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A look back: recapping the 2009 Rutgers football season.

Looking back at the 2009 Rutgers football season. It was one that had its ups and downs, but yet another bowl win.

It started with all the hype. This was the season Rutgers was going to compete for a Big East title. The defense was expected to be solid, the offensive line was expected to be the best in the conference, and the schedule was definitely in Rutgers favor. The main question marks heading into the season were who would be Rutgers starting quarterback and could any wide receivers step up and play alongside Senior Tim Brown.

All the hype died after the season opening loss to eventual Big East champ and undefeated Cincinnati. Rutgers simply came out flat and got manhandled 47-15. Despite the embarrassing defeat, some questions were answered in this game. Dom Natale got the start at QB for Rutgers but he only lasted one half. When Rutgers came back out at halftime, highly touted true freshman Tom Savage was the quarterback and would remain the quarterback for the rest of the season, except when he sat out with a concussion. Rutgers also found its second wide receiver. Another true freshman sensation, Mohamed Sanu had a great game and seemed to develop a connection with Savage.

Following the loss to Cincinnati, Rutgers cruised through four victories. Howard, Florida International, Maryland, and Texas Southern were no match for the Scarlet Knights. With a record of 4-1, Rutgers still had many questions that needed to be answered as Big East play was about to resume.

Rutgers played host to Pittsburgh in an ESPN Friday Night Football matchup. It’s always a tough game when these two teams match up and this one was no different. Rutgers dropped this contest by a score of 24-17. Fans began to get restless as their team still was unable to find any offensive rhythm. Tom Savage was showing glimpses of promise but it was evident that growing pains would also be a part of this season. You have to expect that from a true freshman quarterback.

After a win at Army, Rutgers stood at 5-2 but 0-2 in the Big East. Next up was a trip to Connecticut to take on the Huskies. This was a very emotional contest as it was Connecticut’s first home game after the murder of cornerback Jasper Howard.  Devin McCourty returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown to set the tone. This was a game that came down to the wire and Rutgers was able to come away with its first Big East victory of the season, a 28-24 win.

Rutgers would then host South Florida on a Thursday night ESPN game. At the time, South Florida was a ranked football team that had been playing well. Something about Thursday night games in Piscataway that brings out the best of Rutgers football. The stadium was loud, the crowd was into it, and the Rutgers football team dominated the Bulls of South Florida. Rutgers used offense, special teams, and dominating defense to defeat South Florida 31-0. Rutgers record was now 7-2, 2-2 in conference play.

At this point, the team and its fans still had high hopes. With Syracuse, Louisville, and West Virginia left to play, just about everyone believed Rutgers would finish the regular season no worse then 9-3. That may have been the problem actually. Rutgers traveled to the Carrier Dome to take on a Syracuse team that was falling apart. Rutgers however, came out flat and was embarrassed by the Orange, losing 31-13. This lose would prove devastating to the Scarlet Knights. It likely cost them any chance of making a “higher profile” bowl game.

The team was able to rebound and take care of a Louisville team that was also struggling. Rutgers looked impressive the way they defeated the Cardinals. It would also be Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe’s final game as he would be fired during the days that followed.

So now the Scarlet Knights were at 8-3, 3-3 in the Big East, with just one game remaining, a home game against a tough West Virginia squad. Rutgers offense was still a day by day process but it was finding its own identity. Savage remained very confident and was improving each game. The wildcat formation was used much more often and with success behind Mohamed Sanu. The defense was still its strong point however. A win over West Virginia would put Rutgers at 9-3 overall and many believed they would have a shot at the Gator Bowl or Meineke Car Care Bowl.  That became a mute point however after losing the game, 24-21 as they were unable to put together a game winning drive.

Rutgers finished the regular season 8-4, 3-4 in the Big East. They would get an invitation to the St. Petersburg Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was not the ideal situation. Final exams had been going on the week of the game, so the team had to juggle that with practices and preparation for its matchup with Central Florida. They seemed to handle it in stride. Central Florida looked like it could be a tough matchup for the Knights. Rutgers running game basically disappeared except for the wildcat stuff. Central Florida had the 4th ranked rushing defense in the country, so Rutgers would have to throw the ball to win. Nobody knew if Senior star wide out Tim Brown would be able to play as he was nursing a couple injuries. Brown did play and Rutgers had no problems handling Central Florida. It was actually a surprisingly easy win for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights used a balanced all around game in defeating UCF by a score of 45-24.

Tim Brown was certainly one of the stars of this season. Devin McCourty was Mr. Do Everything for Rutgers this year. McCourty played the role of shut down corner as well as the special teams star. Ryan D’Imperio and Damaso Munoz, both seniors, led the defense from their linebacker positions. George Johnson had a very nice year at defensive end as well. Some promising freshman really stepped up and made the future the present this season, particularly QB Tom Savage, WR Mohamed Sanu, and LB Steve Beauharnais.

So, looking back on the 2009 season may be a bit disappointing considering the expectations coming into the year, but the season was also a success. Rutgers went to its 5th straight bowl game and recorded its 4th straight bowl game victory. The 2009 senior class will be missed, but the future does look bright in New Jersey.

2009 Team MVP:  Devin McCourty

2009 Offensive Player of the Year:  Tim Brown

2009 Defensive Player of the Year: Devin McCourty

2009 Freshman of the Year:  Mohamed Sanu

A look ahead to 2010 will be written in the coming days…..

Congratulations to Greg Schiano and Rutgers, 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl Champs.

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