NEWARK, N.J. (AP) A couple of extra days off could not have come at a better time for Rutgers’ football team.
With 10 days between games, the Scarlet Knights will get some down time to deal with the devastating injury that left teammate Eric LeGrand paralyzed from the neck down and to gather themselves after a disappointing 41-21 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Coach Greg Schiano did not update LeGrand’s condition on Sunday during a conference call, but he said the junior defensive tackle was able to watch the game from his room at Hackensack University Medical Center.
LeGrand’s condition has not changed since he was injured making a tackle on a kickoff return against Army on Oct. 16, Schiano said after Saturday’s loss at Pittsburgh.
Schiano had planned to give his team some time off during this period as soon as the schedule came out. However, he said it comes at a perfect time.
“We’re not going to be totally separated from one another but it will give guys a chance to catch their breath,” Schiano said Sunday.
A win would have let the players really enjoy the rest, but Pittsburgh was clearly the better team on Saturday.
“That doesn’t change the situation,” Schiano said. “Right now, physically and emotionally, I think it is good for the guys to just catch their breath, and when we work, it’s time to work and it’s time to get better.”
Believe has become the team motto for Rutgers (4-3, 1-1 Big East) since LeGrand’s injury. To a man, they believe the 20-year-old Avenel resident will walk again.
Schiano also believes his team will rebound, saying the people in the program make him believe.
“We have been through tough times before and we have tough people here,” Schiano said. “It’s no disrespect to the teams we have left to play on our schedule, but we are going to find a way to get it fixed and get it going in the right direction.”
While none of the players were made available on Sunday, they said after the game that the poor performance was not the result of being emotionally drained by LeGrand’s horrific injury.
“It wasn’t a factor at all,” said safety Khaseem Greene, LeGrand’s roommate. “We came out and played, and to Pitt’s credit they played a really good game and they beat us up.”
With the Scarlet Knights scheduled to play a week from Wednesday at South Florida, Schiano plans to practice on Wednesday and Thursday and then get into his game preparations on Saturday.
Some of the injured players will be given time to rest, while the team tries to straighten out problems with the offensive line and defense.
The line has given up 33 sacks in seven games and the defense, which was nationally ranked in scoring defense, allowed a season-high 513 yards and 27 second-half points to the Panthers.
Schiano said the line was just “whupped” on some plays.
“The pass protection is one of the big issues we have to get figured out right now,” said Schiano, who noted that tackles Art Forst and Desmond Stapleton have been playing with nagging injuries.
Freshman Chas Dodd struggled on Saturday for the first time since replacing sophomore Tom Savage at quarterback.
Dodd was 8 of 19 for 62 yards before Savage took over late and hit 2 of 3 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Savage, who injured his right hand against Tulane on Oct. 2, is better and Schiano refused on Sunday to name his starter for the South Florida game.
With five games left, the Big East Conference seemingly is wide open. Pittsburgh (2-0) is the only undefeated team in league play.
“It is wide open, but again, none of that will matter unless we get our own selves improved,” Schiano said. “Yes, as far as the facts, is the league open? There is no doubt about that. Pittsburgh sits in the driver’s seat. They have destiny in their own hands.”
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