By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Rutgers’ offense was idle most of the first half. They had just three possessions as Army’s triple option offense drove up and down the field, running it down the defense’s throat and chewing up the clock in the process.
Then, when the Black Knights were trying to take the lead of a 7-7 game, it was the Scarlet Knights special teams that came up big. Again. On two separate occasions.
First was cornerback Marcus Cooper blocking a 43-yard field goal attempt. Then came linebacker Jamal Merrel’s block – his fourth of the season – on a 30-yard field goal in the waning moments of the second quarter.
“The two blocked field goals, I think they are critical,” head coach Kyle Flood said. ”Certainly they keep the game 7‑7 at halftime, as opposed to 13‑7, and I think their momentum swings in the game. I think it’s something that gets you excited and keeps the defense going sometimes. You’re in a 7‑7 game and I think blocking kicks is part of our culture; it’s something we want to do every week. I felt like we had a chance to do it this week.”
And those two blocks were just the start of the game-changing day for the special teams unit.
Jeremy Deering was a shoestring tackle away from taking a kickoff back for a touchdown to start the second half. But it ended up being Army’s miscues in the punting game later in the half that proved costly.
First was a shanked punt by Chris Boldlt early in the fourth quarter that went a measly 9 yards.
On Army’s next possession came the game’s turning point. Andrew Ellerson snapped the ball over Boldt’s head, will the ball bouncing back to the 1-yard line. Rutgers would score two plays later for the first points in the game since early in the second quarter.
From there, the floodgates opened for Rutgers en route to the 28-7 win.
It appeared as if Army (2-8) was weary of Rutgers’ (8-1, 4-0 Big East) reputation. A team that’s become well known for it’s ability to make big plays on special teams.
“Opponents know we’re a block team. Teams change their schemes for us. They change their protections or change the snap,” Cooper said. “The players that’s coming in there – the snapper, the punter – I feel like they feel that pressures them automatically before the game even starts.”
And Rutgers is well aware that they are in the opposing teams head.
“We know that in the back of their minds they know we’re coming each time so for them to know that, it allows them to step out their game a little bit,” Merrell said. “And as you can see, the long snap went over their head and it was a huge moment shift.”
They’re key plays that Rutgers seems to make so often. And when they due, their chances of winning increase drastically.
“Those are important plays in the game,” defensive tackle Scott Vallone said. “And it’s just the relentless attitude of this team to be able to bare down in the redzone or just outside the redzone and then be able to block those kicks.”