Rutgers Football: Why I Still Believe in Quarterback Tom Savage

Josh RosenbergCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2010

When sophomore quarterback Tom Savage committed to Rutgers, he was the highest-rated quarterback recruit to ever do so.

Savage quickly established himself as Rutgers' starting quarterback and made his first start in Week 2 of 2009.

He went on to lead Rutgers to a nine-win season and earned freshman All-America honors. As one of the focal points of Rutgers' offense this season, large improvements were expected of Savage.

So far, he's only disappointed.

On paper, Savage's 72 yards and interception against Florida International looks dreadful.

I even ranked him last in my most recent Big East quarterback rankings.

Fans are calling for his head. Cries to put in true freshman Chas Dodd can be seen all over message boards.

But despite all the lack of success on offense, I still believe that Tom Savage can lead Rutgers to a great next few seasons and a Big East championship.

Most of the offensive struggles are really due to other players' miscues, not Savage's.  


The offensive line continues to mess up at the worst times

In the first half, Rutgers' offense struggled to capitalize on four turnovers by the defense.

The blame was put on Savage, who fumbled two snaps.

However, this is more due to Howard Barbieri's three botched snaps, which ended three different offensive drives.

Barbieri snapped the ball terribly once while Savage was under center.  The ball barely touched Tom but resulted in a "fumble by the QB" that was recovered by Florida International.

While in shotgun formation, Barbieri twice snapped the ball over the heads of Tom Savage and Mohamed Sanu, which resulted in a 3rd-and-30 and a fourth down that killed both drives.

Savage did fumble one other time. This was when an FIU defensive lineman exploded pass right guard Caleb Ruch and into the backfield and knocked Savage down, as well as knocked the ball out of his hands before he could take the second step of his three-step drop.

Again, not Savage's fault since he had zero time to throw the ball and the receivers hadn't made it five yards down field.


Running game and Schiano's playcalling gives Savage barely any opportunities to pass

It's not like Rutgers' offense has a running game to fall back on. Against FIU running backs, Joe Martinek and Jordan Thomas managed to gain only 54 yards on 24 carries.

The running backs run up the middle on first and second down, which leaves Savage in a third-and-long situation almost every single time.

This gives him one opportunity to attempt a long or intermediate pass, which the opposing defense is prepared for and knows what to expect.

Now, it makes sense why Savage only attempted 15 passes against FIU, while successful Big East quarterbacks like Geno Smith and Zach Frazier throw that many in one half of the game.

However, Joe Martinek is injured and although at the surface this seems like bad news, Jordan Thomas and Deantwan Wiliams could actually improve the running game. Williams is the best fit for Rutgers' zone blocking scheme.


Wide receivers continue to struggle

Once gain, Rutgers' wide receivers dropped two crucial passes on third downs.

The receivers can't even get open, which is why Savage holds the ball for so long. Then, people criticize him for not getting rid of the ball and not taking risks downfield.

What happened when Savage finally gave in and decided to take a risk and heave a long ball to a receiver that wasn't open?  He was intercepted.

"It's easy to say (it's on) Tom," Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said. "Most people don't watch the receivers down the field. I do. There wasn't a lot of receivers open (at FIU)."

Mohamed Sanu will continue to be double covered constantly, which should give more opportunity to Mark Harrison, who was only targeted three times last game. One group of receivers struggling has been the slot receivers. Third and fourth receivers Jeremy Deering and Keith Stroud have combined for two catches and 28 yards.

Luckily for Rutgers, redshirt freshman Quron Pratt will return from his shoulder injury before the North Carolina game and will resume his position as the Scarlet Knights' main slot receiver.

Pratt has the game-breaking speed, which Deering and Stroud don't have, that will make him such an effective slot receiver and third option for Savage.

The receivers will do better getting open and Savage could finally have somebody to throw to when he's getting chased by opposing defenders. 

This week is Rutgers' bye week, which gives the entire team extra time to fix mistakes and for the offense to improve on all aspects of the game.

The offense always starts off slow and picks its game up as the season goes on so expect a lot better of an offensive showing against a depleted North Carolina defense.


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