Freshman Quarterback Chas Dodd Stars in First Start as Rutgers Clips UConn
The true freshman, a game time decision to make his first career start, shrugged off several challenges to direct the Scarlet Knights to a last-minute 27-24 victory over Connecticut. Kicker San San Te nailed a 34-yard field goal with 13 seconds left to break a stalemate with the favored Huskies. Te's field goal was set up by a pretty, decisive 45-yard pass by Dodd down the left sideline to fellow freshman Jeremy Deering. Just like that, Rutgers went from a difficult two-minute drive starting at its own 38-yard line to dictating where it wanted to set up the clinching field goal.
"He went in there, and he's a really cool customer," said a relieved coach Greg Schiano. "I noticed some big plays out there, those are the plays we haven't made in the first four weeks."
Dodd subbed in for an ineffective Tom Savage, who has been banged up in recent weeks. Schiano pulled Savage after a handful of warm-up throws, saying he would only play in an emergency. "I thought he was a really tough guy tonight, to even go out there and approach it," said Schiano.
Meanwhile, Dodd, a South Carolina native, had himself a heck of a game, amassing an uncharacteristic -- for Rutgers -- 322 passing yards and two touchdowns. He showed off a moxie at the quarterback position that has been missing this season with Cincinnati's normally free-wheeling Zach Collaros struggling. Although he was sacked four times, he dodged at least a half dozen more, at one point prompting someone in the press box to yell out "[that play was] like Eli Manning in the Super Bowl!"
The Scarlet Knight offense came out hot, as Dodd found Deering down the left sideline for a 46-yard touchdown pass. The next drive, they scored again, this time on a Mohamed Sanu two-yard touchdown run following a 75-yard kickoff return from defensive back Joe Lefeged.
The Connecticut defense tightened thereafter, aided by a host of drive-killing offensive penalties as the Huskies rallied from a 17-7 deficit to eventually capture a 24-17 lead. A fake field goal try and a turnover on downs were part of a frustrating series of seven consecutive offensive drives during which Rutgers could not get on the scoreboard. But, as coach Schiano famously chimes, they "kept chopping."
Said Dodd, "you can't let things like that bother you, you gotta come back out and keep fighting. Once you get all in the moment, worse things can happen."
Dodd struck gold when he found receiver and Connecticut native Mark Harrison downfield on a 52-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with less than four minutes left and then linked up with Deering the next time out to clinch the home opener. "Just another Rutgers-Connecticut game," said Schiano. "It seems to be the norm coming down to the wire."
Careful to avoid a quarterback controversy, Schiano said afterward, "we have two special quarterbacks in our program." He dodged a question asking to compare the skills of his two main passers, and then dodged any effort to pin him down on naming a starter for the upcoming game against Army.
If Schiano was careful to avoid making distinctions, the overall pass distribution said something significant. Freshman Jeremy Deering, much hyped before the season, finally showed up on the field. He snagged three passes for 102 yards, including the huge play in the fourth quarter. Fellow receiver Mark Harrison caught five passes for 112 yards of his own. He was particularly special, thrice shaking tackles in the open field to make big gains of intermediate completions. Tight end D.C. Jefferson grabbed another four passes.
Notably missing at that party was playmaker Mohamed Sanu. Rutgers' best offensive weapon to this point in the season, Sanu caught just two passes for six yards and was targeted only four times. Savage has been reluctant to look away from Sanu at times, contributing mightily to the 21-to-6 reception gap between Sanu and the next closest receiver ahead of Friday's game.
The Dodd-to-Rutgers story almost didn't happen. Schiano and staff were careful in evaluating him, and admitted a hesitance to make the call on the short signal caller.
"When we recruited Chas, we saw what a fabulous player he was. It's just tough to pull the trigger on a guy who's just about six foot. [Quarterback Coach] Kirk Ciarrocca and I went around and around, once we saw him at our camp and saw him throw, got to meet him, we knew that he's a special guy."
To their good credit, and in the face of already having a prototype pocket quarterback in Tom Savage, Schiano and staff made good on a risky quarterback decision.