BY MIKE VORKUNOV
At least the newly-renovated Rutgers stadium looked good. But $102 million sure doesn’t buy you what it used to.
A stadium that was built to house conference champions instead is home to the Big East’s worst team according to the standings. Although the performance on the field didn’t put up much of an argument.
Cincinnati’s high-powered offense cut through the Rutgers defense like a hot knife through butter, amassing 564 yards of offense, and made it look easy in the season opener. The Bearcats had their way in Piscataway for a 47-15 victory and most of the damage was done by halftime, when the Scarlet Knights’ anemic defense handed Cincinnati a 31-7 lead.Tony Pike was 20-25 in the first two quarters, throwing for 286 of his career-high 362 yards in that time. He led Cincinnati on scoring drives on five of their first six possessions, controlling the tempo of the game.
Each drive took less than three minutes, as Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said he made a concerted effort to play fast and dictate the tempo of the game.
Although that strategy did not surprise Rutgers, coach Greg Schiano said that it was different than what his team expected.
“We’ve been practicing against it but maybe it was a little faster than our scout team can simulate,” Schiano said. “There were plays we didn’t perform or execute our tasks or jobs so maybe it was the speed of it that caused us to do that.”
So when the home team walked off the field to boos after 30 minutes, Rutgers quarterback Domenic Natale wasn’t shocked.
“We’re in a competitive environment, we realize that,” Natale said. “The fans, they want the best you can perform. That’s what I told myself. You know what they want. You know what they’re upset about. You try to block it out the best you can but it’s on me. They obviously weren’t doing it for no reason.”
Natale was responsible for creating some of the angst. He threw three interceptions in the first half and wasn’t on the field to start the third quarter. His performance, 8-12 for 108 yards and the three picks, helped muddle what was already a summer-long question of who should be the starting quarterback.
His main competition, Tom Savage, started the second half to a loud ovation, and looked comfortable on the field. Savage completed his first three passes and threw a touchdown later in the half to Shamar Graves.
Schiano said afterward that Savage entry may have come too late.
“Tom was going to play early tonight in some situational things,” Schiano said. “I look back on that and say ‘Should we have done it or should we not have done it?’ Hindsight is 20/20.”
But Schiano refused to name a starter for this Saturday's game against Howard.
“We will have to work through this whole situation at quarterback and figure out what gives us the best chance to win.”
Although it will get the biggest headlines, the quarterback position wasn’t the only problem for Rutgers. In fact, the blame could be spread around.
The offensive line, which was viewed as the dominant group of this Scarlet Knight team, had trouble opening holes. The running game combined for 76 yards on 25 carries.
The defense often looked helpless against the Cincinnati offense. Not only did Pike have his way, but the Bearcat running attack combined for 168 yards on 34 carries, a 4.9 yard per carry average.
The performance was not what Schiano envisioned.
"Certainly not what my vision of what today was going to be like,” he said after the game.
But Schiano was blunt about what happened on the field.
“No excuses…we got whooped.”