Finally, on a night when his team’s quarterback rotation looked like the work of a coaching staff gone completely mad, Greg Schiano had to come clean.
The Rutgers head coach had to tell his fans what most college footballers already knew — had, in fact, known for nearly two months. Noah Vedral is injured in the hand. He can sometimes grab the football. He can’t grab it any other time. If that sounds like a quarterback who, you know, shouldn’t playthen you haven’t looked at the other guy.
Vedral started against Nebraska, then Evan Simon replaced him, then Vedral came back, then Simon was back, and so on. Simon was there long enough to throw three interceptions, including one that set up Nebraska’s touchdown. He also picked up a sack late in the second quarter that pushed the offense out of field goal range.
That’s how you lose to a once-proud Big Ten opponent who basically spent the first month of the season handing his fans paper bags to wear around town.
Final score: Nebraska 14, Rutgers 13. Ugly doesn’t even begin to describe it. Kelsey Grammer was at the game, and fans were forgiven if they wished he could pretend to be Frasier Crane in the second half. It is, after all, difficult to find a good therapist.
“Everyone knows that now, so I’m going to announce: Noah has a hand injury,” Schiano said in his post-match press conference after a clearly hobbled Vedral completed six of 15 passes for 133 yards. “He got it fixed and it healed. But his endurance is still not what it should be.
This injury is something Schiano should have made public weeks ago. The cloak and dagger nonsense fooled no one, and perhaps if he explained the situation, his frustrated fans would have had more patience for the revolving door at the position they witnessed on Friday night.
Not that it would have made this loss any easier to swallow. The Scarlet Knights had a 13-0 halftime lead, and with the way their defense had stopped the Cornhuskers, it looked like the only way to lose this game was to give the ball to the visiting team.
Who – spoiler alert! — that’s exactly what they did.
Schiano should have seen enough of Simon in the first five games to know second is a pending turnover, but he still let the quarterback fall back to pass second and 17 from the line. 35 yards from Rutgers in the fourth quarter. Nebraska picked it up, and with a field position deep in Rutgers territory, the mostly incompetent Cornhuskers needed only a good shot from quarterback Casey Thompson to take the lead.
Still: Anything was a better idea. Run twice in the line. Let world punter Adam Korsak pin the Huskers deep. Let the defense try to win this game. Let Vedral throw with his LEFT hand. The Scarlet Knights handed a bad Nebraska team the win, and in what has become an all-too-familiar scene, the visiting fans were the ones dancing at SHI Stadium.
Rutgers haven’t won a Big Ten home game in nearly five years, a streak Schiano was quick to point out ahead of his return. The problem is, he was hired to bring some meaning back to Rutgers football. He was the one who would have the answers. Two and a half years after its return, this team is still a frustrating mess on game day.
“We have a very, very tight football team,” Schiano said. “I told them (that) the doubters will be out there; people tell you, ‘You’re not good enough and you’re not going to win games and all that stuff.’ You cannot let circumstances dictate your behavior. … I believe we have this strength of culture in our locker room.
Does he have the technical staff? At one point in the fourth quarter Friday night, Schiano chewed up offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson on the sideline. It’s never wise to draw conclusions from heated in-game interactions – it is, after all, a very stressful environment – but it’s not the first time the head coach has had his jaw to his interlocutor.
It’s fair to wonder if Schiano will soon attribute the offense’s struggles to Gleeson, the first $1 million assistant in Rutgers history.
Schiano said he had to “look at what we’re doing” offensively in the bye week because “certainly something isn’t working”. Well one thing has been work — in particular, true freshman running back Samuel Brown, who looked like he could lead this team to victory himself. He had 63 yards on 16 carries, and that doesn’t include a 21-yard touchdown run erased by a hold call.
So what did Rutgers do? Stop giving him the ball, of course.
There are a dozen frustrating things like that. Down one point with four minutes to go, a personal snafu forced Schiano to burn two timeouts on the same play – time-management malpractice. Even then, after Nebraska threw a short sideline pass that would have stopped the clock, Rutgers cornerback Kessawn Abraham was flagged for an unnecessary roughing penalty for throwing the Huskers receiver out of bounds. Nebraska still had to throw despite the new series of downs, which only led to another interception by Simon.
It was one thing after another. The bigger picture, however, is that Rutgers squandered an opportunity to launch a legendary program while it’s down. Nebraska isn’t Nebraska anymore, but that night Rutgers was still Rutgers. It might sting, but it’s true.
Schiano is halfway through his third season. He had to admit his situation as a mutilated quarterback after this loss on Friday night. He won’t have to tell fans that his team seems to be heading in the wrong direction right now. That they can see with their own eyes.
MORE FROM STEVE POLITI:
How a former Rutgers athlete was charged with murder in Tijuana
I Was A Little League Menace Who Knocked The Birds Off – And It’s Time To Tell The Truth
The search for Luther Wright, once NJ’s greatest hoops talent
I played Augusta National and had my own Masters meltdown
Ranking the 99 Greatest Athletes in New Jersey History
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Steve Politi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.