10 Things We Learned: Rutgers- Syracuse

Another convincing Big East win has earned Rutgers (4-5, 3-2 Big East) a three-game winning streak. The Scarlet Knights showed us they're not finished yet as they rolled over Big East doormat Syracuse (2-7, 1-4) for the fourth straight year, 35-17. RU is not going quietly into the night. Let's see 10 Things We Learned Last Week.

1. RU's run defense steps up against the best. While Rutgers is statistically the seventh-best rushing offense in the Big East, the Scarlet Knights have performed well against the conference's best running backs this year. RU limited West Virginia's Noel Devine to 55 yards; Connecticut's Donald Brown to 107 yards (seven in the second half); and Curtis Brinkely of Syracuse to 67 yards. Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy gained 146 yards and four touchdowns on Rutgers, but the Panthers' standout tailback's performance was negated by RU's offensive explosion in a 54-34 RU win over Pitt on Oct. 24.

2. Special teams are struggling. The Scarlet Knights missed two extra points against Pittsburgh on Oct. 25 and had an early punt blocked against Syracuse that the Orange converted into a touchdown. That kind of play is bound to come back and haunt a team, so the Knights have to tighten up on special teams against South Florida this week.

3. This game was a replay of 2007. Just like last year, Syracuse jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead against Rutgers. And just like last year, Rutgers blew past the Orange on its way to another double-digit win against SU. The point total was even the same, though the Orange scored three more points than last year and RU scored three fewer.

4. Kordell Young looks like he's coming into his own. The redshirt sophomore turned in the first 100-yard rushing game of his career when he compiled 143 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries (4.9 yards per run average). Young also had 27 yards receiving as he earned Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors.

5. Tiquan Underwood is making his long-awaited impact on the offense. Underwood was persona non grata the first half of the season in RU's offense, but he has come along in the past two games. After catching 14 passes for 160 yards in the first six games of the season, Underwood has grabbed 11 receptions for 120 yards the last three contests, including a pair of touchdowns in the win over Syracuse. He's not going to match last year's 1,100 yard receiving total, but he's showing signs of life.

6. Rutgers owns Syracuse lately. Rutgers now has four-game winning streaks versus two Big East teams. The Scarlet Knights followed up their fourth consecutive victory against Pitt Oct. 25 with their fourth in a row against Syracuse with the rout. Rutgers has won five of the last six in the series.

7. Kenny Britt continues to be one of the nation's best. Britt looks ready for the pro ranks already. He is the top receiver in the Big East and is on pace for his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Britt, who has 60 receptions for 821 yards and four touchdowns, is Rutgers' all-time leader with 11 career 100-yard games, including five in eight games this season.

8. The direct snap to Joe Martinek works. The most exciting play call of the Syracuse game was a direct snap to backup running back Joe Martinek, who took the ball and bolted 45 yards for a touchdown run midway through the third quarter to put Rutgers ahead 28-14. Syracuse was caught off guard, and Martinek turned on the jets once he got to the sideline to outrun SU's defenders. It was a gutsy call on second down and 4 yards to go, and Rutgers made it pay off to permanently turn momentum in its favor.

9. RU is still losing the turnover battle. Rutgers opened the Syracuse game with an impressive drive that looked like it was going to put the Scarlet Knights ahead 7-0 early on. However, quarterback Mike Teel threw an interception to Mike Hogue in the end zone, and the Syracuse defensive back returned it to the SU 22-yard line. Syracuse converted that interception into a touchdown and tacked on seven more points with a blocked punt later in the first quarter. Fortunately for RU, Syracuse didn't have much more than that. However, the Knights were minus 2 in the takeaway department and are 102nd out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) teams in turnover margin this season (minus 8 overall).

10. Kevin Malast is the most consistent defensive player for Rutgers. The senior linebacker is fourth in the Big East with 70 total tackles, and he averages nearly eight tackles per game. Malast has been a rock for the Knights, and a few weeks ago on SNY's Big East pregame show, Ray Lucas named Malast his mid-season conference defensive player of the year.

The game was over when . . . Teel connected with Underwood on a 13-yard scoring strike with 11:40 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the Scarlet Knights ahead by 18. That touchdown capped the scoring and removed any doubt that the Orange would be able to come back to steal this game.

Post mortem: Rutgers was expected to win this game handily, and the Scarlet Knights took care of business despite playing some sloppy offensive football. RU cannot afford to make mistakes this week against South Florida. On the positive side, a team that started the season 1-5 and 0-2 in conference play still has a legitimate shot at a bowl game.


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