Commentary

Rutgers barges back into Big East race

Scarlet Knights win in Bronx while two rivals lose, blowing conference race wide open

Updated: November 13, 2011, 1:28 PM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Rutgers did more than just win a football game Saturday.

It won three of them.

The Scarlet Knights knocked off Army at Yankee Stadium, 27-12 in a nonconference game, to improve to 7-3 on the season. Even more important, Cincinnati and Louisville lost home games against conference opponents -- meaning the Big East championship race is wide open again.

[+] EnlargeMohamed Sanu
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesMohamed Sanu was the best player on the field, hauling in 13 catches for 129 yards.

Cincinnati has one loss in Big East play; Rutgers, West Virginia, Louisville and Pittsburgh all have two, to go with three victories. And Rutgers will host Cincinnati at High Point Solutions Stadium next Saturday, with at least a share of first place on the line.

"I think it's great we have an opportunity to do that," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "But I know this: It's all about what we do. As I told the kids, because of what we did, we don't have our destiny in our own hands, and we still don't. We know we have to go out and play our best football next Saturday, regardless of what happens anywhere else."

Schiano was referring to what his team did in the final two weeks of October, losing winnable games against Louisville and West Virginia. But they've now won two in a row, following up last week's dramatic comeback against South Florida by putting Army (3-7) away in the fourth quarter.

Before that, this was anybody's game. After an Army touchdown run with 14:02 remaining, Rutgers was clinging to a 13-12 lead. The score would have been tied, if not for the Black Knights missing the ensuing extra point.

And after Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd threw his second interception of the second half midway through the fourth quarter, Army appeared poised to take the lead after a 51-yard run to the goal line by freshman Stephen Fraser -- until it was called back because of a tripping penalty that occurred behind the play.

Three plays later, Rutgers' Wayne Warren blocked a punt, which was returned by Jordan Thomas for a touchdown, making the score 20-12. Then Jawan Jamison salted away the victory four minutes later with a 56-yard touchdown run.

Rutgers' best player on the day was junior wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who had 13 catches for 129 yards -- his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season. In the process, Sanu set Rutgers and Big East season records for receptions, previously held by current NFL stars Kenny Britt (87) and Larry Fitzgerald (92), respectively.

"It just means so much to me," Sanu said. "I'm thankful just to be in the company with those guys."

With two games remaining in the regular season, Sanu already has 94 catches for 973 yards.

"Once in a while you get to coach a guy like that, and 'like that' is pretty special," Schiano said of Sanu. "He's a true team guy who cares about people, so when you have a special guy like that who has the success that he's had and remains humble -- not many of them out there."

Dodd, who made his first start since Oct. 1 after rallying the team in relief of Gary Nova last week, completed 17 of 27 passes for 196 yards, two touchdowns and the two picks.

"We have to, at the quarterback position, realize that you can live to see another down," Schiano said. "Sometimes we think that the whole game hinges on this play. It doesn't. Unless it's the last play of the game, the whole game doesn't hinge on this play. We need to be able to just throw the ball away or even take a sack sometimes.

"I saw some really good things [from Dodd]," Schiano added. "We just gotta get some things corrected."

"I thought I was OK," Dodd said, "other than the two interceptions -- I felt like I probably forced those two balls. I had a better option. But other than that, I felt like I had a pretty solid night."

The Rutgers defense had a very solid game. Army, which runs the tricky triple-option offense, came in leading the nation in rushing at 365.8 yards per game. Rutgers limited Army to 228 on 54 carries.

And 55 of those 228 came on one play, the third play from scrimmage in the first quarter. Other than that, the Black Knights averaged just 3.3 yards per carry.

Now the Scarlet Knights turn their attention back to the Big East, with the chance to win their first Big East championship. To have that opportunity with two games remaining, after being picked to finish last in the conference's preseason media poll, is rather remarkable.

And Cincinnati may be playing next week without starting quarterback Zach Collaros, who left Saturday's game against West Virginia with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.

Several Rutgers players mentioned how excited their coach was in the locker room after Saturday's win, talking about the Big East being up for grabs again.

The chance to win a championship was at the forefront of many players' minds, too -- even the one who'd just had an incredible individual day.

Before he left the locker room, Sanu was asked what's more important: having the records, or having a shot at the Big East title.

"Oh, definitely having a shot at the title," Sanu said. "I would trade [the records] in any day."

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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