Finally, on a night when his team’s quarterback rotation looked like the work of a coaching staff that had gone stark raving mad, Greg Schiano had to come clean.
The Rutgers head coach had to tell his fan base what most of college football already knew — had known, in fact, for almost two months. Noah Vedral has a hand injury. He can grip the football sometimes. He can’t grip it other times. If that sounds like a quarterback who, you know, shouldn’t be playingthen you didn’t watch the other guy.
Vedral started against Nebraska, and then Evan Simon replaced him, and then Vedral returned, and then Simon was back in, and on and on it went. Simon was out there long enough to throw three interceptions, including one that set up Nebraska’s go-ahead touchdown. He also took a sack at the end of the second quarter that pushed the offense out of field-goal range.
This is how you lose to a once-proud Big Ten opponent that has basically spent the first month of the season handing its 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, hard to find a good therapist.
“Everybody knows now, so I’ll announce: Noah has a hand injury,” Schiano said at his postgame press conference after a clearly hobbled Vedral completed six of 15 passes for 133 yards. “He had it repaired and he has healed. But his stamina isn’t what he needs to be yet.”
This injury is something Schiano should have made public weeks ago. The cloak-and-dagger nonsense fooled no one, and maybe 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 shutdown the Cornhuskers, it felt like the only way they were going to lose this game was by handing the visiting team the football.
Which — spoiler alert! — is exactly what they did.
Schiano should have seen enough from Simon in the first five games to know that the sophomore is a turnover waiting to happen, but he still let the quarterback drop back to pass on second and 17 from the Rutgers 35-yard line in the fourth quarter. Nebraska picked it off, and with field position deep in Rutgers territory, the mostly inept Cornhuskers needed just one good throw from quarterback Casey Thompson to take the lead.
Again: Anything was a better idea. Run twice into the line. Let all-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 victory, and in what has become an all-too-familiar scene, the visiting fans were the ones dancing at SHI Stadium.
Rutgers hasn’t won a Big Ten home game in almost five years, a streak that Schiano was quick to point out predates his return. The problem is, he was the one hired to make Rutgers football make sense again. He was the one who would have the answers. Two and a half years into his return, this team is still a frustrating mess on gameday.
“We have a very, very tight football team,” Schiano said. “I told them (that) the doubters will be out there; the people telling you, ‘You’re not good enough and you’re not going to win games and all those things.’ You can’t allow circumstances to dictate your behavior. … I believe we have that strength of culture in our locker room.”
Does he have the coaching staff? At one point in the fourth quarter on Friday night, Schiano chewed out offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson on the sidelines. It is never wise to draw conclusions from heated in-game interactions — this is, after all, a high-stress environment — but it isn’t the first time the head coach has jawed at his play caller.
It is fair to wonder if Schiano will soon pin the offense’s struggles on Gleeson, the first $1 million assistant in Rutgers history.
Schiano said he had to “examine what we are doing” offensively during the bye week, because “certainly, something is not working.” Well, one thing was working — specifically, true freshman running back Samuel Brown, who looked like he might carry 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 holding call.
So what did Rutgers do? Stop feeding him the ball, of course.
There are a dozen frustrating things like that. Down a point with a four minutes to go, a personnel snafu forced Schiano to burn two timeouts on the same play — time-management malpractice. Even then, after Nebraska threw a short pass to the sidelines that would have stopped the clock, Rutgers cornerback Kessawn Abraham was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty for throwing the Huskers receiver out of bounds. Nebraska still had to punt despite the fresh set of downs, which only led to another Simon interception.
It was one thing after another. The bigger picture, though, is that Rutgers threw away an opportunity to kick a storied program while it’s down. Nebraska isn’t Nebraska any more, but on this night, Rutgers was still Rutgers. That might sting, but it’s true.
Schiano is halfway through his third season. He had to come clean about his mangled quarterback situation after this loss on Friday night. He won’t have to tell the fans that his team looks like it is headed in the wrong direction right now. That, they can see with their own eyes.
MORE FROM STEVE POLITI:
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Steve Politi may be reached at email@example.com.