December 4, 2008

Big East: Rutgers aims for a little history


Greg Schiano brought his "Keep Chopping" mantra to Rutgers.

Through a 1-5 start, his philosophy was tested perhaps more than ever. The Scarlet Knights lost their first five games against FBS schools. Rutgers' program-best three-year bowl streak appeared in doubt.

Rutgers chipped away at its deficiencies throughout the season and is riding a five-game winning streak going into Thursday's regular-season finale against Louisville. A victory would clinch four consecutive winning seasons for the program, something that hasn't happened in Piscataway since 1973-80.

"It was a gradual process," Schiano said. "We had some young guys we were working into positions. I probably thought it was going to happen sooner than it did. The credit is to them because they kept driving at it. You hit a point where all those 'little-bit-betters' are enough where you can start to win some games."

Start with turnovers. Rutgers had a minus-eight turnover margin in the first three games, losses to Fresno State, North Carolina and Navy. In the first three Big East games, again all losses, Rutgers didn't force a turnover but didn't lose the ball, either.

In the past three Big East games all wins Rutgers is plus-six in turnover margin.

In the process, Kordell Young and Joe Martinek solidified the run game that struggled at first without Ray Rice. The improved run game helped maligned quarterback Mike Teel perform more consistently. As a result, Rutgers topped 30 points in each of the past four games.

"It's the kind of people we have," Schiano said. "You start at Mike and work down the line, the way they kept working. Everyone was aware we had some new guys in there and they stuck together. It's just the kind of people they are."

Rutgers' opponent has gone in the opposite direction over the past month. Louisville has lost four in a row after a 5-2 start. A loss would eliminate Louisville from bowl contention for the second year in a row and turn the heat up on coach Steve Kraghthorpe.

As turnovers have helped Rutgers, they have doomed Louisville. The Cardinals are minus-11 in turnover margin in Big East play, including 12 turnovers in the past three games.

Both teams are coming off a bye week, which is good news for Louisville. The Cardinals beat Kansas State coming off the first bye week of the season and reeled off three consecutive wins after their second bye week.

"What really helped us was we were refreshed, we got some guys back from injuries," Kragthorpe said. "It was beneficial for those guys to get a couple extra days of treatment, a couple days where we did not practice."

  • Best matchup
    Louisville at Rutgers, 7:30 p.m.
    Pittsburgh at Connecticut, noon
    South Florida at West Virginia, 8 p.m.
    Cincinnati at Hawaii, 11:30 p.m.
    Pitt RB LeSean McCoy vs. Connecticut RB Donald Brown. Two of the top backs in the country go head-to-head on the last day of the season. McCoy, a sophomore, ran for a career-high 183 yards and two touchdowns against West Virginia. Pro scouts will be watching with particular interest.

  • Player to watch
  • Louisville quarterback Hunter Cantwell. The season hasn't gone as well as Cantwell may have expected. Sitting behind Brian Brohm, Cantwell was considered one of the best backup quarterbacks in the nation and an NFL prospect. His production hasn't shown it. He has thrown 12 interceptions in the past eight games, including three against West Virginia. This is his last chance to make a positive impression. A win would make Louisville bowl eligible.

  • Who's hot
  • Cincinnati wide receiver Mardy Gilyard has caught 19 passes for 224 yards in the past two games. Rutgers wide receiver Kenny Britt has topped 100 yards in each of the past five games. .. Cincinnati won 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

  • Who's not
  • After rushing for 100 yards in five consecutive games, Syracuse running back Curtis Brinkley didn't top 94 yards since Nov. 1. Orange quarterback Cameron Dantley was 13-for-51 in his final three Big East games. West Virginia linebacker Mortty Ivy hasn't recorded a tackle for a loss in Big East play. The Mountaineers have turned the ball over 10 times in their past two games against USF. Connecticut hasn't completed 50 percent of its passes in a game since Oct. 18.

  • What they're saying
  • "My intention as I stand in front of you right now, I want to coach this football team. After [the] meeting, I feel great about having that laid out in front of me. I'm going to be the football coach at the university right now and into the future." Coach Brian Kelly, on rumors he would leave

    "I would say both are outstanding backs. Both have breakaway speed, great vision and ability to make guys miss. LeSean is a little more of a bounce guy, gets to the perimeter. Brown is a power back, gives you a stiff arm and breaks a tackle." Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt, on the matchup between McCoy and Brown

    "He's more popular than the governor." West Virginia coach Bill Stewart when asked about the career of senior Pat White.

    "My stomach is sick. I need relief. I need a pill because I'm sick to my stomach that it's done. That's what I hate." Syracuse coach Greg Robinson, who was fired earlier this season.

  • Etc.
  • USF agreed to allow West Virginia to wear its road white jerseys as part of a "Whiteout" to honor senior Pat White and WVU's senior class in their final home game. Cincinnati starting defensive end Lamonte Nelms pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal trespassing and resisting arrest following an incident at a downtown Cincinnati bar early Sunday morning. Connecticut tailback Andre Dixon was suspended indefinitely after being charged with drunken driving.


    David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at

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