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Game Preview:
Virginia Tech at Rutgers
by Will Stewart,, 9/20/01
Click here for Piscataway Weather

Virginia Tech at Rutgers
Saturday, September 22nd, 2001, 12:00 noon
Click here for TV Listings

This game marks the first home game for new Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. Schiano, the youngest head coach in Division 1-A football, has brought energy, optimism, and the new slogan "It's Time" to Rutgers football.

Just 35 years old, Schiano has an impressive coaching resume, including stops at Penn State, the University of Miami, and the Chicago Bears. He left his job as defensive coordinator at Miami last December to take over Rutgers, and he hit the ground running, putting together a recruiting class that consisted of some of the top players in New Jersey and was ranked in the top 50 by some services.

This year's recruiting is no different. Based on verbal commitments, some services have ranked Rutgers recruiting in the Top 20, and at least one had them in the Top 10. Schiano, a New Jersey native, has lit a fire under the Rutgers program and is having success getting New Jersey high school football players to stay in state and commit to Rutgers.

But it will take a while for Schiano's recruiting successes to translate to the field. Filling a team up with talented freshman does little to improve the win-loss record, and those players must mature before Rutgers can reap the rewards. Not to mention that Schiano must prove his worth as a coach, not just a recruiter.

So far this season, the Scarlet Knights beat Buffalo 31-15 and then were creamed by the Miami Hurricanes 61-0. As Schiano breaks in his younger players, in particular true freshman QB Ryan Cubit, things will be painful in Piscataway.

Rutgers Fast Facts: The Scarlet Knights were 3-8 last year and winless in the Big East, ending former coach Terry Shea's five-year run at 11-44. They were preseason ranked #90 by Athlon Magazine.

Head Coach: As noted above, new coach Greg Schiano is in his first year at Rutgers and first year as a head coach overall.

Last Game: Rutgers got destroyed by the Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl, 61-0. Rutgers gained just 126 total yards, and they fumbled eight times, losing five.

Depth Chart: Like Western Michigan, Rutgers starts nothing but juniors and seniors ... except for the quarterback spot, where true freshman Ryan Cubit, the son of offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, runs the show. But among those upperclassmen, only 6 of 22 are returning starters. Tailback Dennis Thomas, cornerback Brandon Haw, and lineman Mike Esposito are all out with injuries, all key losses for the Knights. Tight end L.J. Smith (ankle) and defensive end Raheem Orr (ankle) are both questionable.

Best Offensive Players: With Thomas out, this is a tough call. Junior wide receiver Aaron Martin is having a good year, with a 23.0 yards-per-catch average on 6 receptions.

Best Defensive Players: The defensive backs are Rutgers' strong point, although with Haw out, they're not as good. DeWayne Thompson, who is experienced, will start in Haw's stead. SS Nate Colon and FS Shawn Seabrooks lead the Rutgers defense with 18 tackles apiece.

Special Teams: Punter Mike Barr is a 6-3, 220-pound senior who has averaged a whopping 47 yards a punt on 14 kicks.  What makes that more impressive is that he is consistent; his longest punt is only 55 yards. Placekicker Ryan Sands, a sophomore, made the only field goal he has tried, a 44-yarder.

The Freshmen: True freshmen who will impact Saturday's game for Rutgers include QB Ryan Cubit, a highly-rated quarterback out of Missouri that SuperPrep named the #18 QB in the country last season. Cubit's father, Bill, is the offensive coordinator for Rutgers, and when Ryan Cubit was named the starter in the preseason, junior QB Chad Schwenk, the heir apparent after QB Mike McMahon graduated, quit the team. Cubit is 17-40 for 204 yards, 2 TD's, and 2 INT's so far this season.

Also logging playing time will be true freshman running back Rikki Cook, the #3 player in New Jersey as ranked by SuperPrep last year. Rikki is the brother of former VT defensive end Ron Cook, who was dismissed from the Tech team last year after complaining to the New Jersey press about his lack of playing time.

The Lowdown

Rutgers is at the beginning of a long, hard road, and all the energy and recruiting in the world won't help them Saturday. Injuries have ravaged their already-suspect talent level to the point where beating a strong Virginia Tech team is very unlikely.

Hokie fans will be watching several things this weekend:

1.) The defensive line: Tech only has two sacks so far this season, and that number may not improve against Rutgers. Despite getting mauled by the Hurricanes the last time out, the Knights only gave up one sack to Miami, so they know how to avoid the sack.

2.) The running backs: Kevin Jones's thigh bruise has improved vastly, but he may not be 100% yet (the reports on are not clear on this). The Hokies should find plenty of room to run on a Rutgers defense that is weak on the defensive line.

3.) Grant Noel: like Jim Druckenmiller and Michael Vick before him, Noel followed a very strong debut with a not-so-strong second game. He admitted to the coaches that he rushed some throws against Western Michigan, and it showed. Once again, he shouldn't get much pressure put on him, so he'll get a chance to work on his passing relatively unmolested.

None of this is meant to disrespect Rutgers, of course, but their program is in the midst of bottoming out, talent-wise. Still, there is one big intangible: how will the Virginia Tech and Rutgers players and fans react to playing for the first time since the terrorist attacks on America? And on a smaller scale, how will the Rutgers players react to their first game at home with their new head coach?

Prediction: VT 46, Rutgers 6. True frosh QB Cubit will have a hard, hard time moving the ball on the Hokie defense. Defensively for Rutgers, the Hokies have averaged 47.4 points per game in this series since 1992. That won't change this year, even with Suggs out and Noel at the controls. The spread is only 27.5 points for this game, and the Hokies should beat that.


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