10 Things I Learned...Pitt

Rutgers (7-4, 3-3 Big East) solidified a bowl berth with a 20-16 victory over Pittsburgh (4-6, 2-3) on Nov. 17. While the game was somewhat ugly, it was an addition to the win column nonetheless. It was a gut-check game for the Scarlet Knights and gave me a chance to come up with 10 Things I Learned Last Week.

1. Ray Rice still deserves Heisman Trophy consideration.
The true junior put up another 100-yard game, rushing for 112 yards and one touchdown on 26 attempts. He is the leading rusher among all Bowl Championship Series schools, averaging 146.6 yards per game. That's almost 10 yards more per game than Arkansas' Darren McFadden. Rice has the numbers and should be considered in a wide-open race.

2. RU's defense came through when it counted.
Rutgers has experienced some problems on the defensive side of the ball this year, especially in Big East play. The stop unit played on a short field against Pitt all day but stood up and stopped the Panthers at key moments. Rutgers held super freshman LeSean McCoy to just 60 yards and adjusted to backup quarterback Kevan Smith late in the game despite having nearly a 10-minute deficit in time of possession.

3. Jabu Lovelace is still far behind Mike Teel at quarterback.
Teel connected with Kenny Britt on a 53-yard scoring strike late in the first quarter that turned the momentum in Rutgers' favor. Then he led Rutgers on a drive in the fourth quarter that pushed RU's lead to 20-16. Lovelace came in on the opening drive in the first quarter and stalled the Scarlet Knights' offense and was erratic on his pass attempts. Teel appeared to be hampered by his thumb and threw two interceptions, but he showed why he is the starter when he took the offense over late in the game and sparked the Knights. Lovelace is talented but still raw.

4. Special teams may be jelling.
Rutgers had its best special teams effort since September in the Pitt game. The Scarlet Knights bottled up Pitt's kick and punt returns, limiting the Panthers to just 11 yards total on three punt returns and an average of 18.4 yards on kickoffs. True senior place-kicker and punter Jeremy Ito was the difference-maker. He was true on both of his 30-yard field goal attempts and averaged 41.8 yards per punt -- his best punting output of the season with some help from good bounces and wind.

5. For a record-setting offense, Rutgers is inconsistent.
The Scarlet Knights set the single-season school record for yards gained, passing the 2005 team. But Rutgers still has trouble in the red zone and settled for field goals on two trips inside Pitt's 20-yard line. There are flashes of brilliance but plenty of stalled drives this season. Rutgers has scored touchdowns on just 51 percent of its drives into the red zone. The Scarlet Knights managed just 219 yards of total offense against Pitt.

6. Linebackers are finally starting to make plays.
Kevin Malast and Damaso Munoz turned in their best performances of the year against Pitt. Malast was all over the field on Saturday, and this time it was a good thing. He and Munoz combined for 21 tackles, and Malast registered one sack.

7. Rutgers can win ugly.
Earlier in the season, turnovers would have killed Rutgers, like they did in losses to Maryland and Cincinnati. But the Scarlet Knights gutted out an ugly victory against Pitt last Saturday. They won't get any style points, but they got that all-important seventh win that guaranteed a bowl berth.

8. Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop is outstanding.
The Panthers' leading tackler registered 16 total tackles against Rutgers. He also forced a fumble, grabbed an interception, broke up two passes, had 1 1/2 sacks and registered 2 1/2 tackles for loss. He has 124 tackles on the season, 70 more than Pitt's next defensive player.

9. Reports of Rutgers' demise have been exaggerated.
A few weeks ago, people were lamenting the fact that it appeared fans were steadily jumping off RU's bandwagon. The gate receipts tell a different story, as the announced attendance at the Pitt-Rutgers game was 43,531. That brought the home attendance average over 43,000 fans, more than any season in Rutgers history.

10. The game was over when . . .
Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty intercepted a pass from Smith with 19 seconds remaining in the contest. Pitt was driving and got as far as the Rutgers 5-yard line on the last drive before getting pushed back by an offensive pass interference call that negated a touchdown. Smith fired a pass into the end zone, and McCourty sealed the Panthers' fate when he grabbed a ball that tipped off Rutgers safety Joe Lefeged's hands.

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