Dodd ushers in new era for Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Last September, Rutgers thought it found its starting quarterback for the next four years in freshman Tom Savage.

Thirteen months later, it appears Savage is out of a job, and the Chas Dodd Era has begun.

Dodd, a freshman himself, making his very first collegiate start -- on national television, no less -- completed 18 of 29 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns Friday night in Rutgers' thrilling 27-24 win over UConn.

The highlights? His 52-yard touchdown pass to Mark Harrison tied up the game with 3:53 remaining in the fourth quarter. And then his 45-yard completion to Jeremy Deering with less than 90 seconds left set up the game-winning field goal.

"I really thought that he can do special things," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said about Dodd after the game. "I think he went in there, and he's a very cool customer."

"Unbelievable. I mean, he's got ice in his veins, that kid," defensive tackle and team captain Charlie Noonan said. "He's calm and cool. As a freshman, that's big stuff."

Dodd's 322 yards passing were the second-most by a quarterback making his first career start in school history, behind only Mike McMahon (386 versus Army in 1997).

"It's great just to go out there and get some playing time and come out with a W," Dodd said nonchalantly afterward.

Dodd ignited what had been a dormant Scarlet Knights offense through the team's first four games of the season. They struggled to score for much of their opener against FBS Norfolk State, and then failed to break the 20-point barrier in their next three games -- a tight win against Florida International, followed by two straight losses to North Carolina and Tulane.

Savage was a primary culprit, completing only 51.5 percent of his passes, with just one touchdown pass and three interceptions.

To be fair, Savage suffered bruised ribs against North Carolina two weeks ago, and he played through the injury for the rest of that game and against Tulane. But when Savage injured his throwing hand in the second quarter of the Tulane game, Dodd replaced him and was much more effective, despite the loss.

Schiano was coy all week long about who would start at QB for Rutgers against UConn on Friday night, saying it would be a game-time decision. Fifteen minutes before kickoff, it was announced that Dodd would get the nod.

"Could [Savage] have played? In an emergency he would have played," Schiano said. "He threw about seven balls in warm-ups that showed me he could do it, but every time he walked back he was grimacing in pain."

Dodd didn't wait long to make a big impact Friday. In fact, he completed his first six passes, sparking the Scarlet Knights to a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.

The Huskies then rattled off 17 unanswered points and carried a 24-17 lead into the final stanza. But with the help of a stalwart Rutgers defense, Dodd was able to deliver a comeback victory out of the clutches of defeat.

Dodd said after the game he wasn't nervous about making his first college start. "I was just anxious," Dodd said. "I don't think it'd be butterflies. … I was just anxious to get out there and win."

That's exactly what Dodd did -- win, something Rutgers desperately needed after two straight disappointing losses. This team was staring at the prospect of losing three straight games at home in three weeks. Instead, they're now 1-0 in a wide-open Big East race.

When asked who would start at quarterback next Saturday against Army at the New Meadowlands Stadium, Schiano was coy again. "That's a good question," he said. "We'll deal with that during the week. Certainly, like I said, we have two very good quarterbacks, and that's something that's a blessing."

A blessing? Sure. But here's an educated guess -- there'll be some cursing 'round these parts if Chas Dodd isn't under center next Saturday.

Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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