10 Things We Learned: Rutgers - UConn

Rutgers (2-5, 1-2 Big East) finally earned its first victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team with a 12-10 decision against Connecticut (5-2, 1-1). It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless, and one that showed us something about Rutgers. So, keep reading 10 Things We Learned Last Week.

1. Special teams can change a game. This week, Rutgers came out on the better end of the special teams battle, and it won the game for the Scarlet Knights. There was a reason redshirt sophomore punter Teddy Dellaganna won Big East special teams player of the week honors. His kickoff to open the second half pinned UConn on its own 1-yard line. That change of field position eventually led to a Rutgers touchdown. Two of Dellaganna's punts started the Huskies at their own 3 and 2, respectively, and Rutgers scored a safety following the second punt. While San San Te was only 1-for-2 on field goal attempts, UConn place-kicker Tony Ciaravino missed three of four tries, including what could have been the game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter

2. RU's front 7 is playing its best football of the season. Rutgers held Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher, to just 107 yards running on 27 attempts. Brown had 100 yards at halftime, but the Scarlet Knights limited him to 7 yards on 13 rushes in the second half. Blair Bines tackled Brown in his own end zone for what turned out to be the game-winning score with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter.

3. The secondary is still having problems. While RU's defensive line and linebackers are stepping up in recent weeks - including Big East defensive player of the week Ryan D'Imperio - the secondary is still letting up some big plays. UConn had four pass plays of at least 15 yards in the fourth quarter against Rutgers, including a 47-yard touchdown pass from Zach Frazer to a wide open Kashif Moore that cut the score to 12-10 with 8:33 remaining in the game.

4. The offense can't find the end zone. At 16.7 points per game, RU is ranked 115th out of 119 FBS teams in scoring offense. By comparison, Tulsa is scoring more than 56 points per game and had more than 16 points midway through the first quarter of its game against UTEP last Saturday. RU has scored 12 touchdowns and five field goals in 21 trips inside the end zone.

5. Opposing offenses are having troubles scoring on the Knights. You can't say the defense hasn't done its job on the scoreboard the last few weeks. After allowing a combined 68 points through the first two games of the season, the Scarlet Knights have limited foes to 70 points in the five ensuing games (14 ppg average). In Big East play, Rutgers has become increasingly stingy, holding West Virginia to 24 points, Cincinnati to 13 and UConn to 10. That's an average of 15.7 ppg against in conference play.

6. Dom Natale brings excitement to the offense. His debut under center was a mixed bag, but you could feel a palpable excitement when RU's backup quarterback entered the game on RU's first drive of the second quarter. He led the Scarlet Knights on a 10-play, 49-yard drive that resulted in a missed 42-yard field goal attempt. While RU did not come up with points on the drive, it was the second longest drive of the game for the team, and Natale kept it alive with a gutsy 2-yard run on fourth down to gain a first down.

7. The turnover battle has flatlined that last three weeks. This is actually a good thing compared to the way Rutgers fared in the turnover battle the first three weeks of the season (minus 11 during an 0-3 start). RU still has not forced a turnover against an FBS opponent, but the Scarlet Knights also have not given the ball away.

8. The running game needs to get going. Kordell Young was expected to bring a boost back to RU's running game, but the Scarlet Knights have actually started to trend negatively since he returned from a knee injury in the Cincinnati game Oct. 11. Redshirt freshman Jourdan Brooks led the Knights in Young's absence and scored five touchdowns, including a 134-yard, two-touchdown effort in a 23-21 loss to Navy Sept. 20. Brooks averages 4.6 yards per rush this year. Young, a talented sophomore, scored RU's only touchdown against UConn with a 6-yard run. He averages 84 yards per game.

9. RU is starting to reverse the third-quarter trend. For the second straight week, Rutgers won the third quarter. Unlike last week, the nine points RU put up to open the second half were enough to come away with a win. RU owned a 19-3 advantage over opponents the last two games.

10. Tiquan Underwood may be heating up. RU's senior wideout had his best game of the season with four catches for 42 yards against the Huskies. One was a key 14-yard reception on third down that kept a scoring drive alive in the first half. If Underwood can continue to haul in passes coming his way, it can mean a tremendous upside for RU's offense. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, Kenny Britt (nine catches, 107 yards) dropped a couple of throws that helped stall Rutgers drives.

The game was over when . . . Ciaravino banged a 42-yard field goal attempt off the right upright with 1:09 remaining on the clock in the fourth quarter. The kick would have given UConn a 13-12 lead but instead helped seal RU's first victory against an FBS team this season.

Post mortem: A bowl bid is still a long shot, but Rutgers showed it can still compete in the Big East with a solid defensive effort against UConn. The defense won't be able to beat Pittsburgh alone, though, as the offense needs to start showing some of the unfulfilled potential that had everyone excited at the beginning of the season. It will be interesting to see how Natale fits into the game plan in the coming weeks, and we'll also have to see where backup running backs fit into the mold.


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