Thursday, November 09, 2006

R.U. serious? Scarlet Knights flip the BCS the Bird

Rutgers 28, Louisville 25, BCS-zero
As the seconds ticked away and the Rutgers field goal unit prepared to take the field for what would be a probable game-winning kick, I remembered something my buddy, who will forever be referred to as Rutgers Ira, told me as I left work this evening:
"don't forget, they've got a great kicker, too."

His prophetic words almost game back to haunt him as the normally reliable Jeremey Ito(11-14 coming in) missed the 33-yarder that would have won the game for the Scarlet Knights. But this was one of the most exciting games in college football this season and it wasn't about to end on a missed kick (although a little OT would have been fun)- Ito got a reprieve when Louisville CB William Gay was whistled for an offsides, and with 13 seconds left he connected from 28 yards on what would become the biggest non-basketball 3-pointer in Rutgers' storied history.

But this game will not just be remembered for that fantastic finish but for the heart, determination and will-to-win the Scarlet Knights showed in coming back from 18 points down in the 2nd quarter to stun the 3rd ranked Cardinals and the rest of the college football universe as well. Never mind the fact that just a year or 2 ago this team would have folded like the hardtop of the Pontiac G6 (damn those ads work) in a situation like that; hell last year this Louisville squad destroyed this Rutgers team by the score of 56-5. This was a game that by all intents & purposes should have been a Louisville blowout from the way it started. But Schiano's boys kept "chopping that wood" (an RU mantra akin to Chucky's 'pound the rock') until there was nothing left of the Louisville offense but a bloody stump.

The first quarter featured enough drama, wild plays, and scoring to fill 3 Disney sports films.
The first play of the game signified what kind of night it would be- Schiano eschewed the obvious running play for a deep bomb that was just out of the reach of his intended receiver, freshman sensation Kenny Britt. Message sent, though: Rutgers wasn't about to play it safe and go the way Louisville wanted them to go, namely running the ball right into the teeth of the staunch Cardinal defense. Rutgers advanced the ball to midfield but was forced to punt, and that's when QB Brian Brohm and the Cardinal offense went to work. Brohm marched the Birds 80 yards in just under five minutes capped by a touchdown by emerging Tampa freshman Anthony Allen for a 7-0 lead just 3 minutes into the game. Message sent back- we are Louisville and this is what we do best. Rutgers got the ball back at their own 22 and immediately went for a big pass again. This time QB Mike Teel (8-21, 189, 1TD,1INT) threw wide of his receiver and the ball was intercepted by Gavin Smart at the 50 for a crowd-hushing turnover. Brohm immediately returned the favor, though, with a pick of his own and the Scarlet Knights found themselves in great position at the Cards' 26. Teel wasted no time in getting his team right back in the game with a 26-yard bullet to Tiquan Underwood for the equalizer, and it was 7-7 with just over 4:00 to play in the 1st quarter. That's when things really got exciting. On the ensuing kickoff Cardinal return specialist JaJuan Spillman, who returned a kick in the game last week vs. West Virginia, made a game-changing play, to say the least: he fielded the kick at his own goal line and then zigged, zagged, and blazed his way to the opposite end zone untouched for a dazzling 100-yard kickoff return that left onlookers slack-jawed with amazement. Blink, blink, did I really just see that? What followed was even crazier as the extra point was blocked but the Rutgers players treated it like it was K-Fed's CD and an alert Allen picked it up and ran it in for the uncnventional 2-point conversion off the blocked PAT. 15-7 Louisville after one, and it. was. on. As is usually the case when a team makes an NCAA highlight reel play, Louisville used that spark to take a torch to Rutgers' solid defense, scoring 10 points in the first 9:00 minutes of the 2nd to bulge the lead to 25-7, and it looked like we were heading to blowout city; in fact I'm sure Rutgers Iras everywhere were preparing their "I told you so" concession speeches for the next day. But this is The New RU, and after Teel hit Kordell Young for a 39-yard pass, Ray Rice (22 carries, 131 yards, 2TDs) busted off an 18-yard TD run to give everyone in Scarlet a breath of hope going into the 2nd half down 11, 25-14.

Schiano must have given a hell of a halftime speech, either that or he had RU alum James Tony Soprano Gandolfini make the defense an offer they couldn't refuse, because the unit that had allowed 213 yards and 18 points in the first half suddenly looked like the second coming of the '85 Chicago Bears. The revitalized D, chopping wood all the way, forced Louisville into 5 consecutive 3 & outs while the offense perked up like Kelly Ripa on speed, scoring on a Rice TD & 2-point conversion and an Ito 46-yard boot to tie the sputtering Cardinals at 25 with just over 10:00 to play. What the heck did he say at halftime? I'm not sure any of it is printable on a family blog, but whatever it was it certainly inspired the defense to crank it up a couple of notches. The usually accurate and poised Brohm looked like a deer in the headlights as the Knights blitzed, stunted and shifted their way to him time and time again, forcing him to scramble for his life or throw the ball incomplete. Brohm was held to a season low 163 yards passing with 1 TD and 1INT, but the entire high-powered team only had 50 yards offense in the 2nd half. It was an awesome turnaround by the Scarlet Knights and the inspired defensive play certainly was the springboard that allowed Rutgers to get back in the game.

The final drive was a clinic on how to run a game down to the end and set up a game-winning field goal, and it was served with a stedy diet of Rice. The surefire Heisman candiate (now) ran for 70 of his 131 yards in the 4th, when the Cardinal D was gassed and the Knights could play their power run game. Starting at the 5:00 minute mark Rice ran 7 times for 42 yards sandwiched around a clutch 26-yard catch & run on 3rd & 6 by forgotten FB Brian Leonard that got them to the Louisville 39 and kept the drive alive. After Teel took a short run to line the ball up in the center of the field Ito's heroics began. Or the Cardinal agony, depending on your perspective. Can you be Gay & miserable at the same time? William says yes.

So the Scarlet Knights did it. They set the college football world on its ear by messing up the precious BCS formula now that it looks like either undefeated Ohio State or Michigan will face a 1-loss team in the Fiesta Bowl while a potentially undefeated team plays in a consolation bowl. Kudos to Rutgers for giving college football fans a 2nd consecutive thrilling Thursday and forcing the BCS powers to reconsider their system, kudos the Big East for proving that the conference is not dead by any means, and kudos to Coach Schiano for reviving a legendary college football program by doing things the right way: playing hard, never giving up, and chopping down every tree that stands in their path. And congrats to all the long-suffering Scarlet fans like Rutgers Ira and my good Jersey buddy Butchie- you guys deserved this.

At the end of the game Ray Rice was interviewed by Erin Andrews and said he was "ready to cry right now"; don't worry Ray, as you turned and hugged your mom I cried for you, because this game was what college football is all about.

Scarlet Knights #1. BCS= Biggest Crock of Shit

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