Tennessee survives Rutgers scare

How do you spell incredible? After two opening games that had people doubting RU's ability to play with anyone, the Knights took it to the nationally ranked Tennessee Volunteers. Rutgers took the game into the fourth quarter with a real chance to win. Now the question isn't "can they compete?" but "how good can they be?"

Big Dog had me over to his house to watch the game. He had it piped in via a "Game Day" subscription to ESPN. Big Dog, however, missed the opening kick off. BD and a friend were in another room getting the pizza and the munchies ready for consumption while I was in front of the TV.

"Jones is taking it to the house! Jones is taking it to the house!", I shouted.

No reaction from Big Dog. He thought I was kidding.

I wasn't.

Neither was Nate Jones, whose game opening "endzone to endzone" kick off return tied a Rutgers record and set the tone for a tremendous contest between the Scarlet Knights and the Tennessee Volunteers.

For those of you who were listening on the radio, this was no fluke. Rutgers dominated Tennessee throughout the first half. Rutgers shut down the Tennessee running game and forced the Vols to go to the air in the first half. Tennessee couldn't go airborne either and the Vol's usually spectacular offensive machine ground to a halt. Were it not for an interception return by Tennessee that set up an easy score, the Volunteers might very well have found themselves shut out at halftime.

Not so for Rutgers. The Knights moved the ball on the ground and in the air. The Knights second score came on a beautiful 12-play, 80-yard drive ending in a TD when (off a beautiful fake) Ryan Cubit hit Chris Loomis for a 11-yard TD pass 38 seconds into the second period.

The "homer" announcing crew for Tennessee found themselves clearly impressed with Clarence Pittman's running ability (31 carries for 104 yards) and anointed LJ Smith (7 catches for 63 yards) "one of the top players  in the nation". However, their grudging admiration started to turn to distress. But for a questionable call at the end of the first half (when it appeared the Ryan Cubit stretched his way into the endzone) RU might have gone into the locker room 21-7. As it turned out the refs placed the ball on the one foot line and promptly declared that time expired in the half. The first half ended up with the Volunteers down to the Knights 14-7 and with Tennessee partisans booing their team as they left the field.

Clarence Pittman's skill and tenacity won the admiration of the Tennessee announcers. (AP Photo)

In the second half Tennessee caught up and then pulled away. The Knights continued to play excellent defense but the Volunteers came up with super individual efforts on pass plays that made the difference. Going into the fourth quarter it was still Tennessee 21, Rutgers 14 and an upset was still clearly within reach. But UT sealed it with a two late touchdowns to make the final score Tennessee 35, Rutgers 14.

Notwithstanding the final score, you had to be pleased. As in the Pittsburgh game the defense, especially the defensive line, played great. Unlike the Pitt game, the offense showed real signs of life. More than that the loose ends that bedeviled Rutgers against Pitt (inability to get separation from the Pitt defensive backs, letting too many receivers get open, etc.) were almost eliminated as problems. We even started developing a pass rush. The Knights sacked Casey Clauson twice!

RU looked just plain good.


The Scarlet Knights (1-4), who lost to Division I-AA Villanova and Buffalo earlier this season, were a six-touchdown underdog but held a shocking 14-7 halftime lead. And it could have been more.

With 14 seconds remaining in the first half, Rutgers quarterback Ryan Cubit scrambled for three yards down to the Tennessee 1-yard line. But the Scarlet Knights were out of timeouts and Cubit could not spike the ball before time expired.
Yahoo! Sports: NCAA Football - Rutgers at Tennessee Game Recap

"It's no secret that Tennessee is more talented than we are. If we play things close to the vest, we can't win," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "There were a few things we saw that we took advantage of."

At first, the Vols didn't respond, looking as unprepared and disorganized as the week before. The Scarlet Knights had 221 total offensive yards to Tennessee's 63, had 14 first downs to only 7 for the Vols, and had the ball nearly 21 minutes in the half.
Washington leads Tennessee to victory

Box Score


Mike Fasano: MikeFasano@comcast.net

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