Unbeaten Rutgers not flashy, faces Temple next

Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman runs past Syracuse cornerback Brandon Reddish. (Mel Evans/AP)
Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman runs past Syracuse cornerback Brandon Reddish. (Mel Evans/AP)
Posted: October 14, 2012

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - The current juggernaut of Eastern football doesn't try to light up a scoreboard. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights probably don't have SportsCenter anxiously awaiting offensive highlights. Coaches won't be lining up at clinics to see the latest high-tech innovations from the banks of the Raritan River.

"We're 6 and 0, so it's not too conservative," Gary Nova said Saturday afternoon about his offense.

But the Rutgers quarterback went on to talk about the importance of "managing the game," that staying conservative on third-down calls is an affirmation of confidence in the Scarlet Knights' defense, that sometimes punting and trusting the D to get it back is smart football.

Smart talk from a sophomore QB.

Rutgers is ranked 20th nationally, ready to move up after a 23-15 victory over Syracuse, ready for - ready for this? - a battle of Big East unbeatens at the Linc next weekend against Temple.

Syracuse, no juggernaut, left Highpoint Solutions Stadium with a lot of heads shaking. One moment, you're kicking a 32-yard field goal to take a third-quarter lead. The next, a long-armed 6-foot-4 Rutgers defensive tackle is sticking an arm up to block the kick and a Scarlet Knights safety is running the ball 75 yards for a touchdown.

"We lost by a blocked field goal," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone loudly said to an assistant as they ran off the field. "[Bleeping] Unbelievable."

The Orange outgained Rutgers by almost 200 yards, but four fumbles, two lost, and two interceptions also factored in big-time. And Rutgers' ability to stop the run is the key element of its season so far. Syracuse had 62 yards on 32 rushes, keeping the Scarlet Knights right at their season average. They came in second in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 60.6 yards a game.

More evidence of how potent that run defense is came in the fourth quarter when Syracuse had four plays from the 10-yard line or closer and only ran once, for a loss. The last four attempts were from either the 2- or 3-yard line, three incomplete passes and a run.

"Not only do we not want people to score on us," said Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene. "We don't want them to get yards on us."

Greene was the dominant figure throughout. At the end of the first quarter he was flagged for shoving a Syracuse player to the ground. Greene said he shouldn't have done it, but the film will show he was "defending" himself.

"I let it go, played my game," Greene said, then he admitted that it "fueled" him up a little bit. He wanted to show that he could play his game "without being the guy who makes personal fouls."

Or maybe Rutgers should have a pregame drill where Greene gets to shove guys to the ground and a guy in a striped shirts throws flags and a coach yells at him.

Greene's afternoon (unless we missed something): One interception, three forced fumbles, 14 tackles, 11/2 sacks and a recovered fumble. Nobody laughed when Rutgers coach Kyle Flood used the words "all-American" afterward.

When Greene wasn't making a play, it was usually Ka'Lial Glaud from Winslow Township, who had two sacks - clobbering Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib both times. Glaud also recovered a fumble forced by Greene.

"This is the first game when I just let it go and didn't worry about it, and said whatever comes to me is going to come to me," Glaud said. "I stopped chasing it and it just came to me."

Flood, the first-year coach, will lose a game eventually, but if his team can get past 3-2 Temple, it could be awhile, with Kent State and Army coming up on the schedule before the Scarlet Knights end the regular season with games at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and a Thursday night home finale against Louisville. (That should sound familiar to Rutgers fans).

Even if the schedule is back-loaded with the tougher opponents, this program is oozing with confidence. The Scarlet Knights were far from perfect. A missed extra point by a backup kicker kept Syracuse within two scores. Then a Rutgers defensive back played the wrong odds and went for an interception. When he didn't get the ball, Syracuse had a 40-yard touchdown pass play, and a two-point conversion put the Orange within eight with 4 minutes left.

But that's where Flood's conservative ways paid off. The clock had been running and when the Orange finally got the ball back, only 21 seconds were left to go 80 yards.

Asked why Rutgers had basically run out the end of the first half with 1:26 left and a timeout from its 23-yard line, Flood said, "I just didn't think the timing was right," saying that they have end-of-half play-call procedures and going downfield didn't fit into those procedures.

Give the last word to the guy who earned it.

Asked about being 6-0 and now bowl eligible, Greene said, "Being 6-0 just allows us to be 7-0. We know where we want to be at the end of the season. We still have hopes, still have a chance. It doesn't mean nothing if we start getting gassed up about being 6-0 and go down there to Philly and play Temple and lose. So we're just going to stay focused and know 6-0 means nothing if we don't get to be 7-0."

Contact Mike Jensen at mjensen@phillynews.com or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus.

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