Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Q&A with The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers

We're all about the Q&A's at the Mountainlair and the Fanhouse, and we're extremely excited to add to the list of Big East Bloggers with The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers.

With the game this Saturday night against Rutgers we thought we'd get a Scarlet Knight view on where his team is and how far they've come.

What were you expectations for this team at the beginning of the year? Are you surprised in any way at how well the team has done?

Looking at this year before the season began put me in a position I was never in before. For one, Rutgers had been to a bowl, but more odd than that, they were slated to go back. If you looked at the schedule, there were probably 5 solid wins with at least 3 games we might be underdogs, namely on the road at UNC, at home vs. Louisville, and of course the season finale in Morgantown. We thought we could pencil in wins vs. Ohio, Howard, UConn, Cincy, and Syracuse. That left Illinois at home, Navy, Pitt and South Florida on the road. Realistically, we picked them to go 3-1 in those games for 8-4, maybe 9-3 if something else broke their way. So, to be in a position to be 11-1 is a little bit of a surprise, but seeing UNC being so bad, we added that win to our expectations early, and when they escaped from South Florida with a win, the expectations grew. So yes, it is a surprise, but with any season, your predictions morph with the wins, injuries, etc. that come with the season.

And of course, upeneding Louisville was a major high, while the kick in the groin at Cincy was a heart-breaker with so much on the line. As a Rutgers fan, you learn to savor the good times because you don't know how long they will last, or when they will return. I don't think that is cynical, it is just the way of life for a Rutgers fan, and I am enjoying this ride immensely.

Last year was a very good year for Rutgers. The first bowl in quite a while, and a little national recognition. What's been the biggest change between this team and last years team?

Obviously, the biggest change has come in the backfield, but we will discuss that below. The other major change was at the quarterback position where Ryan Hart brought senior leadership to a position they had been trying to give to Mike Teel. This year, Teel has been a statistical yawn, except for one important stat...wins. While he doesn't have the greatest completion percentage, or touchdown to int ratio, he has also been plagued by an injury to his senior WR, and a rash of drops by his young and inexperienced receiving core. Also, this is the second year Head Coach Greg Schiano has been calling the plays as the defensive coordinator. He utilizes his quicker defenders to attack, rather than trying to bully teams around with brute strength.

Considering how well Brian Leonard ran the ball last year, were you at all surprised that Ray Rice took over as the main running back this year?

Anyone who wasn't surprised by this is either lying or is related to the Rice family. Leonard's Heisman campaign seemed to indicate he was going to be the main focus of the offense, again, but when teams are gearing up to stop Leonard, what a luxury to have a weapon like Ray Rice. And if you read between the lines, my guess is that Leonard would rather be getting carries, TD's, and a 10 win season, but all things being equal, he would take the wins minus the stats. Also, Leonard is well respected by draftniks, and I don't think his NFL stock has been diminished by this years effort. If anything, he team-first attitude will probably bode well for teams looking for a good blocking fullback who can also handle the ball. Plus, don't forget, that although Rice gets a bulk of the carries, when the clock was winding down against Louisville, on a crucial third and 6, Leonard got the ball on a swing pass and rumbled 26 yards to set-up the winning field goal.

Clark Harris is arguably one of the best tight ends in the country. Has this been a disappointing season for him with only 25 catches and two touchdowns?

Well, I think it is more disappointing for Clark Harris than for fans. Winning lets a lot of things go unnoticed, and while he is a decent weapon, he hasn't been dropping passes that have cost us games. He pitches in with blocks for the running game, which has been the focus of the Rutgers offense. With a quicker game and the offense churning up the clock, his opportunities have dwindled. In some ways, he is more of a forgotten man than Leonard.

The defense has been far more stingy against the run this year, allowing 2.8 ypc as opposed to 3.3 last year. Can you point to any major changes to bring this about?

This is a testament to Schiano becoming the defensive coordinator, and this unit having another year to gel with one another. They may not be household names across the country, but plenty of running backs have met Ramel Meekins, Eric Foster, Quintero Frierson, or Brendon Renkart. Plus, the defensive backs are also a year smarter in knowing when to come up and stuff the run.

Who have been the big surprises this year for Rutgers?

Other than Ray Rice, the latest surprise has been freshman wide receiver Kenny Britt. With the injury to senior wide receiver and team co-captain Shawn Tucker, the offensive has struggled to find quality possession receivers. Britt has stepped up lately showing the ability to not only hang on to the ball, but also has flashed some speed to turn a short pass into a long gain.

Finally, are you making the trip down to Morgantown this weekend, and do you have a prediction for the game?

Unfortunately, I am not making the trip to Morgantown, although I would love to. My prediction? Probably not going to be too popular with your faithful readers, but I think Rutgers finally breaks their 0-fer in the hills of West Virginia and pulls out a 28-23 victory, with a Ray Rice long run in the fourth quarter the difference making play of the game.

Mt. Lair
- We fully support homerism at the Mountainlair, and respect not only giving the final score, but to also who and when. Make sure to check out The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers for all the news on RU.

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