Friday, November 10, 2006

The Dream Continues

The best story that no one has been talking about this year just got even better, as Rutgers pulled off a 28-25 comeback victory on Thursday night. This one had it all: a home crowd absolutely frothing, a team winning despite playing a stiff at quarterback, a valiant comeback, big plays, me picking it almost exactly (31-27 Rutgers was the prediction, if I don't mind saying so), one of the worst football programs in history thrusting itself into the national title picture, and my boy Ray Rice playing like a beast. This might be my favorite college football game since that wild USC-Notre Dame game last year.

A few other quick thoughts:

- In predictable fashion, Bobby Petrino stubbornly (arrogantly?) refused to make adjustments at the half, despite the fact that his base defense had no prayer of stopping Rutgers' simple toss play, ever. In fact, if the Scarlet Knights would have just tossed it to Rice 39 times like they did against Pittsburgh, they might have won easily. Petrino appears to be a great teacher, motivator, recruiter, and all-around person, but as a tactician, he is too headstrong. His hubris leads to his downfall.

- I've been taking a lot of heat for having Ray Rice so high in my Heisman Poll, so I can't help but feel validated by his performance. It wasn't just the snazzy numbers (22 carries for 133 yards and two scores), it was the way he ran. Crushing defenders, hitting the hole hard, turning the ball upfield ... he was a monster. I fully expect the rest of the sports media (both traditional and nontraditional) to catch up and put him in the top five, where I've had him for weeks. For the life of me, I don't know what took so long. The guy is averaging 150 yards a game for one of the greatest Cinderella sports stories of the decade. The media usually eats this stuff up. (Also, this game had to help Rice's future pro prospects. He looked an awful lot like DeAngelo Williams out there.)

- Louisville's kick returner is both one of the skinniest and fastest football players I've ever seen. He was worth the price of admission, especially since he was a few lunging arm tackles away from running back two more kicks for scores, in addition to the one he actually broke for six.

- Why did Louisville abandon their two most effective plays: the quick slant and the strong side toss play? Rutgers had no prayer of stopping the Cardinals receivers in one-on-one coverage and only shut down the pass by getting pressure on lead-footed Brian Brohm. All Louisville had to do was employ a three-step drop and hit guys on the slant for big gains. Instead, they kept dropping Brohm back five and seven steps and he was getting slaughtered. Again, the hubris. And as for the running game, they barely ran the ball in the second half despite A) playing with the lead for most of it, and B) the fact that Kolby Smith was shredding people early. Even when they did run, it was just a lame dive into the middle of the line, where Rutgers could offset speed with sheer effort. When Louisville was running that toss play early, they were absolutely blowing the Scarlet Knights away. Very strange.

Now the big question is what to do with Rutgers. They have to avoid slipping in a dangerous game at Cincinnati next week (although Rutgers beat the Bearcats 44-9 last season, Cinci has a pretty solid defense and played Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Louisville tough this year) and then handle Syracuse, but then they will get another big game against #10 West Virginia. Personally, I think the Mountaineers are a tougher matchup for Rutgers because of their ridiculous speed and willingness to use it, not to mention the fact that the game is on the road. That said, this has been a miracle season so far for Rutgers, so why not one more big upset? Everyone thought they might lose to Navy and they won 34-0. Playing at Pittsburgh was supposed to be their undoing and they won 20-10. Now the big win over Louisville. Something magical is happening.

So what happens if they finish 12-0? They would be champs of a BCS conference with an undefeated record. It is hard to imagine them leaping all the way from their current #13 perch to #2 in a few short weeks, and I'm not even sure if they deserve to. But if they win all their games and get left out, it seems possible that the national title game might suck worse than ever before. The BCS system is just a travesty.

Oh well, the Scarlet Knights don't have to worry about that for now. They can just enjoy a truly memorable victory.

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