VILLANOVA POST MORTEM
At 9:50 of the 1st Quarter, I was fully puckered. Two possessions had told me that Rutgers was in for a long night and this wouldn't be the 35-10 blowout I had predicted.
True Fr TB Markis Facyson, starting in his debut game, gained 7 yards on the first play from scrimmage – an inside rush. A promising start that was quickly negated when he was dropped for a 2-yard loss on the next play. Nonetheless, So QB Ryan Cubit moved the chains with a 7-yard slant to Sr WR Josh Hobbs. Then, it fell apart as Facyson rushed for no gain, Markis lost 10 yards on a disrupted draw, and Villanova sacked QBit for an 8-yard loss. The Scarlet Knights lost 6 yards on their opening possession and OLine quickly demonstrated that it not improved appreciably since last season despite claims of improved strength & condition as well as chemistry.
But what about the much improved defense? RS Sr QB Brett Gordon drove Villanova 63 yards in 6 plays to seize a lead the Wildcats would not relinquish. Three completions to RS Sr WR Brian White accounted for 64 yards, including a 45-yard TD catch and run on a slant past a badly beaten Rutgers secondary. The Wildcats dissected Rutgers with expert precision. The defensive line applied no pressure and the secondary couldn't make open-field tackles.
Villanova's special teams handed Rutgers a gift after the Knight's next possession stalled at midfield as Rutgers recovered on the Villanova 17-yard line a punt that deflected off an unwitting Wildcat. Rutgers overcame two penalties to tie the game 7-7. The teams exchanged punts and then Villanova unleashed their FB, who contributed 57 yards in a 69-yard TD drive. Crossing routes, drag routes, FB counters – he was unaccounted. Villanova forced another Rutgers punt and drove 81 yards, distributing the ball to each of its five skill positions, before settling for a 21-yard FG. Villanova intercepted QBit in Rutgers territory but the Scarlet Knight defense stopped the Wildcats on downs. Following yet another Rutgers punt, Sr MLB Gary Brackett intercepted Gordon and returned the ball to midfield. With only 37 seconds remaining in the half, QBit directed a masterful hurry-up drive the scored in four plays but then Sr holder Sean Carty botched the snap on the XPA. Though being thoroughly dominated in the first half, Rutgers trailed only 17-13 at halftime.
The Rutgers staff apparently made few adjustments, if any, at halftime. The offense continued to sputter as Villanova jammed the interior line to stop the running game and blitzed to disrupt the passing game. And the defense continued to get beaten on the same plays. After exchanging punts to open the second half, Villanova quickly stormed 77 yards in five plays, capped by a 50-yard flea flicker that completely fooled the Scarlet Knight secondary. Rutgers responded with its longest drive of the game – 13 plays and 57 yards – but stalled in the red zone. RS So PK Ryan Sands then gacked a 31-yard FGA. The defense quickly forced a turnover when Jr WLB Brian Hohmann intercepted Gordon and returned the pick to the Villanova 15-yard line. Despite a few bad throws, QBit scored on a 2-yard scramble. Inexplicably, Schiano tried a 2XPA, which failed after yet another bad throw by QBit. Following another exchange of punts, Rutgers' only sack pinned Villanova on their 10-yard line. As he had all game, Villanova Head Coach Andy Talley had the perfect 2nd-and-20 play and RS Sr FB Cameron Cross burst between the DT and DE on a draw for a crucial 17-yard gain. Villanova converted on 3rd down and was in the end zone 10 plays later. The 13-play, 7.5 minute, 80-yard drive broke Rutgers' back. Wildcat RS So TB Terry Butler, who ran through and around the Rutgers defense all night, added a 41-yard TD in the closing minutes.
I must state this. Emphatically. This was an embarrassing loss. Not simply because a Division I-AA program beat Rutgers at home. Not simply because a Division I-AA offense ran roughshod over the "improved" Rutgers defense. Not simply because the Rutgers offense managed only 19 points and 269 yards total offense against a recently bad Division I-AA defense. Most significantly, this loss was embarrassing because all these factors failed to embarrass Head Coach Greg Schiano. And Schiano should be embarrassed. And humiliated. Because Andy Talley and his staff conducted a $200,000 coaching clinic and earned their money doing so. Talley devised offensive and defensive game plans that capitalized upon Rutgers' weaknesses. He took Schiano and Co. to school. Congratulations, Coach Talley, upon a magnificent coaching effort. And shame on Schiano for not showing some humility for a loss whose primary fault rests largely with him.
Offensively, Talley kept Rutgers off balance. When Rutgers played its CBs in loose man-to-man coverage, Villanova threw hitch routes, curl patterns, and bubble screens underneath the coverage and forced Rutgers to make open-field tackles. When Schiano put his DBs in press coverage, Villanova ran vertical seam and slant routes to strike quickly downfield. With the CBs so preoccupied with the WRs, Talley hit Rutgers with pitch-outs to the TB. Talley used misdirection to neutralize Rutgers' apparently superior DLine and punish its aggressiveness – RB screens, draws, and counters. When the Schiano blitzed LBs, Gordon found open receivers in the vacated zones. When Schiano dropped his LBs back into zone coverage, Gordon hit his WR or FB underneath on a shallow cross. When the LBs crept up to take away the crossing routes, the TE or FB ran a seam route behind the LBs. Schiano was constantly a step behind Talley. During the 1st half. At halftime. And during the 2nd half.
Defensively, Talley played his defense tight and aggressive. The smaller, quicker Wildcat DLine repeatedly penetrated the Rutgers backfield, recording 12 TFLs on 28 designed runs plus 5 sacks. The Wildcat CBs, who played loose man-to-man coverage against Rutgers QB Mike McMahon two years ago, employed press coverage against QBit and the inexperienced Knight WRs. Villanova dared QBit to beat them deep. He couldn't. The usual criticisms of Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit returned:
· Predictable play-calling. Run on 1st down. Run on 2nd-and-short. Pass on 2nd-and-long. Run on 3rd-and-short. Pass on 3rd-and-long. Personnel substitutions dictating run or pass (e.g., RS So FB Ray Pilch = run). The OTs tipping run or pass with their stances.
· Ineffective running game. The Rutgers OLine repeatedly failed to blow the Wildcats of the ball in short yardage situations. Rutgers stubbornly ran between the tackles, where Villanova jammed the line, while ignoring the outside.
· Failure to adapt. Villanova blitzed all night. Cubit didn't call a single screen pass. He called only one TB flare. Despite the press coverage Villanova employed, Cubit only called 5 slant passes despite their success. L.J. Smith scored a TD and drew a pass interference penalty on seam routes yet he only ran two.
· Too many slow developing routes. Villanova blitzed. The OLine did not provide QBit much protection. Yet he had no hot routes for quick deliveries.
Saturday night's debacle confirmed many of my worst fears about this team. Here's an analysis of how Rutgers measured up to my keys to the Villanova game. The original text is presented in bold italics.
1. Riley's Law. Personally, I think Pat Riley is a vastly overrated basketball coach. And outstanding defensive coach and motivator, he has been lost without Magic Johnson directing his offenses. His best Brick team rode the home court advantage to its only NBA Finals appearance. The Bricks earned the home court advantage by mercilessly devouring the cupcakes on their schedule. Riley simply refused to allow his team to lose to bad opponents. So, an unexceptional Brick team earned the best record that secured the home court advantage that propelled them into the Finals.
Schiano must take a similar approach with his team. For the first three games. Starting with Villanova. Last season, his team showed a very disturbing degree of complacency against a bad Connecticut team. That carelessness cost Rutgers a win they couldn't make up anywhere on the schedule. That arrogance earned Schiano an embarrassing defeat that would haunt him on the recruiting trail. And increase the pressure for him to start showing progress in the win-loss column. This Rutgers team is not good enough to take any opponent lightly. Against a weak opponent such as Villanova, they must be focused and business-like. Anything less than a blowout simply is not acceptable.
I've seen conflicting reports on the mental state of the team. Many observers thought that Rutgers looked flat, overconfident, arrogant, uninspired, and/or unemotional. Others said that the team was emotionally ready to play but the weaknesses in their tactical preparation left them confused and slow. This much was true – Villanova was tougher, smarter, and sharper from the opening kickoff. The Wildcats put a stunned Rutgers team on its heels and kept it off-balance the whole night. Whenever Rutgers needed one or two yards, Villanova refused to yield. Whenever Rutgers put the Wildcats into long yardage situations, the Knights lost their focus and Villanova repeatedly burned them with big plays. Villanova played confidently. Rutgers played confused.
I believe that the inability to control either line of scrimmage was indicative of complacency. How could Schiano have allowed his team to underestimate Villanova? After exactly such an attitude cost them a wind against Connecticut last season. A season in which they finished 2-9, were whomped by almost every opponent, and struggled to beat I-A cellar dwellers Buffalo and Navy. The same Buffalo program that lost to Division I-AA Lehigh 2 nights earlier. Schiano often speaks of "doing things the right way". But he also speaks of "winning championships". Perhaps that bravado is rubbing off on the team more than is his work ethic. Because this team, as it showed Saturday night, has no business taking any opponent lightly, whether it is Division I-A, I-AA, II, or III.
2. Offensive Line. The offensive line was a disaster last season. Schiano only inherited only six upperclass OL when he assumed the reigns. He lost three of them before summer camp opened. With injuries temporarily shelving two of his more promising underclassmen, Schiano was forced to convert two DL and a JUCO TE to OL because his other young OL weren't ready to play. A rash of nagging injuries hobbled a thin, inexperienced, undersized unit. Chemistry was a pipedream with a constantly shuffling lineup. The OLine couldn't open holes for the RBs and couldn't protect the QBs. The rushing attack averaged only 2.5 yards per carry. Opponents sacked the Rutgers QB 45 times.
The DLine dominated the OLine first in spring camp and then in summer camp. This is the next evolution of a defense that finished last in Big East rushing defense by allowing 231 yards per game. Did the OLine struggle because it still sucks? Or simply because the DLine has improved at a faster rate? While Villanova won't tell us if the OLine is improved, it will identify problems. If Rutgers rushes for 200 yards against Villanova, it won't mean anything. If Rutgers rushes for less than 100 yards, then that is a problem. If Rutgers holds Villanova sackless, don't rejoice. If Villanova sacks Ryan Cubit three or four times and pressures him constantly, be afraid. Be very afraid. The OLine needs a strong effort. They need to build confidence and develop chemistry.
Oh, did Villanova identify problems. Plenty of them. As I noted in my Scouting Report of Villanova's Defense, Villanova's interior defense was suspect because they lost both starting DTs plus the starting MLB. Schiano's greater emphasis upon the running game was expected to result in better inside rushing than achieved two years prior against Villanova. It didn't happen. The Scarlet Knights gained only 87 yards on 27 designed runs. Subtract 24-yard and 20-yard runs by Facyson and RS Fr TB Clarence Pittman, respectively, and Rutgers gained only 43 yards on the remaining 25 carries. Twelve of those 25 carries resulted in no gain or TFLs. Villanova recognized that Rutgers would run between the tackles and committed to denying such yardage. The Wildcat DLine, spotting the Rutgers OLine about 50 pounds per man, won the battle of wills in the trenches. Rutgers ran outside only three times, gaining 18 yards. Only one was a pitch-out (8 yards). Was Cubit's refusal to run outside simply a coaching blunder or merely a concession that his OL lack the foot speed needed to enable Rutgers to run outside?
Villanova sacked QBit on the first series. But Facyson missed the blitzing LB on that play. Although Villanova did not sack QBit again until the 4th Quarter, QBit was constantly under pressure, being hurried on or hit after every pass attempt. Three sacks came in the closing minutes with Villanova leading by at least 17 points and Rutgers in obvious passing situations. Trohn Carswell reportedly was victimized repeatedly as his opposite number harassed QBit all night.
Another disturbing statistic for the OLine was found in the participation report. The starting OLine played the entire game. The OLine was supposed to be deeper and better this season. Yet none of the backups saw action against a Division I-AA opponent. None of the statistics support this pronouncement. With the OLine not marginally improved, don't expect much improvement in an offense that was the worst in Big East history.
3. Defensive Line. Rutgers has been weak on the DLine since the late Graber years when Rashod Swinger and Charles Woolridge manned the front. Even then it was only respectable. Hardly dominant. Ever since, its' been a turnstyle for opposing RBs to stroll through on their way towards the end zone. Schiano is committed to building his defense with the DLine as its foundation. He believes the DLine is the key to a strong defense. A dominating DLine disrupts the opponents running game, frees LBs to make tackles, and pressures the opposing QB into mistakes. Schiano did not inherit much on the DLine – four returning upperclassmen, none of who were proven, reliable playmakers. So Schiano converted two LBs to DEs. He also recruited three very promising DL, whom he inserted onto the two-deep as true freshmen. And he played a redshirt freshmen on the second team as well.
The DLine is young but experienced. That experience is complemented by the addition of former New England Patriot DLine Coach Randy Melvin, who has accelerated the development of his young charges. RS Sr DT Will Burnett has returned from a second knee operation to augment the DLine. And the youngsters are moving into key roles on the line. The youthful core of So DE Ryan Neill, RS So DT Gary Gibson, So DT Davon Clark, and So DE Alfred Peterson offers a glimmer of hope for the future. If the DLine is to improve, it must start by dominating weaker opponents. The Villanova game is a perfect place to start. Let's see if the DLine can make some plays.
After listening to the Internet broadcast, I thought Schiano was playing a 3-4 defense. Not three DL and four LBs. Rather, three LBs and four DBs. Because our DLine was virtually non-existent, combining for only 12 tackles (5 solo and 7 assisted), 3.5 TFLs, and one sack. Villanova neutralized the Rutgers pass rush. 3-step drops, quick throws, draws, and screens were contributing factors. But Gordon usually had as much time as he needed to find a receiver on slow developing routes such as crossing patterns.
With the DLine ineffective, Villanova gained 177 yards on 32 designed runs. The Wildcats ran inside and outside. With quick hitters and counters. Butler (21 carries for 121 yards and one TD) was the workhorse. But, as I predicted my Scouting Report on Villanova's Offense, the Wildcats used their FBs effectively. Starter Cross had 4 carries for 30 yards while backup FB So Phil DiGiacomo gained 26 yards and one TD on 7 carries. Each broke off long runs – Butler (41-yard TD), Cross (17 yards), and DiGiacomo (18-yard TD). The DEs could not stop the pitches as the Wildcats averaged 8 yards per pitch. The FBs averaged over 5 yards per carry and had two back-breaking runs – DiGiacomo's 18-yard 2nd Quarter TD run and Cross's 17-yard 4th Quarter run on 2nd-and-20 at the Villanova 10-yard line. FB draws and counters capitalized upon the upfield rush of the Rutgers DEs.
4. Receivers. The receiving corps was very weak last season, which is especially alarming since Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit employs a multiple receiver offense. Only Sr TE LJ Smith and Jr WR Aaron Martin were reliable, viable receiving threats. Two true freshmen – WR Tres Moses and WR Jerry Andre – received playing time but produced minimally. Schiano targeted the receiving corps as an area of need and recruited several promising youngsters – WR Shawn Tucker, WR Corey Barnes, and TE Clark Harris. Schiano also switched backup QB RS Fr Chris Baker to WR during spring camp. RS Fr Bryan Wilson is another new addition to the receiving corps.
The biggest story out of summer camp was the evolving injury list. At one time, six players were listed with hamstring injuries, including starting TE LJ Smith, starting WR Aaron Martin, starting WR Tres Moses, and backup WR Sean Carty. Smith will start against Villanova but isn't 100%. The availability of Martin and Moses is uncertain. No longer are the young receivers expected to provide productive depth. Now they must contribute at the level of a starter. WRs So Jerry Andre and RS Fr Chris Baker will start against Villanova. Fr WR Shawn Tucker is expected to see substantial action as a backup. Villanova has a terrible secondary. If the young receivers struggle to produce against the Wildcats, then quality depth at receiver is going to remain a concern. The receivers need to produce 250 receiving yards.
As expected, Smith started, Martin sat, and Moses saw limited action. That put the burden of supporting Smith upon young, unproven receivers. Andre and Baker started. Sr Josh Hobbs was the 3WR. Moses and Tucker were the backups. My impression from the Internet broadcast was that the receivers played well. Last season, only two players averaged at least two receptions per game. Four players caught at least three passes Saturday night.
The Wildcats couldn't cover LJ (5 receptions for 43 yards and 2 TDs), who was open repeatedly. Andre (4 receptions for 51 yards) and Baker (4 receptions for 54 yards) made plays. Hobbs was surprisingly productive (3 receptions for 30 yards). But the receivers combined for only 17 receptions, 184 yards, and 2 TDs. However, they were victimized all night by bad throws – behind them, at their feet, or overthrown. I counted only two dropped passes – a flare to Pittman and a slant to Baker. Others have said Moses dropped a deep ball but my notes indicated an overthrow. Conversely, I counted at least 8 incompletions resulting from poor throws. Before the receivers can be accurately evaluated, Schiano must find a QB who can deliver the ball.
5. Linebackers. In January, while Schiano was putting the finishing touches on his 2002 recruiting class, Rutgers had a glut of LBs. The incoming class included four LBs. The departing class contained no LBs. The depth chart looked 5-deep at LB. Then Bill Hambrecht transferred. So did Dan Woodard. Nate Leonard missed spring practice and was later forced to quit as a result of recurring knee problems. Likely starter Brad Cunningham transferred after the spring semester. Freshmen Berkeley Hutchinson and William Beckford did not qualify. Schiano moved LB Mitch Davis to FB. Suddenly, the once-deep LB corps has depth problems. Especially considering that starting SLB Sr Brian Bender has played in only 7 games during the previous two season.
Not only is the LB corps thin, but the loss of Cunningham and the unavailability of Beckford and Hutchinson has deprived the unit of much-needed athleticism. The unit is slow. Starters Sr MLB Gary Brackett, Sr SLB Brian Bender, and Jr WLB Brian Hohmann each lack speed. As do backups RS So WLB Jeremy Campbell and RS Fr MLB Ishmael Medley. Only true Fr SLB Terry Bynes possesses Big East caliber speed. The LBs have been vulnerable in pass coverage. They struggle to cover RBs out of the backfield. And they are slow reacting to crossing routes. How do our LBs perform against Villanova's bubble screens, crossing routes, and drag routes?
My worst fears were confirmed. By a Division I-AA opponent, no less. A less-talented team exposed the personnel and tactical weaknesses of our defense. Many of those weaknesses revolved around the LB corps. Future opponents now have a recipe to use against Rutgers – if they even need one. And the four most important opponents – Buffalo, Army, West Virginia, and Temple – each employ a spread offense similar to Villanova. The depth at LB is worse than expected as the starters played virtually the entire game. The lack of speed is glaring as Villanova specifically targeted the Rutgers LBs as one of their primary strategies.
The LBs could not stop Villanova's outside running game, which averaged 8 yards per carry. The LBs could not cover WRs or FBs on shallow crossing routes. The receivers cleared the LB zones unmolested and then outran the pursuing OLB into the open flat. Villanova had the Rutgers LBs on yo-yos. When the threat of crossing routes pulled the LBs up, the Wildcats ran seam routes past them. The LBs could not cover bubble screens or drag routes in the flats, either.
The LBs combined for only 18 tackles (7 solo and 11 assisted). Not surprisingly, Brackett was second in tackles (10). He recorded 2 TFLs, one INT, and 3 pass break-ups. Hohmann contributed 6 tackles, 2 TFLs, one INT, and one pass break-up. Bender contributed only two assisted tackles and one defended pass. Hohmann and Bender each ran right past DiGiacomo on his 18-yard TD run. After he had handled the workload on that particular series. Bynes needs to get on the field more. At LB. Preferably in place of Bender.
1. So QB Ryan Cubit. When backup QB Chad Schwenk transferred after losing the starting job to true freshman Cubit, Ryan was cemented as the starting QB with only a former walk-on behind him. QBit set several Rutgers freshman passing records last season while starting all 11 games. Unfortunately, he also led the worst offense in the history of the Big East as Rutgers scored only 36 points in 7 Big East games. QBit completed only 120 of 268 passing attempts (45%) for 1,433 yards, 9 TDs, and 19 INTs. QBit received no assistance from a porous OLine that could protect him. Or RBs that could pick up blitzes. Or receivers that could get open and catch the ball. Or an offensive coordinator who would call more suitable plays. QBit was beaten to a pulp. He often lacked the time to find an open receiver. However, even in the right circumstances, young QBit often failed to make plays.
QBit must prove that he is the QB of the future for Rutgers. How will QBit perform against Villanova's porous secondary? He should throw for at least 250 yards. He must read the defense better before the ball is snapped. He must complete his progressions once the ball is snapped. He must throw the ball before he is sacked. And he must throw the ball to the correct target. Accurately. He must use the entire field. He must hit the deep pass without floating it. He must look off his primary receiver. With his two favorite receivers – LJ Smith and Aaron Martin -- slowed by hamstring injuries, will QBit adopt another choice as his over-used primary receiver or will he spread the ball around among all his resources? Schiano signed two promising QBs in the 2002 class – Anthony Cali and Ryan Hart. While Schiano would obviously prefer to redshirt both, he now has more options should QBit continue to struggle.
"Even in the right circumstances, young QBit often failed to make plays." That pretty much describes QBit's performance against Villanova. Villanova's secondary was not porous as it was two years ago when they played loose man-to-man coverage (as Rutgers did Saturday night). The Wildcats blitzed constantly while deploying their CBs in tight press coverage. Talley wasn't going to give QBit easy throws. He was going to make him throw vertically. QBit didn't complete one deep pass (although Moses allegedly dropped one deep ball). He completed only three slants. And one seam.
QBit completed only 45% of his passes (17 of 38). He threw for only 184 yards. He usually didn't complete his progressions. He often locked onto his primary receiver thus telegraphing his passes. He was indecisive. He didn't see open receivers. He missed them when he saw them. His mechanics were terrible. I counted at least 8 incompletions due to poor throws. Other completions were thrown low or behind the receivers, limiting yardage after catch opportunities. QBit spread the ball around a little better but still showed a preference for his two primary targets – Smith (11 attempts) and Andre (9 attempts).
This performance against Division I-AA competition simply isn't acceptable. A 45% completion rate and 184 yards passing against a bad secondary won't get the job done. Most of the problems on Saturday were coaching deficiencies. And while QBit was running a pathetic offensive scheme, he clearly failed to execute his tasks. It's time somebody else received a legitimate opportunity.
2. DE Raheem Orr. Orr made his long awaited debut at Buffalo last season. And on the second play from scrimmage, a chop block inflicted a high ankle sprain on Orr. The ankle injury and other nagging afflictions limited Orr to only 7 games. His 25 tackles put him at #25 on the team. It was a very disappointing year for the player heralded as Rutgers' best. Orr has returned to full health, missing none of spring or summer camp. Orr was the dominant defense player in both camps. Our notoriously weak OTs were unable to stop his pass rushes. Now, lets see how Orr does against a weak opponent. Orr must have a dominating game. And must emerge as a leader of the defense.
Orr was missing in action of Saturday against a Division I-AA OLine. His name was not mentioned until he recorded a sack at the beginning of the 4th Quarter. He finished with 3 assisted tackles. The player who dominated spring and summer camp was a non-factor on a DLine and defense that suddenly appear over-hyped.
3. WR Chris Baker. Baker was a partial qualifier last season. He was allowed to practice but not play. Baker ran the scout team as the QB. During spring camp, Baker split time at QB and WR. Schiano permanently switched Baker to WR before summer camp, although he still uses Baker at QB in certain option plays. Promising stories emerged from spring camp about Baker as a WR. Baker's development at WR was one of the big stories of summer camp. Baker apparently was positioned to compete for the 3WR job but a rash of hamstring injures among the WRs opened a slot on the first team that Baker seized. Schiano desperately needs a second WR to complement Martin and Smith. Baker could be that receiver. Baker's performance against the weak Villanova secondary will give an indication of the degree to which he might contribute this season.
Baker played reasonably well. He caught 4 passes for 54 yards – two in the 2nd Quarter and two in garbage time. Both 2nd Quarter receptions were on slant routes. Both resulted in first down conversions. Baker dropped a 3rd Quarter pass on yet another slant route. Both 4th Quarter receptions also resulted in first downs. A third pass to Baker in the 4th Quarter was incomplete. Cubit stumbled onto something with Baker. He is a big target on slant routes, as is Martin. Baker would also be ideal on fade routes because he is taller and more athletic than Martin. I hope that Baker doesn't disappear as a target once Martin returns.
4. TE LJ Smith. LJ was a non-qualifier as a freshman. He couldn't even practice with the team. But Smith is on track to graduate next spring so the NCAA restored his lost year of eligibility. Congratulations on both accounts. I like reading stories about kids who have overcome their academic hardships. Smith led the team in receptions last season with 30 for 282 yards. Along with Aaron Martin, LJ was QBit's primary target. Unfortunately, OC Bill Cubit wasted Smith's talent by using him in a horizontal passing game rather than getting his big, athletic TE downfield. Smith averaged 9 yards per catch and had a longest gain of 31 yards. A supposed breakout season turned disappointing. LJ is still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered early in summer camp. He will start against Villanova but isn't 100%. Cubit's use of Smith will be interesting to note. Will Cubit use Smith to stretch the field and occupy the safeties or will he have him running bubble screens?
LJ had an inconsistent game. With 11 attempts, Smith was QBit's primary target. L.J. caught only 5 passes for 43 yards but two went for TDs. Smith also drew a 15-yard pass interference penalty against Villanova. However, the five incompletions occurred on poorly thrown or overthrown passes. On Rutgers best drive of the day – a 13-play, 57-yard drive that ended with a missed FGA – L.J. was the intended receiver on six plays and gained 27 yards. However, Smith made his share of mistakes, too. Reports indicated that was guilty of at least one illegal procedure penalty. He was also flagged for holding downfield on a 16-yard gain – a common occurrence with L.J. He missed at least one first down conversion with a pattern that was run short of the first down marker.
Cubit ran L.J. deep only twice – scoring a 21-yard TD and drawing a pass interference penalty. Smith still isn't used downfield enough, as his 9 yard per catch average indicates.
5. TB Clarence Pittman. As with Baker, Pittman was academically ineligible last season. Reports indicated that Pittman was the best player on the field while practicing with the scout team. Pittman was the subject of much scrutiny during spring camp as fans sought to glimpse this young talent. But Pittman was unable to claim the starting TB job from incumbent So Marcus Jones. Hamstring and ankle injuries during summer camp limited Pittman's participation and prevented him distancing himself from Jones and true freshman Markis Facyson. Pittman is healthy enough to play against Villanova. He may not start. However, his first game action as a Scarlet Knight will be interesting to observe. How will he compare to the hype?
Pittman had an intriguing debut although he was hampered by a faulty OLine. Clarence gained 37 yards on 9 carries. However, 20 yards came on a single carry. Otherwise, Pittman averaged only 2 yards on his other 8 carries. Five of his 9 carries gained one yard or less. Pittman's blitz protection was solid, which was surprising for his first game. Pittman drilled a blitzing LB on one particular play. His blocking represented an improvement over the blocking of the young RBs last season. Clarence dropped the only pass thrown his way – a flare out of the backfield. Most of Pittman's rushing attempts were between the tackles. Cubit rarely tried him outside, where he could use his speed and cutback ability. Pittman and the other RBs were among the few players earning passing grades for their performance.
It's tough to hand out game balls after such a depressing effort. But there were a few players whose performances were notable.
Offensive Player of the Game – TE LJ Smith. Having missed much of summer camp with a hamstring injury, LJ was the man offensive weapon. QBit threw 11 passes to Smith. LJ caught 5 for 43 yards and 2 TDs. He also drew a pass interference penalty. The other five incompletions thrown to Smith were poor throws. LJ would have had a dominating game had QBit gotten him the ball. Smith was obviously frustrated.
Defensive Player of the Game – MLB Gary Brackett. Brackett finished second in tackles with 10. He intercepted a past. Successfully defended two others. And recorded two tackles for losses. He consistently produces.
Special Teams Player of the Game – PR Shawn Seabrooks. Seabrooks returned 4 punts for 35 yards and provided the Scarlet Knights with good field position.
Pass of the Game – QBit's 21-yard completion to LJ Smith on a seam route. Smith beat the Wildcat secondary and QBit laid the ball into the gap in the defense.
Run of the Game – Markis Facyson's 24-yard and Clarence Pittman's 2-yard 1st quarter runs between the tackles. Both showed the potential that these young backs possess. However, Villanova adjusted by clogging the middle and Rutgers failed to adapt. The longest run thereafter was only 8 yards.
Catch of the Game – Too many to count. QBit's inaccuracy forced his receivers to repeatedly contort themselves to catch balls thrown behind them, at their feet, or simply overthrown.
Hit of the Game – With Rutgers trailing 24-19, DEs Raheem Orr and Alfred Peterson combined to sack QB Brett Gordon for a 10-yard loss. The sack left the Wildcats with 2nd-and-20 at their own 10-yard line. Rutgers was on the verge of seizing control of the game. Until the next play when FB DiGiacomo gained 17-yards on a draw.
Coming Next (Maybe): "Buffalo Scouting Reports." I reviewed the tape of the 2001 Rutgers-Buffalo matchup. I'll break down the Bulls defense, offense, and special teams in a three-part series.
Coming Soon: "Ranking the Big East Offenses." The first in a two-part series. I've reassembled my crack panel of fans to evaluate the offensive components of every Big East team. This article will break it down.
Coming Soon: "Ranking the Big East Offense." I've reassembled and augmented my crack panel of fans to evaluate the offensive components of every Big East team. This article will break it down.
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