I thought the defense played extremely well considering the lack of help elsewhere from the offense and special teams. Westerman set the tone early with being active in the first 2 drives. From there the Linebackers took off limiting Noel Devine and Pat White to 67 yards and 62 yards, respectively. WVU averaged 3.5 yards a carry for the game. We are talking about one of the best rushing teams in the country struggling at something that comes easy to them. Obviously, WVU ended the game with 175 rushing yards but on 50 attempts and that says a lot about how far RU's defense has come in a few short weeks.
The biggest play was late in the game on a 4th and 1. If WVU picks up the first down the game is over, but RU held. Abreu led the charge when stepped up on WVU left side of the line to stun the fullback and make QB Jarrett Brown indecisive. It allowed George Johnson and Co. to rally to the play for a 9 yard loss. These are game changing type plays that have been missing up until last week. The defense is starting to play like everyone expected. There are still areas of improvement such as turnovers but the defense will keep Rutgers in every game as long as they play like they have the last two weeks.
Another bright spot for Rutgers was the play of Kenny Britt. He is a stud and continues to get the job done. Physically, there is no cornerback in the Big East who can outmuscle him or simply shut him down. Britt is showing the ability to get open regardless of the coverage. The question becomes can RU fully take advantage of what he brings to the table? This is the type of player who can provide a BIG advantage in the red zone because of his size, hands and will to success. For some reason RU will throw to Britt just about anywhere on the field except in the red zone. On a tough day against WVU, Britt was the only consistent threat. He forced WVU to drop a lineman late in the game to give additional cover on a 4th and 5. A cornerback, a safety, and a linebacker weren't enough to ease the fears of WVU defensive coordinator, hence the defensive lineman was add to cover Britt.
Outside of Britt on offense the most pleasant surprise was the play of the offensive line. The offensive line played dramatically better than last week. At the beginning of the game, I was confused on why Mike Gilmartin was moved to right guard and Kevin Haslam to right tackle, but they show me. I wasn't sure where Gilmartin fit on the offensive line, but he seemed to excel at guard on Saturday. With Gilmartin, it was never about his size or strength; it was always about his quickness. At guard, you are in a telephone booth so your size and strength really get exploited. I knew Haslam was at his best at tackle but after playing so much guard it can be hard sometimes to make the change. On Saturday, Haslam looked comfortable as right tackle where there is less pressure to protect the QB's blind side. Howard Barbieri is a jack of all trades, but has not has the opportunity to master one. Barbieri seemed to have found a home at left guard. The offensive line has their best game as far as protecting Mike Teel and creating a few running lanes. Too bad Rutgers isn't as committed to the run like last year. This current starting offensive line of Anthony Davis, Barbieri, Ryan Blasczcyk, Gilmartin and Haslam has the ability to establish a solid running game that would really help the passing game to become more explosive.
Now with the good comes the bad. The good thing about this is the list is getting
smaller, but so is the time for the season. Unfortunately, most of the goats
for RU are offensive related these days. The same group shows up every week
starting with McNulty, Teel and running backs by committee.
Against WVU, the play selection can be questionable at times and the execution of plays doesn't help. I recall multiple times during the game where play action (or less predictable play) could have made a difference in keeping a drive alive or help RU score. In the second quarter RU had to settle for 3 points instead of 7 because of the indecision of when or where to use certain plays. Brooks had just run for 5 yards to set up the situation. You could sense WVU was becoming more aware of Brooks possible impact. WVU dropped 8 in the box expecting run and RU gave WVU what they expected. RU had man to man on the outside receivers, but RU decided to run against more defenders than they could block. This is a great time to run play action because of the commitment from the defense to stop the run and at the same time RU takes advantage of a stud like Britt in a one on one situation just a thought. Instead, Brooks was dropped for a 2 yard loss, which led to 3rd and 7. We all know how RU converts 3rd downs at a very low 30% rate which is a drive killer. The other situation RU missed on was first in goal from the 9 yard line. Brooks rushed through WVU defense for 5 yards to step up the next play. Again WVU stacked the box this time with 9 defenders to stop the run. RU decided again to run against more defenders then they could block. Having played for several coaches, most believe that 2nd and short is the perfect time for play action (or simple pass) because the defense is conscience of the run based on the first play success. This falls on McNulty because he can change the play with an audible from the sideline as by the way the entire offense looks to him after the defense lines up.
Also, you can add the fact the no huddle scheme RU employed against WVU gave them trouble. RU could have used it in the 4th quarter when they were down by two scores. It would have served two fronts by putting pressure on WVU to adjust and preserve time for RU to keep closing in on WVU. It seems like RU's offense keeps fumbling away what is successful for what is not such as Teel the passer.
Teel seems to still have issues with completing the task at hand late in the game. Up until the final minutes of the game Teel had play fine. When asked to step up in crunch time, he still lacks the moxie to do it. If Teel had spend more time spreading the ball around to the other receivers earlier in the game, then maybe WVU doesn't key on Britt with a defensive lineman dropping underneath him on 4th and 5 with 2 minutes left in the game. It's hard to believe no other receiver caught more than one ball, while Britt has 12 receptions. Having played defense in college, Teel is a defensive player's Christmas gift. You know for the most part Teel is not going to check down to the 2nd and 3rd receivers when the first option is covered. Perhaps Teel's lack of success can be tied directly to McNulty play selection or more important the lack of a threat from the running game. Speaking on the lack of a consistent running game it brings me to the next topic that continues to hinder RU.
I think most RU fans can agree by saying Brooks has earned the starting job as the running back, but what has Robinson done to get more of the role in the offense? What happened to Martinek against WVU? It seems like Robinson is being forced into the line up and it always seems like it's at the wrong time. He just doesn't have the power to run through the first defender, which leads to a lot of TFL or no gains. A guy like Brooks seems like the player who will get stronger and better as he gets more carries during the game. The shuttling of players in and out at running back doesn't allow for a consistent running game and leaves the offensive line puzzled. Linemen feed off the running backs and running backs off of linemen. When one is inconsistent both become inconsistent. Therefore, a person like McNulty who appears to love the pass junks the running game all together. Here is a stat that is of some concern for any RU fan who followed RU's success the last few years, RU wins when they rush more times than they pass. This year RU is passing the ball an equal amount times per game as the rush, 31 passes to 32 rushing attempts. RU record is 1-4 because I believe they have lost their identity. Meanwhile last year RU averaged 42 rushing attempts a game while passing for an average of 29. The record wasn't what everyone expected, but they finished 8-5. In '06 RU passed an average for 23 times a game and ran the ball an average 39 times a game. Guess what the record for RU was 11-2. There are other factors that play a part, but this is one of the most telling stats for RU. The more RU passes the less successful they become.
By the way, it's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but it doesn't lessen the respect and love I have for this team.