Rutgers 'D' fuels 28-7 win over Army
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Khaseem Greene had just finished a game in which he recorded 22 tackles, so he certainly could have been forgiven for feeling weary.
But perhaps the Rutgers linebacker was more relieved that a strange three-week interlude in the Scarlet Knights' surprisingly good season finally was over.
"Everything happened," he said after Rutgers' 28-7 win over Army, "and it's done. Now we're ready to get back after it."
After Rutgers' 7-0 start and rise to No. 15 in the BCS rankings, the Knights and first-year head coach Kyle Flood lost to nonconference foe Kent State.
Then came Hurricane Sandy and this past week's snowstorm, sandwiched around the team's bye week. Ninety percent of the Knights are from the tri-state area, and the school was without power for several days after the first storm blew through.
Saturday's visit by Army compounded matters: The Black Knights, though 2-8 now, brought their confounding triple-option offense and were tied at 7-7 deep into the fourth quarter before Rutgers, which came in ranked 23rd, pulled away thanks to some Army mistakes.
"It's hard to simulate that speed in practice, so you saw in the first half what they could do," said senior tackle Scott Vallone, a Central Islip product and leader of Rutgers' standout defense. "We're a prideful group on D, though. We stayed strong in the second half."
Rutgers took a 14-7 lead at 8:49 of the fourth quarter when Gary Nova passed 31 yards to Brandon Coleman, who also grabbed a 16-yard TD pass in the second quarter.
Army was forced to punt on the ensuing series, but the long snap sailed over the punter's head and Rutgers recovered at the Army 2. Savon Huggins punched it in from there to give Rutgers a 21-7 lead, and a 73-yard fumble return by Duron Harmon in the final minute made it 28-7.
The Scarlet Knights (8-1) got more good news as far as the Big East is concerned: Previously unbeaten Louisville lost at Syracuse on Saturday, moving Rutgers into sole possession of first place in the conference at 4-0. If it sweeps its last three games against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Louisville, Rutgers will go to its first BCS bowl.
None of this seemed to be in the offing for the 2012 Knights when Greg Schiano, who built the program into a Big East contender, departed for the NFL in January. The school eventually chose Flood to replace Schiano. He had been associate head coach the previous four seasons but never a head coach at any level, even going back to his days as a young assistant at Hofstra in the 1990s and St. Francis Prep of Queens, his Catholic High School Athletic Association alma mater.
"Kyle's got the perfect temperament for this. He's a teacher, not a yeller or a screamer," linebackers coach Dave Cohen said. "People thrive in that environment."
"There was some uncertainty, and coach Flood is definitely learning some of it as he goes, I'm sure," Vallone said. "But we were a veteran team and we'd had success before. We all got together this summer and were like, 'Rebuild? B.S.' "
The defense has led the charge, holding opponents to 13.4 points a game, in the top five nationally. The Knights forced three fumbles Saturday, two inside the red zone. They also blocked two field-goal attempts, giving them four such blocks this season and eight blocked kicks of any kind this year, best in the country.
"We're a defense-and-special-teams-driven program -- no offense to our offense, but that's the truth," Vallone said. "That's what drives us."