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PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers is a team at a crossroads as it prepares for Friday night's Big East opener.
Three days before facing UConn, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said he still does not know who will start at quarterback. Tom Savage suffered a rib injury two Saturdays ago in the Scarlet Knights' 17-13 loss to North Carolina. He was able to play through that injury, but was knocked out in the second quarter of Rutgers' 17-14 defeat to Tulane this past Saturday with an injury to his throwing hand.
|Rutgers QB Tom Savage has been hampered with injuries this season.|
"Tom is getting better," Schiano said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "Right now, if we had to play today, I don't know if he could play. But we're playing Friday. So I hope that he can."
Schiano added that he doesn't expect to make a decision on his starting quarterback until Friday. "That'll be right up 'til game time," Schiano said. "And maybe even into the game. We'll see."
After an impressive first season, in which he set the Big East's single-season record for passing yards by a true freshman (2,211), Savage has struggled this year -- including in the quarter-and-a-half he played versus Tulane before suffering the hand injury. Backup QB Chas Dodd, a true freshman himself, was much more effective at moving the team after coming into the game to replace Savage.
When asked Tuesday whether he would consider giving Dodd some playing time on Friday night, regardless of Savage's injury status, Schiano was noncommittal.
"I'd rather not even get into, 'If this, if that,'" Schiano said. "I just have confidence in Chas, so how he plays and when he plays, I'll have to kinda figure that out as I go. But if he goes, I have confidence in him."
Neither Savage nor Dodd was made available to speak with the media after practice on Tuesday.
This team has other issues besides the quarterback position. After Saturday's disappointing game -- Rutgers' first homecoming loss in seven years -- multiple players, including Savage and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, indicated that the team's intensity in practice in the week leading up to the Tulane game was lacking. Perhaps players were overlooking the game against a Conference USA opponent, sandwiched between a game against ACC squad North Carolina and the Big East opener.
Schiano shouldered the blame for the Tulane loss. "It's on me," he said after the game. "I was unable to get our team ready to go. Unable to get over a tough loss I guess against North Carolina. Unable to get our team to realize how hard this game would be."
Defensive tackle Charlie Noonan, one of three team captains for the 2-2 Scarlet Knights, said Tuesday the team's first two practices this week have been better. He also referenced the 2008 season, when Rutgers began 1-5 before winning its final seven games in a row.
"I look back to 2008, when we made that comeback -- we just practiced better, to be honest," said Noonan, a fifth-year senior. "And that's what it is. And I think we're starting to understand that we need to practice better."
"It's definitely a very big game [Friday], and we have to be even more prepared than we were the past couple games," Sanu said. "We've got to crank it up."
Despite the back-to-back home losses, there is still plenty of time for the Scarlet Knights to turn this season around. After all, the Big East appears wide open, with all eight teams having suffered at least one loss already.
The competition for the Big East championship really begins on Friday. The game will air across the nation on ESPN at 7:30 p.m.
The Huskies will travel to Piscataway with a 3-2 record on the year. They lost at Michigan (30-10) and at Temple (30-16). But they're coming off back-to-back home wins versus Buffalo (45-21) and Vanderbilt (40-21).
UConn's biggest weapon is junior running back Jordan Todman, who is fourth in the country, rushing for 159.5 yards per game. But Rutgers' rushing defense is ranked seventh in the country, allowing only 80 yards per game on the ground.
Something has to give.
Rutgers-UConn games tend to be close. The two teams have played eight times since 2001, and six of those eight games were decided by seven points or fewer.
Last season's matchup was a thriller, capped off by Savage's 81-yard touchdown pass to Tim Brown with 22 seconds remaining, giving the Scarlet Knights a 28-24 victory.
We'll see whether Savage even gets to play this time around, and whether Rutgers can get its act together.
Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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