PISCATAWAY, NJ - OCTOBER 26: Johnny Langan #17 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights leaps for yards ... [+] against the Liberty Flames during the third quarter SHI Stadium on October 26, 2019 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Rutgers defeated Liberty 44-34. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
For a change, there were plenty of smiles for the Rutgers football team Saturday.
Million-dollar smiles, to be precise.
That was exactly how much Rutgers paid Liberty to show up at SHI Stadium for what probably was projected as an easy victory for the Scarlet Knights when the contract was signed in 2017. But with Rutgers mired in a six-game skid in which it had been outscored 237-30, the Flames had been made a road favorite. In fact, Liberty was favored by 7.5 points in what was a first, according to sports betting and business expert Darren Rovell of the Action Network, who tweeted that never before had a college football team been a home underdog in a game for which it paid at least $1 million.
I saw they were favored to win, said Rutgers quarterback Johnny Langan, who accounted for 310 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. I thought that was ridiculous. We just played our brand of football and played it well and got the win.
So yes, Rutgers winning was an upset. And that spread appeared to be accurate when Libertys talented offense needed only 3:17 to score on the first possession of the game. But the Scarlet Knights kept matching the Flames touchdown for touchdown until their defense finally took control of the game in the second half.
Wins don't come easy so we're going to enjoy this one," linebacker Tyshon Fogg said.
So at least in that sense, the money was well-spent, as Rutgers avoided similar scenarios of the past two seasons, when it lost buy games to Buffalo ($900K in 2018) and Eastern Michigan ($860K in 2017), per nj.com. But it was hard to ignore the monetary woes on display Saturday as Rutgers continues to literally pay the price for the failed Chris Ash era.
Most obviously, there is the sunk cost of the more than $7.5 million still owed to Ash, who was fired in late September with three-plus years still remaining on his contract. And also there is the even more worrisome problem of how to coax back the bulk of a fed-up fan base that has begun staying away in droves with Rutgers on its way to its fifth straight losing season. The announced crowd of 23,058 included paid tickets, but the actual in-house attendance appeared to be less than half of that.
The obvious way to win back many of those people (and their wallets) would be to re-hire Greg Schiano, who took over a similarly downtrodden Rutgers program in 2001 and eventually turned it into a perennial bowl participant, going 5-1 in bowl games.
Truth be told, five days before Halloween, Schianos specter loomed over the proceedings. For the second week in a row, a group of tailgaters had a large, apparently professionally-made banner imploring athletic director Pat Hobbs to hire Schiano. (And it was different from the previous banner.)
And in his post-game media session, interim head coach Nunzio Campanile was asked about his relationship with Schiano after it was mentioned in the radio broadcast that Schiano texts him before every game. Campanile confirmed this.
Of course, not too much should be read into that, considering both Campanile and Schiano are football lifers who were born and raised in northern New Jersey and have known one another for many years.
And then there was an indirect Schiano reference from standout sophomore defensive end Mike Tverdov, who notched a second-quarter sack of Liberty quarterback Stephen Calvert and then made a chopping motion with his hands, a favorite move of Rutgers players from the Schiano era, including Tverdovs older brother Pete. Schianos motto back then was keep chopping.
A smiling Mike Tverdov said afterward it was not an endorsement.
Youve got to understand what I grew up watching, he said. Its pretty instinctual and no indication of how I feel on a certain topic.
Still, if the Rutgers chop were to be resurrected on a regular basis with Schiano being hired again, he would have to adjust to a slightly different landscape than the one with which he became so familiar. Because he was so successful, he had a lot of influence in decisions made by the athletic department back then, according to sources. That influence included input on how money was allocated within the department.
But things have changed at Rutgers, and the proof is in the $115 million RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance Center, which opened in September. It houses training and practice facilities for mens and womens basketball, gymnastics and a burgeoning wrestling program. It already is an obvious selling point to recruits in mens basketball, a sport in which Rutgers hasnt made the NCAA tournament since 1991, yet is on the upswing under fourth-year coach Steve Pikiell.
Make no mistake, Schiano and the football program still would drive the proverbial bus at Rutgers, especially if he could bring the Scarlet Knights back to respectability. But football cannot be treated as the only game in town at Rutgers anymore, and Schiano would have to get used to that.
Because Ash was fired on Sept. 29, Rutgers has been able to get a head start on its coaching search. Whether the eventual choice is Schiano, Mississippi States Joe Moorhead, another rumored candidate, or somebody else, he will have to fix Rutgers biggest problem in the Big Ten-an utter inability to compete at the line of scrimmage.
Rutgers defied the odds(makers) versus Liberty by averaging 4.9 yards rushing and recording three sacks as the Scarlet Knights found an opponent to whom they were physically superior for the first time since opening night against Massachusetts.
Our O-line played a tremendous game, Langan said. I cant give enough credit to those guys. They were the reason why we won.
It might be awhile before a Rutgers QB can say that after a Big Ten game. But Schiano (or whomever) must make that a priority for smiling faces to again become commonplace around this program.
Read more here:
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