10 Things We Learned: Rutgers - UNC

Ugly is a word that can be used to describe the Rutgers football team early in the season. The Scarlet Knights (0-2) took it on the chin for the second straight week, dropping a 44-12 decision to visiting North Carolina (2-0). There were plenty of lessons, so let's get into 10 Things We Learned Last Week.

1. The Scarlet Knights are in trouble. Yes, I have a master's degree from the University of Obvious. Rutgers entered the season with high expectations from an offense that set numerous records last year. So far the Knights have been outscored by an average of 34-9 and have managed just one touchdown. RU can't score and can't stop the other team. Add in Mike Teel's five interceptions and one touchdown, and that's a recipe for disaster.

2. This team has no killer instinct. The Scarlet Knights have come out flat the first two games and have dropped both of them at home. Rutgers has been able to move the ball (average of 376 total yards per game), but it can't find the end zone (two touchdowns in six trips inside the red zone). Rutgers needs to learn how to finish in what is now an uphill battle for a bowl berth.

3. RU misses Darren Rizzi and Chris Demarest. We highlighted Rizzi's offseason departure as a big hit for the program. Rizzi, the former special teams coordinator and linebackers coach, took the head coaching job at Rhode Island. Demarest, the defensive backs coach, resigned in March. Rizzi was with RU from the beginning of Schiano's tenure and Demarest was on the staff four years. Their departure, along with defensive line coach Gary Godette and running backs coach Craig Ver Steeg, forced RU to go from a stable coaching staff to one in transition.

4. RU misses Ray Rice. It's nearly impossible to replace a running back of Rice's caliber. If the first two weeks are any indication, Rutgers won't be able to do it this year. For the first time since 2005, RU failed to have a 100-yard rusher in back-to-back games, and Kordell Young was held out of the North Carolina game with knee issues. That being said, Jourdan Brooks hit the hole with authority on his seven carries and averaged 6 yards per rush against North Carolina If Rutgers can get into third and short situations, Brooks is the go-to man.

5. San San Te was a bright spot against UNC. The redshirt freshman kicker was 0-for-2 on field goals in the opening loss to Fresno State, including one failed attempt that was the result of a botched snap. Te recovered and was true on both of his attempts against North Carolina: a 34-yarder to open the scoring and a 32-yarder in the second quarter.

6. The secondary needs to improve. If I'm Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, I'm putting long passes in the playbook for the Sept. 20 meeting between the Midshipmen and the Scarlet Knights. RU's defensive backs have not shown the ability to cover the pass effectively through the first two weeks. UNC receiver Brandon Tate torched RU for 138 yards and a 69-yard touchdown on four catches (he added a TD run), and receiver Hakeem Nicks scored twice. Rutgers knew what it had to do in pass defense and failed to execute, with players looking lost for the second consecutive game.

7. Rutgers is unprepared for opponents. While Fresno State and North Carolina have talented players, there is no real mystery in their games. You know what their strengths are. RU has failed to properly game plan through the first two games of the season, with disastrous results. Players are out of positions, play calls are curious at times, and there is no sense of urgency with this team.

8. Mike Teel needs to get the fire going. I've written it in this space many times before: as goes Mike Teel this season, so go the Scarlet Knights. Well, Teel has five interceptions to one touchdown this season, so you do the math. He's an offensive co-captain and the team leader. If Teel gets on track, the Knights could turn this season around quickly. A couple of more shady outings and it's curtains.

9. The Scarlet Knights have no home field advantage. Since the beginning of 2007, Rutgers is a tepid 5-5 at Rutgers Stadium. The Scarlet Knights, 0-2 at home this year, have five games remaining in Piscataway. Two of those games - Morgan State and Army - are sure victories. The Scarlet Knights should beat Syracuse, and they have two tough games against UConn and Louisville. If RU does not win at least four of its remaining home games, say goodbye to any bowl bid.

10. The Navy game is a must-win situation for the Scarlet Knights. At the beginning of the season, you would have called next week's contest at Annapolis a slam dunk. That's not the case any more. RU needs this win desperately to get back on track and would end September with a 2-2 record if it can beat the Mids next Saturday and Morgan State the following week. If Rutgers loses at Navy, this team could very well fold up the tent on the season.

The game was over when . . . Rutgers, trailing 31-6 midway through the third quarter, faced a fourth down and 2 at its own 46-yard line. Rather than trying for the first down, RU elected to punt, conceding the game to North Carolina.

Post Mortem:

The season is not lost. Sure, RU has its back against the wall after to poor performances to open the season. But the Scarlet Knights have two weeks to get their house in order in time for the Big East schedule. This is where head coach Greg Schiano shows whether or not he is an elite coach.

Also, consider this: Michigan started the season 0-2 last year after losing to Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) Appalachian State at Michigan Stadium followed by a dismantling by Oregon at home (39-7). The Wolverines won eight straight after that debacle and beat a good Florida team in the Capital One Bowl to end the season. I'm not saying Rutgers is Michigan, but sometimes teams that disappoint you in the early going put together a pretty good run later in the season. While it is time to be very concerned, it's not time to give up on the 2008 Scarlet Knights.


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