Brian Sokolowski- Coaching Can Save the Day
Sep 10, 2011 | By: Random Blogger
As I sat and watched the Louisville Cardinals lose to Florida International, it took me back to last year. I thought of Rutgers' game against FIU and how well they played. I thought of how well their defensive line plays and how good T.Y. Hilton is, almost wishing he was at Rutgers. I thought of how Tom Savage was even more exposed against what we think is a second rate team and how our coaching was all over the place.
Then I realized that the game after that game was against the University of North Carolina and was the start of the difficult season that lied ahead. While Rutgers defense and offense did a great job to keep themselves in the game by not making any errors, they also didn’t do enough to overcome the Tar Heels. While watching the game, I always felt that Rutgers was a step behind and couldn’t get over the hump.
There is much more to a team than putting the players in position to make a play. There’s picking the right players for what you intend on doing. There’s play design ensuring the various options of the play are timed so there’s still an opening once the next option. There’s preparation, planning, and developing an approach for how to call the game.
When Rutgers hits the field, against UNC or any other team here on out, all of that will need to be carefully thought out for the game. Coach Schiano will need to prepare the defense and Coach Cignetti will have to prepare the offense. There will be no gimme games from this point forward. All of the teams we face for the rest of the year are quality teams where if you don’t bring you’re a game, they can beat you.
That starts now and with a game that comes 5 years, nearly to the day and time and the place, of the game that started the 2006 season. It’s against a team with a ton of talent and huge offensive and defensive lines. The disparity in size is go great, it would likely remind people of the Terry Shea era when our offensive line was easily outweighed by Virginia Tech’s D line and our defensive line was so undersized that they looked like linebackers out there.
The equalizer to being overmatched is always coaching, though, and we know that Rutgers coaching staff has gotten the most out of this team. The offensive line is very strong and confident and not a bunch of guys who are soft and don’t think they can play. One thing that most people overlook when it comes to blocking is leverage and strength. I’ve watched a 6’2” 260 lb. OL easily block a 6’3” 300 lb. OL by staying in front of him and getting leverage and using the strength of his legs to drive the bigger player off the ball. That is an advantage Rutgers will have and since Kyle Flood has coached up the OL, it’s an advantage the coaching has given them.
The defensive line is deep, VERY DEEP, and didn’t show much of a drop-off last game as the 2nd team came in. I knew the defensive line would have a lot of talent, though inexperienced, and they really showed how deep they were last week. While I thought the talent was questionable a few weeks ago, it appears they turned a little bit of a corner last week. Now comes a game where they will need to really to keep the wheels churning against an OL that’s a lot bigger. One great coaching equalizer for the defensive line is always being able to keep fresh players out on the field to keep pushing those offensive linemen and making them work.
The use of the OL and the DL is also a great indicator of how confident the coaching staff is in them. If you see a bunch of plays called that involve blocking the middle of the field, you’ll know that the coaching staff really feels they can play with the defensive line of UNC. If you see more draw plays and off tackle stuff, they will be using more of their mobility to their advantage. Rutgers will need to run the ball, but this will even guide the runner they use as each has a competitive advantage in specific running style.
When you look at the defensive line, I think the volume of stunts and risk taken on the part of the linebackers will indicate how confident they are in the DL getting pressure and how confident Schiano is with the secondary keeping the receivers in check. Making Bryn Renner, whose lone mistake last week was throwing a pick, think for a second about where he’s going to throw the ball and when will really help the defensive line. Renner threw for only 277 yards on 22 completions meaning a lot of his passes were timing routes to get the ball out quick. Last year, UNC ran a lot of slants to open up a lot of deeper out routes. Rutgers will need to jump those routes and provide a shell to make him think twice. He played the whole game last week showing that their coaching staff wanted to keep giving him reps to give him more experience. If he makes a mistake early, it may just rattle him enough where he’ll have a tough game.
That starts with Schiano confusing him and potentially disguising looks with his experienced secondary and linebackers. One advantage I see Rutgers having for defensive match-ups is the fact that our corners and SLB match up well with their receivers and tight end. This is where taking all players “down a level” will give RU an advantage because going to a nickel set has all 4 players matched well against the pass. All of UNC’s top receivers are about 6’2” and taller and Rutgers’ corners have size to match up against that with all being 6 foot or bigger. I can say the same with Jamal Merrell matching up against their tight end running downfield. He can run with their tight end and if all of them can make the play, it will make Coach Schiano’s job in calling plays a lot easier.
On offense, it will me much more of a challenge for Coach Frank Cignetti. While he did not show any of his cards last week in what they expect to do, we will see more cards on the table and a much better poker face this week. It’s his first return to UNC since he was there in 2006 and I’m sure he’ll want it to be a great return. Coaching will be the most important for the game on offense.
More specifically, the play calling will need to be impeccable. Last week, Rutgers failed to capitalize on some big plays and I think you won’t see nearly as many dropped balls this week so that makes it very important for Cignetti to call a good game and use his players to their strengths. The margin for error is very small in this game and mistakes will be amplified. One thing that’s solid is that if he gets their defense on their heels, it will really give the offense a lot more space and time.
The interesting part is when you watch a Packers game (the offense Cignetti mimics), they really rely on the pass to open up the run and it’s really a west coast offense. I don’t know if that will work this game. I think what will work is the game he called against Rutgers when Bill Stull was Pitt’s QB. He ran the ball to all sides of the field and used the fullback very well in that game. That allowed the seams of the field to open up and then they started hitting deeper seam routes. After that relaxed the defense, he then came back running off tackle with Dion Lewis and that allowed them to control the game.
Rutgers should be in every game this year and I don’t think “taking a week off” with coaching is an option. Coaching will really be the equalizer for a team that has solid depth, but may not have the personnel they want in each area. There are advantages Rutgers has in this game in personnel, though it may not seem like that on paper, but coaching and play calling will be the thing that needs to flow well and really exploit the UNC offense and defense, let alone the rest of the teams this season.