Rutgers Versus Army, The Happy Recap – 9-14-02
Certainly this is much easier to recap than the Nova game (I missed the Buffalo game). I am very happy as a fan, and especially happy for the players and coaches. They must feel wonderful, and rewarded for their hard work. While I enjoy going to the games at all times, and have done so with near equal pleasure in the tough years as I have during the good years (few as they have been the last 20 years), it is obviously more enjoyable when RU wins.
I am going to mostly praise the players and coaches in this piece (when the team wins 44-0, that is certainly appropriate). Nevertheless, we should remember that Army is a very poor team (of course so was Buffalo), starting a freshman QB (replacing the regular starter). Though I think the team should be happy with the convincing win, and pleased with some important, and specific improvements, there are still plenty of cautionary signs, and the year remains a very difficult one ahead. In particular, RU's offense in the 1st half was … sporadic at best. My unofficial stats (I keep them during the game) showed RU with just 125 yards in offense, and just 45 yards in rushing (on 22 or 23 carries). RU did score one offensive touchdown, but it was on a 20-yard drive after a phenomenal punt return by Moses. I will have more on this later in this piece. Without further ado, let's go to the analysis.
In general, the offense was choppy and ineffective in the 1st half, and very efficient and productive in the 2nd half. The O-Line play, QB play and running play was all much improved over the Nova game (remember I did not see, or even listen to, the Buffalo game). By the way, there were major changes in both the QB and the O-Line versus the Nova game.
Quarterback: Of course some will say that I am not being fair—that Trump had much more time to throw, or that Nova's defense is better than Army's defense, or didn't I see how bad Trump was in the Buffalo game. Others will say that Cubit looked this good several times last year. I will say this: Cubit looked similarly good in several games last year. Trump DID apparently suck against Buffalo. And Trump did appear to have more protection than Cubit did against Nova. Fine that is out of the way.
Now let's talk about Trump's performance.
First, he was crisp and accurate THROUGHOUT the game. Even when the offense was poor in the 1st half, he was 7-10 throwing, with just one throw that was not great. Contrast this to Cubit: Cubit missed NUMEROUS open receivers against Nova.
Second, he showed the ability to move in the pocket, and OUT of the pocket and still make plays. Contrast this to Cubit: He has never been able to throw accurately on the run or move, and often when he moved in the pocket he moved INTO sacks.
Third, Trump MADE plays. That's right, Trump often made a play to continue a drive, or get RU to score. I differentiate between MAKING a play, versus executing a simple play ( the TD pass to Martin was simple execution, for example, though Cubit missed several of those versus Nova). I remember at least FOUR such critical plays: 1) The 31-yard pass to Barnes when Trump scrambled and looked at several receivers; 2) The 21-yard TD pass to Baker in the 1st half (unlike several posters on Board, the pass was not under thrown, but was nearly perfectly timed and thrown to give Baker the best chance of snagging the pass); 3) The flip to Pilch inside the 20 that Pilch took to the 2-yard line (Trump was under enormous pressure, and knew exactly where his safety valve was, and hit Pilch in stride); and 4) Trump's bullet to Carty for a TD (while it was true that Trump had plenty of time, he also looked at several different receivers before finding Carty, and then had to drill the ball to thread a needle). Contrast that to Cubit who generally did not have the composure, the arm strength or the mobility to make plays. When give time, Cubit sometimes had excellent games where he hit open receivers. But he rarely MADE plays that led to scores.
Fourth, Trump usually hit the open receiver, and usually in stride. Part of that was due to protection that Cubit lacked, I will admit. But part of it was due to just better passing. And part of it was due to a noticeably stronger arm. Trump made several passes on long up and out routes, plus the pass to Carty, that Cubit could NEVER have made, because Cubit simply lacks the arm strength. Yet Trump did not sacrifice his touch for the sake of that arm strength (at least for this game). Trump showed good timing with his receivers, hit many of them in stride (even when Cubit hot open receivers, the passes were often behind them, or in the dirt), and seemed to throw a nicely catcheable ball.
But like all RU QB's of the last 10 years or so, Trump does not know how to throw the ball away (once he was inside the 20-yard line, and was flushed out of the pocket—he could have easily have thrown the ball out of boauds or out of the end zone, instead he let the defender run him out of bounds for a 6-yard loss).
By the way, Cubit's one pass attempt was a perfect example of the troubles he has had at QB. He dropped back, stared at the receiver the whole time, and when the receiver was covered, kept looking right at him, and rolled for 3 steps—and was sacked. He never looked at another receiver.
Offensive Line: Much better, much of the time, but still showed plenty of inconsistency. The 2 noticeable changes were that Blackwood started instead of Williamson at tackle; and MacDonald started at guard instead of McManis. And it seemed to make a big difference to me. The running game was not great in the first half, and there were too many runs of –2 yards to 2 yards. But, even in the first half, there were 2 bad looking reverses, and one sack (which was not the line's fault). Outside of those plays, which lost 15 yards, the running game was 20-60—not so great, but not as bad as the other 2 games. And in the 2nd half the line was excellent at run blocking. The line has along way to go, but it was nice to see them dominate a defense they should have, and wear the opponent down.
Running backs: Facyson was, of course excellent. He showed excellent ability to cut within the hole. He also was very slippery. And of course, ran very well to the outside. My only complaint is that he still has too many plays for little or no gain—and then follows by popping for gains of 8 to 12 yards. Of his 16 1st half carries, 10 were for 2-yard gains or less. It is tough to sustain drives when your running back has so many unproductive gains. Is that Facyson, or the line, or both? I do not know. Nonetheless, he shows great promise. I thought that Pittman ran well also, as well as Jones. I would have liked to see Pittman in the game a couple of series when the game was on the line, however. I know Facyson has won the starting job, and his performance today was certainly supportive of that decision. Nonetheless, is this another case where NO OTHER player at the position gets playing time because that starter has been designated? It seems that NO Rutgers running back is so good that he deserves 32 consecutive tailback rushes before any other back gets a carry. Most college teams need at least 2 productive tailbacks (not necessarily getting equal time, but productive).
Receivers: A mostly excellent job again. Moses did not get a lot of playing time at WR, it seemed. Martin was clearly not all the way back, as he did not play as much as he will as the season goes on. Though LJ Smith played some, he must have been limited by his practice injury, as he hardly played at all in the 1st half. Yet the receivers did well. Barnes was the newcomer who impressed against Army (several nice catches), but Tucker, Baker and Andre all did a nice job, as did Loomis. Pilch had several big catches.
Defense: The defense dominated against Army. Kind of the way we expected them to dominate against Buffalo, at least.
Defensive Line: No sacks, I don't think (maybe one), BUT … they pressured the young Army QB almost the entire game. And his stats showed it, especially in the first half. The line made may more plays than in prior games, and the most visible was Peterson. Ina change, by the way, Peterson started over Orr. But Orr made several fine plays also. We also got our first glimpse of Rivas and Barnaby. I can't tell about Barnaby, but Rivas is not quite ready, I don't think. Though he seems to move well, he tends to move in the direction the offensive linemen direct him—at least that is the way it seemed to me. I also thought the line's tackling was much better.
Linebackers: Bender was all over the place, especially in rushing the QB. Brackett seemed to make more plays. Hohmann was not really visible, and it appeared he was not 100%, as Campbell was in quite a bit (but neither of them seemed to make a lot of plays). Better than against Nova, thank god.
Secondary: It is amazing what a little pressure on the QB can do for a secondary, isn't it. But not all the good performance was due to pressure. For example, Haw's interception in the end zone was just great defense—Haw just would not let the receiver get through him to the ball. And the secondary's tackling was much improved, leading to 3rd down stops on passes underneath.
Special teams: Much improved, though some flaws.
Barr's punting was excellent, maybe even better than that.
Sands' kicking was so-so. He made a FG, but missed one, and missed a long PAT that a college kicker should make.
Cortese's kick-offs were terrific about 80% of the time, and shows the potential to be the best kick-off specialist RU has ever had. His long FG attempt was short—Schiano clearly wanted to see if RU had a long distance kicker. We don't know yet.
Punt returns: Great, across the board. Moses is a very dangerous returner. And that injury at the end of his last return looked really bad. I hope Moses' comments to a fan are right and the injury is minor, because Moses is a real weapon at punt returning. But I have always like Carty as a punt returner also. Though he is not a game breaker, he is sure-handed, and often is able to return the kick 8-12 yards. By the way, the Army punter was atrocious, and their coverage was even worse.
RU also blocked a punt.
Coaching: Much improved. Give credit where credit is due. I was one of many who criticized the coaching staff: For poor play-calling, for being stubborn about replacing under-performing players, for being rigid in general. But, the staff has done several things differently: They have replaced the QB; they have replaced 2 offensive linemen; they have replaced the starting DE; they have replaced the starting CB; they have opened up the playbook.
Specifically, separate from the player changes, I like the efforts the staff has made with play-calling. They ran 2 reverses (though the plays were bust, and the WR never got the ball). They ran about half the running plays with pitches, rather than hand-offs, giving Facyson better chances to use his speed to get to the corner against slower opponents. The coaches mixed pass and run, on various downs, well also. RU even ran a screen.
The real test of the staff will be whether the staff can keep the offensive line improving, and improve the defensive line—and not be dogmatic about personnel adjustments. In particular, I would like to see Cubit continue to get opportunities to play—I really do not want Hart's redshirt year to be burned unless absolutely necessary. And though I do not believe Cubit represents RU's future, until Hart and/or Cali prove otherwise, he and Trump are what we have, and both should be given every opportunity to keep improving. I also would like to see Pittman get more running opportunities, especially when the game matters. He looks like he has great potential, and RU may well need that potential to blossom, in addition to Facyson's potential.