Analysis: Rutgers' 28-24 win at Connecticut

Rutgers' 28-24 win at Connecticut was remarkable, but what are the ins and outs involved with it? The Scarlet Knights couldn't run the ball, but is the offensive line any good? Why did the defense play so well for three quarters, but falter in the fourth? And the special teams were special, in a good and not-so-good way. Here is the inside breakdown of what transpired in the game.

It was the type of game Rutgers wins once every, well, let's say 17 years to be kind.

That is when the Scarlet Knights used a last-play pass to beat Virginia Tech, also on Halloween.

The Rutgers folks on the sideline were melancholy after Connecticut took a 24-21 lead with 38 seconds remaining, and the thought of needing to win two of four games just to be bowl eligible hovered on the south side of Rentschler Field.

That is until the season was saved, when quarterback Tom Savage drilled a pass toward Tim Brown's back shoulder, and Rutgers' fifth-year senior receiver out-sprinted three UConn defenders for the game-winning score.

It was the defining moment of the Scarlet Knights' season, let along the 28-24 win Saturday that gives Rutgers a realistic shot at an established bowl. With games road games against Syracuse and Louisville, and home contests against South Florida and West Virginia, a 10-win season isn't impossible.

But in order to get there, especially against talented, albeit also uneven, South Florida and West Virginia, the mistakes and offensive issues Rutgers continues to make must be remedied.

Beginning with the special teams, the kick return received an enormous boost when Devin McCourty took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a score. It included a wonderful juke of kicker Desi Cullen, and true speed to out-run the kick coverage.

McCourty also nearly blocked a punt, but there were more issues with the special teams than answers.

Even before Robbie Frey had a seemingly 5-yard wide lane when he broke a 100-yard kickoff to give the Huskies energy after Rutgers took a 14-3 lead, he returned the first kickoff 50 yards, keyed by Khaseem Greene ‘s missed a tackle.

Although the wind was swirling, making field goals dicey, San San Te's miss of a 41-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter could have been pivotal. And although Teddy Dellaganna averaged 42.1 yards on 10 punts, he also failed to pin the Huskies deep in their own territory on several occasions.

And one perplexing thing was why Rutgers changed its kick return alignment with 38 seconds remaining. Rather than having McCourty and Joe Lefeged deep, Rutgers went with only McCourty deep.

Offensively, there was plenty of strong play, beginning with the lack of turnovers again. It is much easier to live with getting one first down in the opening 21 minutes when the ball is not being turned over and the defense is playing well.

The problem continues to be the running game, and far too many times Joe Martinek or Jourdan Brooks and DeAntwan Williams (yes, he played), are getting hit in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. The Scarlet Knights netted 86 yards on 31 attempts, and had a long of 10 yards.

The in-house mantra is Rutgers is always one block away from springing a big run, but that is the case on 90 percent of running plays. Eight games into the season is long enough for an identity to be formed, and now it does not appear Rutgers is capable of sustaining a running game.

There is no reason to believe the Scarlet Knights won't be perpetually one play away, especially when it is always someone different missing a block, or blowing an assignment.

But the appearance of Williams is enough to whet the appetite for what may transpire down the line. In his three carries, Williams showed the ability to get positive yards, and at least wedge his way into a crease to gain seven yards on three carries.

The running game is in such shambles Rutgers ran its "Wildcat'' formation while trying to milk the clock late in the fourth quarter.

However, for all the problems the offensive line had running the ball, it did a tremendous job in pass protection. Savage was sacked three times, but that was due more to blitz pickups.

Savage had plenty of time to throw the ball.

On a third-down conversion to Mohamed Sanu, Savage was able to step up and deliver an accurate pass. On the next play, Savage again had no rush and connected with Brown for a 37-yard scoring pass.

On the 20-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter to Mark Harrison, running back Kordell Young had no one to block as he stayed in for extra protection. Savage moved up in the fired a perfect pass.

Savage also continued to show incredible maturity for a true freshman. He had the poise and confidence, which is an interesting mix for a freshman, to thread the ball into Brown on the game-winning play.

He also spun away from a defender on his blind side, slid subtly in the pocket, and also held onto the ball when he was crushed from behind on a sack.

Savage was 13 of 24 for 236 yards and three touchdowns, and was 6 for 13 on third down. He threw a couple of gorgeous balls, including one over the cornerback and in front of the safety before Brown made his break on the ball. It resulted in a first down, and led to a touchdown.

But Savage also missed Brown, who was five yards beyond the secondary, on a deep ball in the first quarter, and also threw into triple coverage off play action trying to hit Sanu.

As coach Greg Schiano stated afterward, the defense wore down, which will happen when they're on the field for 50 plays in the second half.

The Scarlet Knights benefitted from a couple of miserably thrown balls, particularly the interceptions by Damaso Munoz and David Rowe, but also were able to pressure quarterbacks Cody Endres and Zach Frazer.

Although Frazer threw for 333 yards after Endres was knocked out with a shoulder injury in the first quarter, he wasn't always comfortable in the pocket.

Rutgers' defense controlled the line of scrimmage for the first 45 minutes. The linebackers were pursuing to the ball well, Rowe was showing he is developing into a top-notch cornerback and safeties Zaire Kitchen and Joe Lefeged were delivering big hits.

However, much of that changed in the fourth quarter, and mostly because of plays the Scarlet Knights no longer made.

On the play before Marcus Easley caught a 32-yard touchdown pass to pull the Huskies within 21-17 with 10:19 to play, McCourty had an interception go through his hands. And on the touchdown play, linebacker Ryan D'Imperio failed to wrap Easley up. Instead, Easley bounced off the hit and scored.

On the Huskies' go-ahead drive, they converted three fourth downs. One was a 3-yard Andre Dixon rush on fourth-and-1, but the most egregious error came on the next fourth down.

With UConn needing five yards, Frazer completed a short pass to Kashif Moore. Brandon Jones had an opportunity to make the tackle a yard before the first down, but missed. Greene, who was injured on the play, also missed a tackle before D'Imperio came from behind to make he hit.

And on the fourth-and-goal play, freshman linebacker Steve Beauharnais was drawn in, allowing Jordan Todman to get to the outside and score from two yards out with 38 seconds to play.

In most circumstances, those three fourth-down plays would have been the focus. And talk of the defense not being able to get off the field on fourth down, much like on third down against Pittsburgh, would have dominated discussions until the Nov. 12 game against South Florida.

Instead, Rutgers gets to work on its issues while smiling because it won a game in the way the program always lost.


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