Rutgers Scarlet Knights season recap

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
11:30
AM ET
It's difficult to call an 8-4 season and a bowl game a disappointment, especially for a program that's still relatively new to this whole winning thing.

Still, Rutgers had things lined up to do so much more this season. The Scarlet Knights played no one of consequence in the nonconference schedule and had most of their toughest league games at home. Viewed in that light, 8-4 isn't much to crow about.

The season got off to the worst possible start, as Cincinnati ruined the opening of the expanded Rutgers Stadium with a 47-15 pounding on Labor Day. Midway through that game, head coach Greg Schiano decided to cast his lot with true freshman Tom Savage at quarterback. It was the right call, as Savage was better than senior Dom Natale, but it also meant that the offense would be on training wheels most of the season.

Receiver Tim Brown, true freshman Mohamed Sanu and running back Joe Martinek gave the offense some punch, but the veteran offensive line disappointed. The team went back to the earlier days under Schiano by relying on defense and special teams to create opportunities; Rutgers was one of the best in the nation in forcing turnovers, coming up with 32 of them on the year.

The Scarlet Knights had a chance to salvage something special out of this season, but a blowout upset loss to Syracuse and an inability to get past West Virginia in the home finale left them thinking about next year.

Offensive MVP: Brown. After years of playing a complementary role behind Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood, the diminutive Brown stepped forward as a true No. 1 receiver this season. He had 51 catches for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 20.6 yards per catch. That he did it with a true freshman quarterback and cautious playcalling in the passing game made Brown's year all the more impressive.

Defensive MVP: Devin McCourty. The best cornerback in the Big East was also one of the league's most disruptive forces on special teams. He'll join his twin brother, Jason, in the NFL next season.

Turning point: The Scarlet Knights had just fallen behind UConn 24-21 with 38 seconds left on Halloween afternoon. A loss would have saddled them with a 5-3 record and 0-3 Big East mark. But Brown rescued Rutgers with an amazing 81-yard catch-and-dash for a touchdown just 16 seconds later. Who knows how the season would have unfolded without that play?

What's next: With Savage and Sanu on the verge of superstardom, the future looks pretty bright. Still, the Scarlet Knights lose key seniors Brown, McCourty, defensive end George Johnson, center Ryan Blaszczyk and linebacker Ryan D'Imperio and most likely junior left tackle Anthony Davis to the NFL. Rutgers needs to develop a more consistent running game, find more receivers who can contribute and avoid the slow starts that have plagued the last two seasons.

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