The win against Connecticut was a much needed victory for Rutgers. It wasn't the prettiest game, but a win is a win. Some of the positives one can take away from the game are the way the defense continues to get after the other team. Yes, the defense still has problems, but there is no quit in them. I wish the offense could produce a little more scoring to ease the burden on the defense. Even the special teams played a big part in securing the win for Rutgers. In every game you have your heroes and goats, plus I'll give my two cents.
There were several heroes for the victory over Connecticut and none more important than special teams. The blocked punt after the first drive almost gave me an upset stomach. I thought here we go again as Connecticut moved the ball down field with ease at the expense of a bad special teams play. The last few weeks the special teams haven't cost Rutgers any game, but they haven't help win any either. Once the special teams got past the block punt they settled down and went to work to help secure the victory. Ted Dellaganna earned his keep by pinning Connecticut inside the 20 several times with two of them coming inside the 5 yard line. Let's not forget his directional (corner kick) kickoff that led to Martinek tackling Robbie Frey at the 1 yard line. Almost every play for the special teams helped in some way from winning the field position battle to lifting the spirits of the team with exceptional play when nothing else was going well for Rutgers. I love the fact the special teams shook off the one bad play. It's usually the hardest thing to do in an emotional driven sport. Connecticut's special teams play of late makes you appreciate the overall play of Rutgers' special teams. The play of the special teams set up the play of the defense.
Most of the game Rutgers' defense played with passion and determination. Right after the block punt RU defense said "no more" and held Connecticut to 3 points. At that point I could sense Rutgers would play hard and have a chance to win. The defense in the first half gave up 100 yards to Donald Brown on 14 carries, but no touchdowns which is the key to limiting Connecticut success. Everyone knows Connecticut scores the majority of their points on the ground through Brown and when he's not scoring Connecticut isn't doing much of anything. You got the sense in the very beginning of the second half Rutgers' defense made a conscience effort to stop Brown which in turn stopped Connecticut. When I saw the stats at the end of the 3rd quarter I said Rutgers' defense is better than advertised. Donald Brown had 1 yard for the entire 3rd quarter and 7 yards for 13 carries in the second half. Anytime you can do that you are likely to win. You have to give a lot of the credit to Ryan D'Imperio and Kevin Malast as they have step up to become solid linebackers. Donald Brown might still have nightmares weeks from now about those two. They have contributed to the improvement of the run defense in ways most find hard to believe after seeing the Fresno St. and UNC games. Here's a tidbit for the RU faithful: RU has done well against the "big time" players of the Big East. Noel Devine and Pat White were held to 60+ yards each in the game against RU. Brown came down to earth with a terrible second half of only 7 yards. In other words don't underestimate Rutgers' defense against the run.
I would love to be able to say the entire offense is heroes, but it hasn't
happened just yet, but there were some people worth mentioning. Kenny Britt
continues to be one of the few bright spots, but he had some company this week
from Mr. Underwood. Underwood didn't have a big statistical day, but did enough
to make himself a factor again. If Rutgers gets back to spreading the ball around
to the receiving corp. they become dangerous to any of the remaining teams on
the schedule. Also, the offensive line had a good day in pass protection considering
Rutgers threw over 36 times against Connecticut and Connecticut is near the
top in the Big East in sacks. It's especially hard blocking when you have 2
quarterbacks with different styles playing during the game.
Along with the heroes now come the goats for the game. Now if there is one drawback from the Connecticut game it was a lot of miss tackles early in the game and when the defense eased up in the 4th quarter. Lefeged is usually a solid tackler, but had a rough first quarter trying to tackle anyone from Connecticut. I suspect it was just a bad game and everyone has one here and there. The other thing I saw was the look of several secondary members somewhat confused on who missed the assignment that gave Connecticut 7 points late in the game. That has been an issue earlier in the season, but of late a non factor since the Navy game. Maybe it's me because I see Rutgers playing more zone late in games than man and there are big gaps in the coverage. With the lack of blanket coverage in key situations, it makes any game tighter than it has to be. All game Connecticut had a difficult time getting open, but on the last drive guys for Connecticut were open with no defender in sight.
The offense still has major problems, but is it really as bad as some believe or is it a lack of commitment to the basics to win. The lack of the ball being spread around to other solid receivers continues to hurt the team. Underwood received the ball more against Connecticut, but guys like Brock suffered. If you throw the ball 36 times several guys should have multiple catches, but that's not the case here. Britt gets almost 1/2 of all ball thrown in the game to come his way. It makes it easy to defend Rutgers' offense. Underwood, Brock, Campbell and Brown are more than capable of contributing to the success of the teams. The inability to involve multiple receivers in the game is one of the weakness of Teel. Right now things aren't going well for him so he's having a hard time seeing the entire field. We as humans are guilty of running to a comfort zone when things don't go right and Britt is it for Teel. The burden can be eased on Teel if Rutgers makes use of the run with guys like Young, Brooks and Martinek.
My opinion (two cents) on Rutgers going forward is the need to address the
run/pass ratio. I'll state a fact again that shows Rutgers is not at their best
when they throw more than run the ball. Going back to '06 Rutgers has won 90%
of their games in which they run the ball more than they pass. That should tell
you something about the make up of Rutgers as a whole. Against Connecticut Rutgers
threw 36 times while running 34 times. When Rutgers has a plus 10 ratio of run
to pass they are usually in control of the game. I thought in the 4th quarter
with a two score lead Rutgers had a chance to close the door on Connecticut
by running the ball and killing the control. I understand Rutgers hasn't been
a solid running team, but part of the problem could be that lack of commitment
to the run to begin. You know the old saying, "practice makes perfect."
This was a prime situation to force Connecticut to use the timeouts early and
commit to stopping the run. Here is the opportunity to play a fresh Brooks against
a defense geared to stop smaller backs like Young and Robinson. By the way,
I'm not a fan of booing a player, but I don't think the boos were against Teel
as much as it was against Schiano and McNulty. Teel is playing to his abilities
and it's the job of the coaches to max that potential with play calling and
surrounding him with the right personnel. If that's not helping, then change
the quarterback. I believe the media miss this one by saying the fans were booing
Teel. Teel is not the pro or receiving any pay, but Schiano and McNulty are
so it comes with the territory when hearing from the paying customers.