By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Greg Schiano is one of the best coaches in the nation,
proving to be a master motivator who gets the most from his players. He has
built the Rutgers football program into a force to be reckoned with, and gets
the type of athletes needed to compete for the Big East Conference crown.
Schiano's team began the 2009 campaign against league favorite Cincinnati, and
the hometown crowd gathered to see an upset. What they saw, however, was a
beat down, as the Scarlet Knights were trampled by the Bearcats, 47-15. Rather
than be discouraged by the lopsided loss, Schiano's group posted four
consecutive non-conference victories, including three blowouts, to move to
4-1. Unfortunately, they fell to 0-2 in league action with a 24-17 loss to a
strong Pittsburgh squad on October 16th. Then came another winning streak, as
Rutgers ripped off three straight triumphs, pushing its record to 7-2 overall
and 2-2 in conference. The most disappointing loss of the season occurred on
November 21st, as Schiano's group fell to a lackluster Syracuse squad by a
31-13 final. The Scarlet Knights closed the regular season with an 8-4 record,
including 3-4 in Big East play, and earned a bid to the St. Petersburg Bowl
against UCF. Thanks to a tremendous offensive performance, Rutgers won that
game by a 45-24 final.
OFFENSE: Last season, Rutgers' quarterback Tom Savage set school freshman
records for passing yards (2,211) and touchdowns (14). No longer an unproven
performer, Savage is ready to build on his success and lead a team with some
"This team is capable of being as good as it wants to be," says Savage, whose
11 career starts under center are the most of any active quarterback in the
There is no doubt that the most dangerous weapon for Savage and the Scarlet
Knights will be Mohamed Sanu, who is a dual threat as a receiver and a runner.
As a true freshman in 2009, Sanu recorded 639 receiving yards and 346 rushing
yards. The hope is that Mark Harrison, also a sophomore, will prove to be a
significant target as well, taking some pressure off Sanu.
The offensive line must replace three starters, and it remains to be seen if
Rutgers will again rely on Joe Martinek to be the main ball carrier. Martinek
did run for 966 yards in 2009, but he is more of a banger than an explosive
game-breaker. He feasted on some of the league's weaker teams and against some
modest non-conference foes will struggling against top competition.
DEFENSE: Among the three tiers of the defense, the line figures to be most
obvious area of strength for the Scarlet Knights. There are three starters
back in place, as Alex Silvestro will line up at end while Scott Vallone and
Charlie Noonan again man the tackle positions. Vallone is just a sophomore and
is coming off a Freshman All-American campaign. Another player to keep an eye
on up front is Jonathan Freeny, who led the squad with 9.5 sacks a year ago.
The skill and experience up front should help a green secondary, which returns
only a couple of consistent contributors. Keep an eye on Joe Lefeged, a senior
leader at strong safety who has earned the reputation of being a big hitter.
At the linebacker position, Steve Beauharnais is back after gaining some
valuable starting experience as a freshman. He is joined by Manny Abreu, a
junior who has yet to live up to his big-time potential.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game returns a couple of experienced performers in
punter Teddy Dellaganna and placekicker San San Te. Dellaganna averaged 42.3
yards per punt last season while placing 26 of those boots inside the
opposition's 20-yard line. Te was inconsistent in 2009, but he certainly has
the ability to shine. Sanu will likely return punts, and he is a threat to
score every time he touches the ball.
OUTLOOK: Expect another eight or nine-win season for Rutgers, which will
certainly take advantage of a weak non-conference schedule. In regard to where
they rank among Big East squads alone, the Scarlet Knights are somewhere in
the middle of the pack.
This team is young, but that doesn't seem to scare the coach. "We have a lot
of young kids that have played, whether they started or played a considerable
roles, and now it is time to develop."