PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — New offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti isn’t going to fix Rutgers’ anemic offense with razzle-dazzle, or an air-it-out passing attack.
Being a blue-collar guy from Pittsburgh, Cignetti has a simpler approach to right an offense that was among the nation’s worst last season en route to a 4-8 finish.
Everything starts with running the ball.
“We are going to take chances, and we are going to have big plays in the pass game. But, at the heart of the matter, is you have to be able to run the football. And that’s who we are,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “That’s the region we live in. It’s a tough guy area; a working man’s area.”
It was obvious Schiano had to make changes after last season. The offense was ranked 110th nationally in rushing with 110.9 yards per game. And it was 114th in total offense with 294.9 yards per game.
But wait. It gets worse. Scarlet Knights quarterbacks, most notably Chas Dodd, were sacked a school-record 61 times.
So, when the season ended, Schiano quickly hired Cignetti. The veteran collegiate coordinator and former Saints and 49ers quarterbacks coach was dismissed in the wake of Dave Wannstedt’s firing at Pittsburgh.
Cignetti was successful at Pitt by running a a pro-style offense with the Panthers. That is not going to change with the Scarlet Knights.
“I think (running the ball) is in my blood,” he said with a grin. “The key to running the ball is being efficient and giving it enough chances. We want to be very balanced and multiple. But you have to run the ball enough so the defense respects the run.”
Rutgers’ leading rusher was Jordan Thomas with 417 yards. But prized freshman Savon Huggins, the consensus No. 1 recruit in New Jersey, could make a difference after rushing for 1,891 yards and 35 touchdowns at St. Peter’s Prep last year.
“I love this offense; the downhill, outside zone, power, I love it all,” Huggins said. “Coach Cignetti’s a genius. I’m learning the system and the other guys help me out a lot. My main goal is to contribute and work hard and earn a position.”
Dodd replaced Tom Savage as the starter four games into last season. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, he showed some toughness while running for his life. He completed 55.2 percent of his passes for 1,637 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions as a true freshman.
Cignetti said he “loves coaching Chas,” and the feeling is mutual. Dodd is excited with Cignetti’s system, which creates favorable matchups for his standout receivers. The quarterback also feels he was part of the problem with last year’s sack issues.
“There’s a lot of changes in schemes that will help us out,” Dodd said. “I’m looking to get the ball out of my hand, I don’t want to hold it. I worked on that a lot. With the style of offense this is, we focused on that. We don’t want to take sacks.”
Cignetti has been impressed with the mindset and personality of the offensive players. He detects a hunger and a willingness to get better, and feels that will happen if he puts everyone in their right position.
He also doesn’t dwell on the past.
“I didn’t watch (much) tape from last year,” said Cignetti, who is serving as offensive coordinator for his fifth FBS team. “I believe in moving forward.
“I watched enough tape to see what type of talent is in this program, and I was very impressed with the tape I watched. But I did not watch the tape in term of schematic breakdown. I just watched it to see what players can do.
“Now, I have to put them in the best position to make plays.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.