Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Rutgers Wins on Safety, Missed Field Goal; Teel, Natale Split Time at QB
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Tony Ciaravino’s 42-yard field goal attempt sailed toward the uprights with plenty of distance despite a slight breeze blowing in the kicker’s face.
If it went through, Rutgers would have trailed UConn by one point with only about a minute to go. Another loss, a sixth in seven games, seemed entirely possible.
“I’m thinking about [how] we got one timeout and what we’re going to do on offense,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “I can’t do anything about that kick, all we can do is be prepared.”
As it turned out, Rutgers didn’t have to be prepared for anything other than running the clock out. The ball clanked off the right upright and ricocheted away, preserving Rutgers’ 12-10 Homecoming Day victory over Big East rival UConn before 42,491 on a beautiful sunny fall day at Rutgers Stadium.
“I’ve made that kick 1,000 times in practice,” Ciaravino said. “There’s no excuse. I should’ve made it.”
On the other sideline, the emotions flowed the other way.
“It’s about time we got a break our way,” Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel said. “The ball finally bounced our way.”
Rutgers (2-5, 1-2 Big East) has Ciaravino to thank for the victory as much as anyone. He missed three field goals in the game, two off the uprights and all on the North end of the field.
The decisive points ended up coming on a third-quarter safety when defensive tackle Blair Bines tackled UConn’s star tailback, Atlantic Highlands, N.J. native Donald Brown, in the end zone with 1:38 left in the period.
UConn (5-2, 1-1) cut the deficit to 12-10 midway through the fourth when quarterback Zach Frazer hit Kashif Moore on a 47-yard touchdown pass up the left sideline.
On UConn’s next possession, Fraser made three pass plays of over 17 yards to bring the Huskies to the Rutgers 20. After an incomplete pass, Fraser hit Moore, but UConn tight end Martin Bedard was whistled for offensive pass interference, moving the football back to the Rutgers 35. Bedard’s reception then put the ball at the 25.
That brought on Ciaravino, who had already missed two field goals in the game, while making one.
If the missed field goals were the dominant storyline, the secondary one was Schiano’s use of two quarterbacks.
After elevating redshirt junior Domenic Natale to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart this past week, Schiano played both Natale and Teel, a fifth-year senior who entered the game with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Teel completed 17 of 30 passes for 192 yards, while the more mobile Natale was 2 of 5 for 26 yards.
Teel played the bulk of the game, but was booed several times, both when he entered the game after Natale played and when a couple of his passes were batted down on the line of scrimmage.
“It’s [the fans’] prerogative to do what they want,” Schiano said of the booing. “They buy their ticket. I just caution them that these are college kids. They’re not pro athletes.”
With 14:09 left in the second period, Schiano replaced Teel withNatale, who had replaced Chris Paul-Etienne as the No. 2 QB on the depth chart.
Teel was hardly struggling. He had been 6 of 7 for 74 yards in the game.
Natale completed his first attempt, a 19-yard pass to Kevin Brock, but the drive ended when San San Te missed a 42-yard field goal attempt.
“You just have to be ready,” Natale said. “Anything can happen during a game.”
Schiano put Teel back in on the next drive, and he left to a smattering of boos when his last attempt was batted down by a UConn defender on the line of scrimmage.
Natale said he heard the boos but didn’t understand them.
“Obviously, I hear it,” he said. “He goes out there and for the last two years he’s done what he’s done. I respect the guy tremendously. That’s their decision to do that, I guess, but he’s been our leader for two years. I respect the guy, I don’t know how they could do that.”
Teel and Natale communicated about coverages on the sideline and Teel said he had no problem with sharing time.
“I think Dom does some things with his feet that obviously I don’t do, and he went in and he played well,” Teel said. “We’re just trying to give ourselves a chance to win the football game.”
Said Natale: “Both of us are just trying to lead the team together. He’s obviously our captain and our quarterback and we both just want to win the game.”
Schiano said he would evaluate whether he would continue the two-QB system for next week’s game at PIttsburgh.
“Let me look at it and then we’ll figure it out,” the coach said.
The two-quarterback system — combined with some tremendous punting by Teddy Dellaganna — were good enough to put the Knights up 12-3 entering the fourth period. Dellaganna made seven punts for an average of 41.7 yards.
Dellaganna booted a 69-yard kickoff to start the second half, pinning UConn at its own 1-yard line. After a three-and-out, Rutgers took over at the UConn 37. The Knights then marched into the end zone with a six-play drive that ended when Kordell Young scored on a 6-yard TD for a 10-3 advantage. Young rushed for 80 yards on 28 carries.
Rutgers later pinned UConn to its 2-yard line thanks to a strong punt from Dellaganna. The Knights then got a safety when Bines tackledBrown in the UConn end zone for a 12-3 lead. It was the team’s first safety since Nov. 11, 2005 at Louisville.
Brown, who leads Division I in rushing and touchdowns, carried 27 times for 107 yards but did not score for the first time all year.
“It’s a one-game season and we’re 1-0 after today and that’s good,” Schiano said. “Now we got another one-game season [at Pitt]…Hopefully, we’ll get a little confidence from this.”
(Photo courtesy UConnHuskies.com)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.