I have to start off by digesting that big plate of blue and gold crow sitting right in front of me as I write this column. I boldly (and as it turned out, moronically) predicted West Virginia to go down in flames on Saturday against what I thought was the best Rutgers team of my lifetime (as if that is saying much).
Here's the way I looked at it going in: West Virginia's only loss of the season came against a team with similar if not equal athletic ability and overall talent at South Florida. While Greg Schiano's defense may not be as big, fast, or physical as the same unit from USF, the Scarlet Knights have normally found a way to get the job done over the past season and a half. Especially at Rutgers Stadium, and especially in big games.
The Knights' offense, meanwhile, was looking like a finely-tuned, well-oiled machine in recent weeks. Obviously, you know what you're getting into with Rutgers junior running back Ray Rice. What he lacks in height he more than makes up for in power, patience, and football smarts. How many times have you seen Rice take a handoff, only to see the Rutgers offensive line get pushed off the ball. Yet somehow, some way, Rice churns out five or more yards on the carry as he patiently waits for his O-Line to open the hole. And once he hits the hole, his leg drive, low center of gravity, and North-South running style make him very, very difficult to bring down. It's why he's been -- along with Steve Slaton -- among the nation's best running backs over the past three seasons.
As good as Rice is with the ball, he's just as dangerous as a decoy. The respect he commands with his ability to not only churn out the tough yards as I described above, but also hit the home run with a game-breaker keeps linebackers and safeties on alert anytime he's on the field. As a result, Rutgers has reaped the benefits of countless big plays via play-action in 2007. Junior quarterback Mike Teel had shown the ability to make defenses pay with his arm, and speedy receivers Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt were challenging Rice as the biggest stat-producers on the Rutgers offense...until Saturday.
As it turned out, Saturday's bunch looked like the same old Rutgers that I used to feel sorry for back in the day. All the while, my foolishness was right here on the front page of BlueGoldNews.com throughout Saturday's game, seemingly mocking me as I sat in the press box at Rutgers Stadium witnessing the latest example of Mountaineer supremacy over the Scarlet Knights. As Steve Slaton and Pat White ran around seemingly stationary RU defenders, my two-year mini-dynasty in the Fearless Picks was coming to and end.
Admittedly, I underestimated the West Virginia defense. Instead of paying attention to the fact that they had flat out dominated every opponent on the docket beginning with the Maryland game, I simply chalked it up to weak competition. Instead of taking the simplistic view that West Virginia always beats Rutgers no matter what the circumstances, I convinced myself that the fact that Rutgers has come close the past three seasons meant they would finally get over the hump on Saturday with a national television audience and sold out stadium looking on.
Instead of using my head, I used...well, I don't know what in the heck I was thinking. I screwed up. Plain and simple. The Knights were not who I thought they were. Alright? THEY WERE NOT WHO I THOUGHT THEY WERE! I wanted to crown them, and instead, a new Picks champion will be crowned at season's end.
Thinking back on the game, I find it appropriate that the normally-Scarlet Knights were dressed in all black on Saturday, because after 13 straight losses to the Mountaineers, the team that sits on the banks of the Mighty Raritan has taken about as many lumps from West Virginia as the Black Knight did from King Arthur in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
If you haven't seen the movie (and shame on you for that in and of itself), King Arthur is passing through the forest on his quest for the Holy Grail when he comes across a Black Knight, who first appears in a back and forth duel with a green-clad warrior (which is fitting given the recent Rutgers win over South Florida). After repeated attempts to converse with the Black Knight are re-buffed, King Arthur attempts to proceed with his journey. Finally, the knight speaks, alerting the King that "none shall pass".
Against Rutgers, West Virginia's secondary adopted the same motto. Teel and the Rutgers passing game, averaging nearly 300 yards per game through the air coming into the West Virginia showdown, managed just 131 yards against the Big East's best pass defense, with Teel accounting for 128 of that total. Of those 128 yards, 81 came in the fourth quarter with West Virginia's victory all but salted away as the Mountaineers led by three touchdowns at the outset of the final frame.
Let's go back to the movie for a second. After Arthur and the Black Knight cannot work out a peaceful resolution to their quarrel, the Knight challenges Arthur to a duel. The King promptly slices off the arm of the Knight, and within moments has removed the other arm and both legs from his suddenly-defenseless adversary.
The WVU-Rutgers game played out similar, as the Mountaineers struck early with a 38-yard Steve Slaton touchdown run, and had the game well in hand by midway through the third quarter, rendering Rice's legs and the arms of Teel and Jabu Lovelace useless as the clock wound down.
If only I had watched the movie in the days leading up to the game, I might have made a wiser choice. While I may not be alive for our title here on the site, West Virginia's quest for college football's Holy Grail remains alive and well after a dominating performance over the Scarlet/Black Knights in their own backyard.