Now, though, trying to glean anything from the Scarlet Knights drilling Texas Southern 42-0 in Saturday's homecoming affair is almost fruitless.
The game was as meaningless as they come, not to say totally meaningless, with the result included. Rutgers already beat FCS (formerly I-AA) Howard this season, and a team can only use one such win for bowl eligibility.
The Scarlet Knights committed a season-high 12 penalties, and lining up offsides on defense and false starts on offense are unacceptable.
But something must be said about the opponent when it comes to this lack of focus. The players and coaching staff can say all they want about treating every team the same and preparing the same regardless of the opponent, but they all knew this was going to be a runaway win, even with the Scarlet Knights offense being substandard.
Avoiding an embarrassing result aside, the most important aspect was not suffering a devastating injury like in years past, when a starter went down against an FCS school and was lost for a significant amount of the season.
The Scarlet Knights appeared to achieve that goal, and now can look toward its Big East clash with Pittsburgh on national television Friday.
As for beating Texas Southern, the game was as vanilla as promised, particularly offensively, as the Scarlet Knights coaching staff made sure not to unveil anything new Pittsburgh. A throw to fullback Jack Corcoran on a wheel route in the corner of the end zone was as flashy as the offense got.
It was run through the middle, perhaps try to get running back Joe Martinek or Jourdan Brooks to the edge once in a while, but other than that pound the ball inside and keep quarterback Tom Savage upright.
How the coaching staff approached the game was evident early, and supported when Martinek was pulled in the second quarter to rest his body for the Panthers.
Savage returned to action for the first time since suffering a concussion Sept. 19 against Florida International, and showed, to the chagrin of coach Greg Schiano, he wasn't afraid to put his head back into the mix and take a hit.
Twice, Savage scrambled and looked for contact at the end of the play rather than sliding. While it suggests the level of his toughness, it also speaks to his inexperience. Doing it against Texas Southern is alarming enough, but if he absorbs those types of hits against a much bigger, stronger and more physical Pittsburgh team, he will run a much higher risk of being injured. And not just with another concussion.
Another positive was Savage's comfort level in the pocket. After drifting in the pocket in his last start, he was able to sit in there comfortably and throw the ball.
The running of freshman De'Antwan Williams (career-high 132 yard on 19 carries) should not be overlooked because he showed tremendous acceleration through the hole. His initial burst is impressive and his gracious 5-foot-8 listing helps him be elusive. Schiano said Williams was ok as a pass catcher and blocker, and that needs to improve before he gets playing time at a meaningful point in a game. Otherwise, it will compromise the play calling.
True, the offense isn't scoring a lot, but it never was supposed to. Losing quarterback Mike Teel and receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood off last year's team meant the high-powered attack was going to be made over. Stick a true freshman under center and the coaches are definitely going to tone things down.
You don't send a kid on a cross-country drive a month after he gets his driver's license, just like you don't turn into a pass-happy team a month after a true freshman takes his first college snap. Savage is doing his part, which means not turning the ball over. He has thrown 85 passes, and none have been intercepted. Just as important, very few of his incomplete passes have had a chance to be intercepted.
This was a team built to rely heavily on the defense, and the defense is doing its part. At every position they overwhelmed Texas Southern, which managed 126 yards of total offense. The Tigers ran four offensive plays in Rutgers territory, and didn't get further than the Scarlet Knights' 39-yard line.
Yes, it was a bad Texas Southern team, but the play that shows how far this defense has come since the beginning of the season occurred early in the first quarter when cornerback David Rowe returned an interception 56 yards for a touchdown.
Rowe's play showed his maturity, and the understanding of the defense. Rowe was covering along the sideline, but read quarterback Arvell Nelson's eyes and left his man to step in front of the intended receiver. That he scored behind a convoy of blockers is purely icing. His ability to read the play and jump a route of a player he was not covering suggests a deeper understanding of the defense, not to mention loads of film room work.
There was also a quick adjustment made by the coaching staff after Texas Southern's first two drives. Tigers tight end Jonathan Hannah was wide open and made a couple of catches down the field, so a linebacker was moved to cover Hannah.
Rutgers linebacker Ryan D'Imperio said after the game it was a play the Tigers had not run this season.
The Scarlet Knights had a few tackling issues, but again, the edge could be lost when playing such an inferior opponent.
In actuality, trying to make too much out of what transpired against Texas Southern is dangerous. It is already known Rutgers will play conservatively on offense, and use pressure defense to create turnovers, and give the offense a short field.
It can be frustrating and nerve-fraying at times, but that is how this team is built.