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Well, the opener is in the books. There was some good stuff and some not so good stuff, but one good thing stood out – the win. Granted, the win was basically a foregone conclusion, but it’s nice to finally have nonetheless. The outcome was never really in doubt from the moment Rutgers first scored, and the two more touchdowns they added before the end of the first quarter only cemented the win further. A breakdown of some of the not-so-good stuff first:

The not-so-good: Jeremy Ito missed a 40-yard field goal. That’s not a gimme distance, but it’s disappointing when a kicker of his caliber misses a makeable one. Also, there was Ray Rice’s stunning lost fumble; he (almost) never coughs it up. The nine penalties for 80 yards were too much, and hopefully can be at least somewhat attributed to first-game sloppiness. One holding penalty cost Rutgers a touchdown, though some have said it was kind of a fluky penalty upon review. Sophomore RB Kordell Young didn’t really get anything going in his limited action on the ground, gaining 11 yards on six carries. (His game-opening kick return, however, was sensational.)

Defensively, there weren’t too many three-and-outs for Buffalo; Rutgers generally allowed them more sustained drives than I would have liked to see. Buffalo QB Drew Willy isn’t known as being a mobile guy, but RU allowed him a couple nice runs that I could have done without seeing. The Bulls gained 235 yards overall, which isn’t too many, but you’d still always like to see fewer – there were times when it appeared Buffalo had it a little too easy simply running it up the middle for decent yardage. We also didn’t see a whole lot of RU’s relentless ’06-style pass rush last night (and one time we did, a receiver was left WIDE open for an easy completion). Hopefully this was at least in part a function of RU not wanting to give away all its defensive looks so early in the season, in a game able to be won while staying with pretty basic looks. Also, the defense was unable to force any turnovers, but credit must also be given to Buffalo for playing a smart game in that regard. Willy impressed a few times by making plays under pressure. Overall, the defense needs some shoring up (it also did after last year’s season opener), although certainly not having starting DT Pete Tverdov didn’t help (nor did not having two linebackers, Blair Bines and Ryan D’Imperio, who will see time – and in D’Imperio’s case, probably start – when they return). Finally, Buffalo (though only slightly) won the time of possession battle: in fairness, this was due in part to Rutgers coming up with some huge, quick-strike TD plays.

The good: I’ve pointed to quite a few things the defense didn’t do so well. Here’s what they did do well. As Schiano said, they played hard all game – he even suggested he wasn’t as unhappy with some of the penalties as one might expect, saying they perhaps resulted more from playing on edge than stupidity/selfishness. (For the record, that was still too damn many penalties.) Most importantly, the defense kept Buffalo out of the end zone. Every time they got close, Rutgers prevented them from the TD. Also pretty impressive was the fact that RU held the Bulls to a 4-15 performance on third down. Frankly, I was surprised by how low a percentage they converted on. Also, they were 0-2 on fourth down, so when the pressure was on, the Rutgers defense did a pretty solid job rising to the occasion. Overall, Buffalo only averaged 5.2 yards per pass and 2.1 yards per rush, pretty good numbers defensively on both counts. Also, even with the seeming lack of a furious pass rush most of the time, promising sophomore DE George Johnson had two sacks last night, showcasing his potential. The defense has a ways to go, but on Thursday, they did what they needed to do. Also, special teams-wise, the kick coverage, an extremely sore spot late last year, was pretty solid, not allowing a runback over 31 yards and yielding just a 19.3 yard average on seven returns, even better considering that kickoffs were moved back to the 30 yard line this season.

And now – the offense. These guys looked to be, for the most part, in excellent form. Mike Teel threw for 328 yards and didn’t turn the ball over (although there was a close call on a throw to Kenny Britt in the end zone). Ray Rice, fumble aside, was superb. Three touchdowns, 184 yards – those are the kinds of numbers that will keep the Heisman hype going, even against Buffalo. Their defense actually did a nice job of shutting him down at times, but in the end Rice got his and then some. Also, Rice caught two passes for 21 yards, representing more involvement than he ever had in last year’s passing game. Kenny Britt made some nice catches like we all know he can by now, and the line is already earning universal praise for not letting Buffalo touch Teel (and with all those yards on the ground, they had to be doing something right in run blocking, too). Backup QB Jabu Lovelace even had some nice runs toward the end of the game when he came in for Teel. Of course, all this doesn’t even address the star of the game – receiver Tiquan Underwood (pictured). Of Teel’s 328 yards, 248 were to Underwood, including two spectacular touchdowns (and an otherworldly 228 first-half yards). Overall, it’s hard to not be pleased with the way the offense played, racking up 563 yards, well over double what Buffalo’s offense managed. They would have scored more, too, if not for Ito’s missed field goal, the holding call on Underwood’s would-be third TD, Rice’s fumble, and putting in backups late. Once Tim Brown, the team’s top deep threat, returns, there’s no reason to think performance won’t improve yet more.

All in all: This was a good to very good opener. The team’s performance wasn’t quite sharp enough overall to call it “great,” but clearly this is a team with that kind of potential. Against Buffalo they went out and took care of business, with some potential key players (Tverdov, Bines, D’Imperio, Brown) sidelined. The outcome was never in doubt, there were plenty of big plays, and there are also things to improve on. Defensively, the team needs to take a step up for Navy next Friday; their unique triple-option offense gives teams fits (well, not so much Rutgers last year, but they’re still tough). This is a difficult team to prepare for and defend, and one can only hope the defense takes the kind of step forward last year’s unit did from the first to the second game (last year’s second game was a 33-0 blowout of Illinois in which the Illini never even crossed midfield). While expecting a repeat of that performance might be a bit much, there should be some improvement, and head coach/defensive coordinator Greg Schiano should be able to draw up a solid gameplan to slow down the Navy rushing attack. There also might be more of a running, ball control offense against Navy, to keep their offense off the field as much as possible. However, the only way to truly find out is to watch it unfold on game day, and from what Rutgers showed in their opener, 2007 game days are going to be a pretty fun time.

(information from espn.com, sportsline.com, and scarletnation.com was used in the preparation of this post)

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