Analysis: Perspective on the win

Rutgers beat Army 27-10, but there is so much more behind the win. Finally, the personality of the Scarlet Knights is known. What is keeping the offense from breaking out? Will the running game get going at some point this season? What key defensive decision did the coaching staff make to combat Army's triple-option attack? And what about the special teams?

It was not a dominating performance against Army, not the shellacking Rutgers put on the Black Knights the last several seasons, but the defense continued to show its strength while the offense held itself back too many times.

There was also an improvement on special teams, where the Scarlet Knights blocked well and covered well on the kick return units.

The biggest question is whether the offense can gain any semblance of consistency heading into the meat of the Big East schedule, or whether the Scarlet Knights are destined for a 2-5 league mark.

From an offensive standpoint, there were some nice things, especially the response after both of Army's scores. After the Black Knights kicked a field on their opening drive, Rutgers drove 54 yards for a touchdown. And following Army's touchdown on its first drive of the second half made it a one possession game, the Scarlet Knights drove 37 yards and kicked a field goal.

But the razor-thin margin for error for this offense was on display when quarterback Tom Savage connected with freshman receiver Mark Harrison for 32 yards on a third-and-14 in the first quarter.

Nothing appears smooth.

The protection was excellent, Savage delivered a well-thrown ball, but Harrison nearly dropped it. Instead, it looked like it was completed because it stuck in the ear hole of Harrison's helmet, although to his credit, he did make the catch.

Later in the drive Savage showed good poise in hitting receiver Mohamed Sanu for eight yards on a third-and-3 before Joe Martinek gave Rutgers the lead for good with a 4-yard touchdown run.

The first sign of the offensive inconsistency plaguing Rutgers all season appeared on the next drive when Martinek was stopped for no gain on a third-and-2. Good offensive teams, like Rutgers' the last few seasons, would have blasted a hole at the line of scrimmage, or run play-action for a quick pass, but Martinek had nowhere to run.

And, if it wasn't for Army's Jonathan Bulls mishandling a snap and having his punt blocked by Steve Beauharnais, who also scooped it up and ran 11 yards for a touchdown on the last play of the first quarter, it is possible Rutgers' lead at the half would have been seven points rather than 17-3.

True, Arm's defense was ranked 17 th in the nation and yielding 22 points per game, but its toughest two opponents were Iowa State and Duke.

After beginning the game 3 for 3, Savage finished 7 of 17, and the problems began in a second quarter in which Rutgers managed 22 total yards and failed to gain a first down on a pair of quarterback sneaks.

On third-and-1, Savage was stopped when the Scarlet Knights tried to quick-snap Army. More disturbing was the fourth down play. With bruising between-the-tackles Martinek available, the middle of the offensive line couldn't create enough of a surge for Savage to gain a few feet.

Army's under-sized defensive front was quick, but not that quick. It brought up memories of Jourdan Brooks being unable to score against Maryland, and re-enforced Rutgers is not a very good run-blocking team.

Size and strength matters, which is why Rutgers put the game away via the run in the fourth quarter. Through three quarters, the Scarlet Knights ran 26 times for 36 yards, but rushed 14 times for 96 yards in the final 15 minutes.

Conversely, the Scarlet Knights have figured out how to protect Savage, so much so the true freshman often holds the ball too long in the pocket. Against better competition, it will be a problem.

Savage's accuracy is another issue holding back the offense, but as he matures as a quarterback it will be fine.

He had tight end Shamar Graves ridiculously wide open for what should have been a 24-yard touchdown on a brilliant misdirection play, but Savage overthrew the ball and Rutgers settled for San San Te's 41-yard field goal.

Defensively, there is one complaint:

STAY ONSIDES!

The rest are accolades, beginning with the decision to play a nickel package throughout, and trust red-shirt freshman defensive back Khaseem Greene on the edge.

Understand against an option team the first possession of each half could cause trouble because of the unfamiliarity of it, and that is what happened.

Army opened the game with a nine-play, 55-yard drive resulting in a field goal. The Black Knights, who ran from the right side of the formation to start the second half, scored on a for-play, 59-yard drive the first time they had the ball after intermission.

Thirteen plays, 113 yards on those two possessions. On the Black Knights' 11 other possessions, 36 plays resulted in 100 yards and three lost fumbles.

Greene's pivotal job was to eye the pitch to the left of Army quarterback Trent Steelman. Greene then had to decide whether to help on Steelman or slide to his right and take the ball carrier. Had Army possessed more speed, Greene could have found himself in trouble a few times, but such was not the case and he was able to force the play several times.

The middle of the defensive front also was fantastic, led by defensive tackle Scott Vallone. The quickness he possesses at his size (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) is scary, and he was a disruptive force getting off, and around, blocks to make plays. He had five tackles, including two for loss, and would have had a huge fourth-down tackle of Steelman if not for an offsides by another lineman.

Cornerback David Rowe also was exceptional in defending 6-foot-10, 283-pound receiver Alejandro Villanueva. Army tried to get Villanueva the ball early, but Rowe made a couple of fantastic plays to break up the play, and the Black Knights went away from him.

And after a week of harping on special teams play, it was improved, if not glittering. The blocked punt, though, wasn't part of it since that was a product of the punter mishandled the ball.

Joe Lefeged averaged 29 yards on his two kick returns, and if he beat the kicker on a 35-yard return in the first quarter, he could have scored. Army didn't return either of Teddy Dellaganna's two punts, which averaged 46.5 yards, but the Black Knights did average nearly 22 yards per kick return.

Overall, beating Army isn't reason to believe the rest of the season will be ok, but at least now Rutgers knows the personality of its team.

The defense must play well and the offense, which cannot afford turnovers, is good for one or two sustained drives a game.


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