Maybe it's just our sheer collective loathing of Rutgers that made us wait this long to start talking about tomorrow's game. But we need to get ready for it, and so we did it the way we always do it -- find a blogger for the opposing team, send them some questions, get back some answers, and everyone learns something. This week I talked to the eponymous On the Banks about this year's Rutgers team, and other things related to what has to be the Big East's most inexplicable grudge match.
We got to this part after the jump, so right off the top -- go to ScarletKnights.com/Believe, read about the Eric LeGrand Believe Fund, and please consider a donation or leave Eric a get-well note. USF will wear #52 decals on their helmets tomorrow night in his honor.
Be warned, On the Banks can write about as much as I can (which you'll see when he posts my roughly 2000 words to answer five questions about USF). Get comfortable.
1. Has Rutgers' bad pass protection been the root cause of their offensive struggles this year? You mentioned that Chas Dodd started hesitating in the pocket against Pittsburgh -- is he holding on to the ball too long or doing something else wrong?
OTB: It's difficult to separate cause and effect entirely. The pass protection has been awful, no doubt exacerbated by the play calling (favoring the Shotgun formation, multi-receiver sets, and deep passing). Art Forst at right tackle hasn't been able to handle speed rushers at all, which is why he was rotating with a green underclassman for a few games. Now Forst has moved to guard, and a redshirt freshman who was on the defensive line a few months ago could get thrown into the fire.
When Dodd took over a few weeks ago, he gave the team a spark by being able to go through his reads quicker than Tom Savage, didn't stare down Mohamed Sanu, and he seemed to be getting rid of the ball quicker with more quick-release, high percentage plays. When the protection broke down, he was good about getting rid of the ball and not taking a sack. Against Pittsburgh Dodd was indistinguishable from how Savage looked this year. They're both hearing footsteps because of the bad OL play, and are playing a little shell-shocked.
Rutgers has been using more of a spread over the past year and a half, and it's been a disaster. It's just not meshing at all with the line, who used to be the strength of the team. My hope is that there's a staff overhaul after the season, and RU goes back to the pro style approach that they've had some success with.
2. Has Greg Schiano been forced to manage games differently? Before last year Rutgers was often able to dictate the action to their opponents. Now it seems like while he still likes to bring the heat on defense, he has to bide his time more and wait to pounce on mistakes in order to win games.
OTB: Eh, that's inferring a lot from wins against bad opponents. The Rutgers offense has been largely unable to drive down the field or score points. Not only does that hurt on the scoreboard, but they directly hurt the defense by not eating any clock, and surrendering poor field position. The defense has been mostly good, and have won a few games on their own, but cannot be expected to keep that up every game. For a while it looked like the coaching staff was making adjustments on offense, but during the past two weeks they've fallen back on the same ineffective plays that have doomed them all year.
3. Obviously we're all aware of the Eric LeGrand injury and we're hoping for the best with him -- if you want to pass along any sites that fans can donate to or pledge some other kind of support, I'll be happy to include them in our post. Are there any other injuries of note? Is Manny Abreu still out?
OTB: ScarletKnights.com/Believe is the site that the athletic department set up.
I'd also encourage readers to support medical research in general, spinal cord or otherwise. I'm proud of the response by the university community (and everyone else across the country) in supporting Eric, and I'm even prouder that Rutgers has a top neuroscience professor (Dr. Wise Young) on faculty, who's leading groundbreaking research on these kinds of injuries. Science is making advances every day, and those developments will be the key in developing future treatments.
There seem to be a lot of injuries right now. WR Mohamed Sanu is hurting badly and may not able to run the Wildcat, and the team's three top tight ends are all questionable. RB Joe Martinek has been banged up all year. Abreu will be out a few more weeks, and 4th CB Marcus Cooper will miss this week. That's just the new stuff. RU also lost its starting receiver Tim Wright, starting fullback Edmond Laryea, and multiple backup linebackers. There was also a freshman RB Casey Turner who might have been able to start this year, but is probably looking at a redshirt.
4. Coming into the Big East, I figured that Louisville would become our most hated opponent, based on 20 years of history that extends back to before USF had a football team. Instead our fans seem to hate Rutgers more than every other Big East team combined. It's a bizarre grudge match, but I think I can explain it from our side -- gutting losses in 2006 and 2007, and fans taking their cue from our former coach, who clearly let things get personal with Schiano. I know you had no love lost for Jim Leavitt; what was it about him (or maybe the program at large) that bothered you?
OTB: The sideline demeanor was the obvious thing, but ultimately that's just superficial. I respected Leavitt for being the father of USF football, but he just wasn't a very good coach. His teams were always sloppy, with tons of mistakes and inexplicable penalties. They'd always fade late in the year, and usually fall to meet expectations. Rutgers is perceived as receiving too many media accolades or whatever, so the feeling is probably mutual, but I resent USF and certain Bulls for that very reason. If it's any consolation, any jealous UCF fans can piss off.
Then comes the off-field stuff, like with his firing. Leavitt lied about the incident (which by itself wasn't that big of a deal) and tried to cover it up. Then you look at their APR scores, or the fact that only 46% of their players are graduating according to the latest NCAA data. That is unacceptable. Only having a 37% African American graduation rate is putrid. (Editor's note: These are the graduation rates for 2003 that came out last week.)
Greg Schiano is a hardass disciplinarian who rubs some people the wrong way. His assistants usually burn out after a few years because they can't keep up with his crazy 18-hour work days. But Schiano shines by any academic or behavioral metric. After the fact with Leavitt, when all of Brett McMurphy's report came out, I saw a disturbed individual with serious character flaws. That's not why I took shots at the guy for years, but it's what I take away in retrospect.
5. Sean Keeley wrote a post yesterday about teams who could quickly make themselves into a juggernaut and help restore the Big East's credibility, singling out Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Syracuse. Assuming they actually stay in the Big East, where do you think Rutgers' long-range place is in the conference? Can they become a juggernaut, or are there external factors that might limit them to an "in a given year they can rise up" program?
OTB: Sean's a standup guy and has been a big help to me personally, but we seem to disagree an awful lot. We're probably going to have to sit down for a group therapy session at some point.
That post just comes off as a patronizing appeal to tradition, which might as well be coming from the decrepit mouth of Lou Holtz. When you follow a so-called "up and coming" program like Rutgers, USF, or UConn, hearing this argument isn't very welcome. I understand that established programs have more resources, and you can't break through a glass ceiling over night. But on the other hand, inferences are only so informative when you're dealing with a relatively small number of seasons, with so many different causal factors undoubtedly playing role with how each program progressed. Historically, new power programs come out of the woodwork all of the time, while old powers fall. Look at Oregon or Notre Dame.
The "new" Big East had its most appeal when undefeated teams were drawing huge television ratings on Thursday nights. They'll have appeal again if/when the conference cycles back on an upswing like where it was for a while. What matters are good teams, coaches, players, and games. The BE needs to take expansion seriously, and for god's sake get Bill Stewart the hell out of Morgantown before he runs that program into the ground. It doesn't necessarily matter which team. That being said, I think the teams best positioned long term have the right combination of recruiting bases and local media markets. Rutgers and Pittsburgh lead that pack. USF isn't far behind, but they obviously have to deal with Florida and FSU drawing statewide attention. You can make a case for anyone really except Cincy and UConn, who all things being equal don't have the resources to compete on a yearly basis.
BONUS #1: Any predictions for the game?
OTB: I haven't been too high on USF over the past few years. If Rutgers can't right the ship though, who are they going to beat? The streak of the past few years is a total x-factor with the coaching change. If RU can't win this, I don't know who they are going to beat this year. A loss probably means going in the tank from here on out.
OTB: It's important not to go to crazy with that stuff. Sometimes I'd get a Fat Darrell when I did really well on my finals. The trucks become a little overplayed after a while and honestly have more appeal to visitors and new arrivals. When you're a local you get to be really snarky and elitist and territorial about all the little hole in the walls around New Brunswick and the surrounding area.
Just like Texans and Mexican food, then. Thanks to On the Banks for his help.