PISCATAWAY, NJ - It was an odd game that produced an odd score at Rutgers University Saturday afternoon, but the Scarlet Knights found ways to come out on top, 38-26, so all’s well that ends well.
Beginning with a half-empty stadium and a drippy 80 percent humidity, this was one helter-skelter affair, with big plays and big mistakes combining for a contest that Rutgers never trailed but never put away, either.
Fortunately, the Scarlet Knights (2-1) had Jerry Rice on their side… No! Wait! That was not the NFL Hall of Famer and “Dancing with the Stars” champion…
No, it was junior wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who, like Rice, was the obvious target and was double-teamed all day, but still managed to free himself into whatever open space there was on the gridiron.
Sanu wound up catching a career-high, Rutgers-high and Big East Conference-high 16 passes for 176 yards and two aerial touchdowns.
Without Sanu -- and, of course, quarterback Chas Dodd doing the throwing -- RU might have been in one fine mess.
“We had our troubles today,” said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. “We had our troubles, and then compound that with they made some incredible catches.
“They were big plays. You usually don’t win a game with as many big plays as we gave up. So, we have a lot of work to do, no doubt.”
But, as for Sensational Sanu, otherwise known as Third-and-Sanu:
“Pretty spectacular,” Schiano said. “Just continues to impress, and the best thing about Mo is the guy that he is. On top of being a great football player is the person that he is. He’s someone that says a lot for our program. He represents hopefully what we’re about.”
Dodd-to-Sanu was the major part of the Scarlet offense against a scrappy Ohio squad. The other key element was the running of Jawan Jamison, the red shirt freshman from Florida who was there every time he was needed most.
As for hugely-heralded true freshman running back Savon Huggins, well, he did make his first collegiate start on this odd day off River Road, but his two fumbles on two carries sent him to the sidelines in a big hurry.
“I’m proud of our guys’ performance,” Schiano said. “Proud of how they approached the two weeks, it’s tough coming off a loss and having a bye.
“As I just got done telling the team, I like learning and teaching from the win column a lot more than I do from the L column.”
The Knights started the game with a picturesque drive from their own 35-yard line to a first down at the Ohio six -- a convincing 59-yard march that included three catches by Sanu.
But, the otherwise-pretty opening possession also included a fumble by Huggins on his first carry of the day. The loose ball was covered by Rutgers receiver Tim Wright, so RU shrugged it off and kept moving north.
With a first down at the Ohio six, however, Huggins coughed up his second touch of the afternoon, and this time it resulted in a turnover in the arms of Ohio linebacker Alphonso Lewis.
The Bobcats then fumbled the ball right back to RU, and the Scarlet -- minus Huggins -- quickly turned the opportunity into a seven-yard touchdown pass from Dodd to Sanu.
Rutgers was generous again later in the first quarter, when Dodd threw an interception to hand the ball to Ohio at the RU 26. The visitors tied the score on an acrobatic catch in the end zone that was reviewed by officials who stuck with the ruling on the field.
And, with 2:36 left in the first quarter, that was the early end to the Ohio highlight reel.
Rutgers was far from perfect after that, but Ohio shifted into self-destruct mode with two more first-half fumbles, including a fumbled punt reception near the goal line.