault). On the other hand, Barr was very good, punt coverage was solid, and kick-offs were deep and higj (Cortese did a nice job), and kick-off coverage was generally solid also. Seabrooks was excellent on punt returns. The kick-off returns were below average, and Haw was replaced on the kick-off team for reason unbeknownst to me (Moses took a turn, and was promptly hurt, and then Tucker took over, and looked like he may have had potential).
Coaching: RU was outplayed throughout most of the game, true, but was clearly outcoached as well. RU threw the ball just 3 times all game with Pilch in, and all 3 times were successful. EVERY other time RU ran the ball when Pilch was in (pretty predictable). RU also passed very seldom on 1st down, until they were down 30-19. I thought the play calling was weak, at best. RU went to the nickel and dime often, and were regularly victimized by runs up the middle in those sets—even though the nickel and dime packages hardly stopped Gordon from completing numerous passes for first downs. No changes were made in the offensive line despite numerous mistakes. No LB substitutions were made despite the LB's seemingly no doing anything outside of about 4 plays. And 80% of RU's 3rd or 4th and 3 yards or less were runs—mostly up the middle (which were uniformly failures).
I feel for the kids, as it looks like another very long season. I will continue to go to as many games as possible (though I have to miss the next one as it is a major Jewish holiday). GO RU! Maybe this game is an aberration. Or maybe I will just have to support the team as best I can, and look forward to the basketball season.