Last Friday Night, it was off to Piscataway, NJ along the banks of the Raritan as I checked out Rutgers Stadium with the Scarlet Knights taking on UConn in a nationally-televised game. This would be my second time seeing the Huskies in three weeks. Once again, the weatherman lucked out with an absolutely beautiful day and evening for football. I’ve been holding off on making the short ride for a stadium visit here until renovations were complete and luckily one of our clients does work with Knights football and we were able to get some free tickets to the game. I went with my co-workers and we ended up tailgating for a few hours before heading in. The traffic can be atrocious in this area and with this being a weeknight game, it is even worse thanks to awful Jersey rush-hour. Parking is not great for Rutgers football as the lots are spread out well away from campus (unless your a rare, parking pass holder) and you have to take shuttles into the stadium. The lots were $20, but there is also an expensive $30 area turned into a lot across the street from Rutgers Stadium at Johnson Park. This was the much better alternative and ended being a good plan. We got there in plenty of time, had a nice time tailgating, however the ride out onto two-lane River Road was annoyingly long.
Let’s talk about the game for a little bit. I have gone through the last 18 new stadium visits without a great game (last one was UNLV vs Oregon State), so I was due one and this delivered. After Rutgers went up 7-0, UConn ran the kickoff back 100 yards to tie it up. The Knights were able to come back and go up 17-7, before the Huskies ran off seventeen straight, thanks in large part to Jordan Todman (who finished with 123 yards rushing). After the 24-17 lead held up through the 3rd, Rutgers rattled off a long drive only to get stuffed on 4th down at the UConn 12. The defense played great and Rutgers got the ball back as freshman QB Chas Dodd hit a 52 yard bomb on the second option of a screen play to tie the game with 3:53 left. After another defensive stand and another long Dodd pass, Rutgers kicked the game-winning field goal with :13 left and won 27-24. Dodd was unbelievable in his first start, going 18/29 for 322 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT. He threw a ton of good balls and had lots of poise, so it looks like he’s probably going to assume the QB role over Tom Savage. Fans appreciated the great work by Dodd, but the guy they did not approve of (and booed several times) was the “savior of the program” Greg Schiano.
He’s in his tenth year and has done remarkable things with a Rutgers program that was dormant for decades. He took over in 2000 and recruited well and did some excellent things, the culmination of which came during the biggest game/win in school history vs #3 Louisville in 2006. However, fans think he is not an ideal “game” coach and that was evident during this one with just bad play calling and unnecessarily using the failed Wildcat formation, which the fans loathed. The fans here are passionate and as I’ve seen in my visit to The RAC, they come out in droves (and Red) to support Knights athletics. In-game atmosphere was great and I loved hearing the various three or four chants that Rutgers fans yell out. However, I was disappointed to see that only 2 of the 11 games in the stadium after the renovation to enlargen capacity have been sold out. They’ve jam-packed the stadium several times, but during our game, there were whole sections empty. I can certainly sense the frustration in the crowd with the direction of this season. I’m also learning that the late arrival/early leaving thing is more common than I thought in college football as it still sucks to see it wherever you go. Overhearing talk from the regulars, it has become an increasing issue at Rutgers Stadium. Don’t get me wrong though, the in-game atmosphere is still enjoyable.
As for the stadium, it’s pretty nice, though I’m certainly against a $104 million renovation where other sports get cut (swimming, tennis, crew were some of the sports dropped to help save money) and students have to pay extra fees. The outside architecture is kind of a mish-mash of designs with each side being oddly different. Inside, I love the use of red and the beautiful new scoreboard which says at the top “The Birthplace of College Football”. The bowl is decent and the two very steep second decks of seats on the sides offer the type of high views in which I enjoy, even though they’re far from the field. Though it is part of luxury seating, I do like how they cleverly designed a lounge area (from the Welcome Center) within the middle of the end student section area. It’ s hard to see throughout the stadium, yet offers a cool view with tables and barstools in the middle of bleacher seating. Overall, a great game, fun experience and nice stadium to watch football. For the full review, click here.