10 things I learned last week

Navy gave RU a fight in front 43,514 fans and a national ESPN audience last Friday, but the Scarlet Knights never trailed and finally put the Midshipmen away in the second half. It was a night of records (Ray Rice's rushing total) and firsts (Rice's first career TD reception). It was also a night that taught me this Rutgers football team ain't half bad. So, without further ado, I present ...

So, without further ado, I present you with some random observations . . . or "10 things I learned last week."

1. RB Ray Rice is good. I guess I'll continue to lead with this item until someone gives me reason not to write it. Rice, a true junior, followed a 184-yard rushing effort in Week 1 by compiling 175 yards and two touchdowns on 37 attempts versus Navy. He also took a pass to the end zone on a 22-yard scamper, his first career receiving touchdown. Oh yeah, Rice set the career rushing record at Rutgers, surpassing Terrell Willis on the first drive of the game. He now has 3,273 rushing yards and counting and is four rushing touchdowns away from tying JJ Jennings' career mark of 34.

2. DE George Johnson is on the verge of a big year. The true sophomore from Glassboro has shown his versatility and speed the first two weeks of the season, and it looks like he's around the ball on every play (though he curiously had no tackles against Navy). Johnson registered two sacks in the opener versus Buffalo. He also grabbed his first career interception when he dropped into coverage and intercepted a pass from QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada at the Navy 25 in the first quarter. That turnover led to a touchdown that made the score 14-0 in favor of the Scarlet Knights.

3. Rutgers has held the lead 112:08 out of a possible 120 minutes. RU scored 1:21 into the first game against Buffalo, a 38-3 victory. The Scarlet Knights got on the board first against Navy with a Mike Teel pass to Shamar Graves 6:31 into the first quarter and never trailed the Midshipmen. RU also held a 1:52 advantage in time of possession against Navy.

4. Special teams need work. True senior kicker Jeremy Ito looked improved and comfortable in the win over Navy, converting both his field goal attempts in addition to five extra points. He is now 3-for-5 on field goals this season, including a 56-yard attempt in Week 1, and has 60 career field goals. Ito also finally reached the end zone on a kickoff against Navy. However, kick coverage was spotty against Navy, allowing the Mids to start the majority of their drives outside the 30. The punt return team extended two Navy drives with penalties. One was a roughing the kicker penalty, which will happen from time to time when you're aggressive. The other was an offsides call, which shouldn't happen at all. The punt team also had an illegal formation that wiped out a great kick from Ito that stopped at the Navy 3. But no harm came from that as Ito landed the next kick at the 4.

5. Give RU's secondary players game balls for their collective effort versus Navy. Safeties Ron Girault and Courtney Greene each intercepted a pass in the end zone to halt a Navy drive. With Rutgers leading 17-7 and Navy driving late in the first half, Girault nabbed a pass from Kaheaku-Enhada and swung momentum back in favor of Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights promptly drove 80 yards to extend their lead to 24-7. Greene's pick, a thing of beauty where he leapt into the air in front of the Navy receiver, came as Navy was looking to close the gap with Rutgers leading 24-14 early in the third quarter. The Mids had just scored a touchdown and had all the momentum off a turnover until Greene stopped the bleeding. CBs Jason and Devin McCourty also performed their roles as run stoppers very well. With few exceptions, the twins strung out the play to the sideline and filled the gap on their assignments.

6. It's tough to watch a weeknight game on ESPN. Is it too much to ask to get a replay and talk that focuses on the game? The transgressions are numerous, but I'll stick with one to illustrate. The game was tight in the third quarter and Rutgers was putting together a key drive following Greene's interception, feeding Navy a steady diet of Rice. But ESPN wants to employ a talk radio format during a college football game. So the crew in the booth was busy arguing whether Division I-AA Appalachian State deserved to be in the AP Top 25 rankings rather than watching Rutgers grind out a drive that resulted in a 20-yard Ito field goal. The national exposure is great, but it comes at the cost of the game being visual background for announcers to discuss topics not related to the action on the field.

7. John McNulty has the offense in high gear. McNulty has Rutgers averaging 39.5 points per game and more than 500 yards of offense through two games. The passing game looks potent and is a good balance to the rushing attack. A lot of this also has to do with players maturing, but you will notice McNulty employing different sets, such as the single back and empty backfields. It's a more complicated offense this year that should keep defenses adjusting. Plus, I like the fact that he calls plays from field level.

8. DT Eric Foster leads by example. You could see the fifth-year senior exhorting his teammates to keep chopping at key moments of the game versus Navy. And he backed up his talk with 13 tackles, tied for the most in the game with linebacker Kevin Malast. Foster was quick to the ball and stuffed the gap on dives. He showed why he's on the Outland Trophy watch list (given to college football's best interior lineman).

9. Rutgers is a hot ticket. You knew this already, of course, but what you may not know is the Navy game was the fourth consecutive Rutgers Stadium sellout (a new record). The Navy game drew 43,514, the third largest in school history behind last year's Louisville and Syracuse games. It was wonderful watching that sea of red during ESPN's overhead stadium shots.

10. The game was over when . . . Rutgers QB Mike Teel hit WR Kenny Britt on a 53-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter. That strike made the score 41-17 and erased any lingering doubt as to who would emerge victorious. It also gave Britt, a true sophomore, his first touchdown catch of the year.

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