RU Readies For The Toughest Game of Season

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Whether Rutgers football head coach Greg Schiano will admit it, he has to feel very confident heading into a mini-break before flying south to Birmingham.

"I'm hesitant to do that," Schiano said after the Scarlet Knights' final practice here. "I think the guys feel confident about the way they're playing. I feel good about the way they're playing. We know how good the team we're playing is.

The regular season ended nearly three weeks ago with the Knights locked into a six-game winning streak and a fourth consecutive bowl appearance. Ask around the locker room and the popular vote would have had the team playing NC State the following week rather than Dec. 29.

"This is probably the best team we've played all year the way they're playing (now)," Schiano said of the Wolfpack. "We just have to worry about Rutgers and try to be the best we can be and we can't control what they do."

Many accolades can be awarded for individual comeback performances, including one to Tiquan Underwood. Although "Ti" rebounded from an inefficient start (0 TDs through first eight games) to finish with 443 yards receiving and four scores, his numbers dipped from 2007's 1000-yard campaign.

Schiano shared praise for Underwood, a true senior.

"He sure has played well, Schiano said. "He struggled early on and he kept fighting. I think he's really come on strong."

With a more-aligned Underwood in the rotation, Rutgers offensive arsenal has opened fire on its opponents.

"Without a doubt, as a defensive coach, you have to concern yourself with all of them," Schiano said, referring to Underwood, Tim Brown and Kenny Britt, RU's receiving corps.

On the defensive side, Schiano said passion keyed an important turnaround from the early season woes to where the unit is now.

"I think that's still the best; they play with great passion," said Schiano, who also serves as the team's defensive coordinator. "Maybe we're not as talented in some spots as other people but we play hard every down and as a coach that's the number one thing you're happy about. Now we're getting smarter and preparing better. That helps."

Schiano said he is proud of every group, including the defensive front seven and the back four, which have pressured opposing quarterbacks into turning the ball over 13 times during the impressive streak.

"I think they've all grown together," Schiano said of his defense, which ranks in the top 20 nationally in points allowed per game (18.5). "Early in the season we had our struggles in the secondary, which is the worst place to struggle, because it has the worst effect. I do think the linebackers matured and you can really count on (them)."

Notes: There's a new holder in town. Schiano said he replaced Teddy Dellaganna with redshirt freshman Rob Cervini. Dellaganna will continue to punt.

"Cervini's done a good job," Schiano said. "Teddy doesn't need an extra thing on his plate."

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