Friday, December 30, 2011
Rutgers wraps season on a high
By Kieran Darcy ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- Rutgers is the closest thing New York City has to a major college football team, and on Friday it won some hardware in its own backyard.
The Scarlet Knights, playing in front of a pro-Rutgers crowd of 38,328, won the second annual Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, 27-13, over Iowa State.
It's Rutgers' fifth straight bowl game victory, the longest such streak in the country. And it takes a little of the sting out of the Scarlet Knights' devastating 40-22 loss at UConn five weeks ago, with a share of the Big East title on the line.
Running back Jawan Jamison woke up Rutgers' dormant rushing attack against Iowa State.
"I'm really, really proud of our kids," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. "This season certainly didn't end the way we wanted at Connecticut. I think that taste in their mouths, they can't stand it -- that's a good thing. And they worked their tails off in preparation for this game."
Facing a dangerous 6-6 Iowa State team that upset No. 2 Oklahoma State earlier in the season, Rutgers fell behind the Cyclones 6-0 thanks to a pair of first-quarter field goals. Then the Scarlet Knights seemed to wake up, riding the back of redshirt freshman Jawan Jamison. The 5-foot-8, 198-pound tailback ran for a pair of first-half touchdowns, helping Rutgers to a 17-6 halftime lead.
Iowa State didn't put up any more points until the fourth quarter, when a 20-yard touchdown run by Jeff Woody made the score 20-13 with 10 minutes remaining. Both teams traded punts, and with just under seven minutes left Rutgers regained possession, but pinned back at its own 13-yard line. The momentum of the game had clearly shifted in Iowa State's favor.
That's when Rutgers shifted it back -- for good -- with a deep pass from quarterback Chas Dodd to wide receiver Brandon Coleman that resulted in an 86-yard touchdown.
"I thought that was a gutsy call by [offensive coordinator] Frank [Cignetti] with the game where it was," said Schiano. "I mean, that's a huge turning point in the game."
On second-and-9 from the 14, Dodd, seeing the 6-foot-6 Coleman single-covered by a much smaller cornerback, launched the ball high in the air down the left-hand side of the field.
"The matchup with the corner and I size-wise, I felt like [Chas] was gonna take that matchup, and I'm just glad I was able to come down with it," said Coleman.
"The momentum had shifted, and we knew that we had to come out there and protect the ball first of all, but we did need a play," Dodd said. "We needed to get some points on the board, because we knew that they weren't going to give up."
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Ultimately, that was the biggest play of the game. But the biggest player was Jamison, who carried the ball 27 times for 131 yards and earned game MVP honors. Rutgers came in ranked No. 115 out of 120 Division I teams in rushing, but was able to do plenty of damage on the ground against the Cyclones.
"He's a very thick ball carrier," said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads of Jamison. "It's hard to get him wrapped up, and [the Rutgers running backs] drive their legs very well on each play."
Rutgers finishes the 2011 season, the 11th of Schiano's tenure, with a record of 9-4. But the Scarlet Knights, as happy as they are with another win in their sixth bowl game in seven years, won't soon forget the opportunity they squandered in East Hartford, Conn., on Nov. 26.
A win against the 4-6 Huskies would have made the Scarlet Knights Big East champions for the first time in school history. Instead, they played their worst game of the season, turning the ball over six times.
"With what was at stake, that one really took its toll," said Schiano. "But I'm proud of the way that everybody felt that way -- it wasn't just me. And they could not wait to play in a football game tonight, and you could see the focus."
"There's always the what if," said Jamison. "You can't really dwell on the past, you just gotta keep pushing forward, and we pushed forward and we got the win today."
"The season didn't go the way we wanted," said Dodd. "But we finished on a strong note, and to come out here and win is huge."
There is reason for optimism in Piscataway. The team has two young quarterbacks in Dodd, a sophomore, and freshman Gary Nova -- both of whom saw action on Friday. Each got a chance to start a few games this season, and both looked good in stretches. The competition for the starting job in spring practice will be fierce.
At running back, Jamison has three years of eligibility remaining. And don't forget about Savon Huggins, the much-heralded freshman who missed the final four games of the season due to injury.
Rutgers also could have junior wide receiver Mohamed Sanu back. Sanu, who set the Big East single-season record for receptions (109) this year, will announce whether he is returning to school or entering the NFL draft in the next couple of weeks. Sanu became Rutgers' all-time leader in receptions after his six catches in the Pinstripe Bowl, with 210.
And Rutgers already knows linebacker Khaseem Greene, the co-Big East defensive player of the year, will be returning for his senior year -- he announced his decision earlier this week. Greene suffered an ankle injury late in the game against Iowa State, but Schiano said Greene is expected to be OK.
"It's very big," said Jamison of the Pinstripe Bowl win. "Not only because the season ends on a good note, but it sets us up for the offseason to make us work even harder, to want to push even harder to get even better for next year. It's just a little taste of what we got in store for next year."
"It gives me hope that we will have a good football team moving forward," said Schiano. "It's not the start of anything. We've been a pretty consistent program -- going to bowl games, winning bowl games. We've gotta get to the next level.
"I hope that these guys -- this group of players, this group of coaches -- is the group that'll get us over the top, get us to the championship level."
But for now, Rutgers will have to settle for just one more bowl win.