PHOENIX (AP) -- Rutgers defied long odds to earn its first bowl
bid in 28 years. Winning the game will require another upset.
The Scarlet Knights (7-4) face high-scoring, pass-crazy Arizona
State (6-5) in the Insight Bowl on Tuesday night, and the Sun
Devils' array of talented receivers can't wait to see Rutgers try
to use its trademark man-to-man coverage against them.
"Whenever corners press and play man coverage, you've got to
get excited," said ASU wide receiver Derek Hagan, a third-team
all-American. "You're definitely looking for the ball."
Rutgers' best hopes are to put pressure on Sun Devil quarterback
Rudy Carpenter and control the ball to keep Arizona State's offense
off the field.
"We're going to do our best to maintain possession of the
football," Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano said. "It doesn't
mean just running the ball, but being efficient in our passing game
and play a little keep away. That is part of our plan. But when
push comes to shove, we need to play defense against a very good
offense, and our guys are ready to do that."
Oddsmakers have made the Sun Devils, playing 10 miles from their
campus, a 10-point favorite. That is down from 13½, probably
because 20 Arizona State players and several coaches missed
practice with the flu last week.
All the players are back, though, and after a brief break for
Christmas, the team returned to practice on Sunday night.
"Last night, after that day and a half off, we really looked
like we had our legs back," Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter said.
"Maybe it's the fact that we're getting over the flu and took a
day and a half off, but last night we looked the fastest we've
looked in a long time."
By an odd coincidence, the game is a rematch of the 1978 Garden
State Bowl, Rutgers' only other postseason experience, where
Arizona State, in its final bowl game under coach Frank Kush, beat
The Scarlet Knights played Princeton in the first
intercollegiate football game on Nov. 6, 1869, and won 6-4. But in
the modern era, Rutgers has struggled.
They have had a few winning seasons, but mostly the Scarlet
Knights have been overmatched, and the rebuilding under Schiano,
former defensive coordinator at Miami, has been no overnight
He took over in 2000, and in 2002, the team was 1-11 and winless
in the Big East for the third consecutive season. Even last season
ended badly, with five consecutive losses after a 4-2 start. But
perseverance paid off, and Schiano has been rewarded with a
seven-year contract extension.
Making it to the postseason, Schiano said, "lends credibility
to everything we've been talking about the last five years, that
the plan is working."
The foundation of Rutgers' success are the front four of a
defense that led the nation with 46 sacks.
"The film doesn't lie," Koetter said. "You turn on the film
and watch Rutgers play and you have to be impressed. I don't care
if you're playing Alameda Junior High, it's hard to get 46 sacks in
Leading the way is all-Big East defensive end Ryan Neill, who
had 13 tackles for loss and eight sacks. The Scarlet Knights had
nine sacks in their regular season finale, a 44-9 victory over
With Arizona State averaging nearly 42 passes per game, Neill is
well aware of his role on Tuesday night.
"They're very solid up front, one of the best we've played
against this year as far as the offensive line," Neill said. "But
they're going to throw the ball a lot. I think I'm going to get an
opportunity to rush the passer. For us to have success in this
game, our defensive line is going to have to do a very good job of
getting pressure on the quarterback."
Carpenter, a redshirt freshman who took over from injured Sam
Keller eight games into the season, directs a passing attack that
ranks third nationally at 365 yards per game. The Sun Devils have
averaged 504.5 yards in offense, fourth-best in NCAA Division I.
In four games as a starter, Carpenter has completed 100 of 151
passes for 1,362 yards and eight touchdowns, with one interception.
Rutgers' last run-in with a high-powered passing game was a 56-5
loss at Louisville in the next-to-last game of the season.