The Rutgers football family is hoping for a miracle .
6-foot-2, 275-pound junior defensive lineman Eric LeGrand suffered a devastating spinal cord injury during Rutgers 23-20 overtime win over Army Saturday.
While covering a kickoff, LeGrand collided with an Army player and fell to the turf. LeGrand lay motionless for several minutes while his neck was immobilized. He was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center, where emergency surgery was performed to stabilize his spine.
Then Sunday, it was revealed that LeGrand had suffered a spinal cord injury at the C-3 and C-4 level of his vertebrae. He is paralyzed from the neck down.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano was bedside with LeGrand both before and after the surgery. Schiano spent Saturday night at the hospital with LeGrand’s family members. Schiano then met with his team Sunday afternoon to deliverer the news. The coach was later asked about LeGrand’s recovery.
"Without getting into too many specifics, no one knows," Schiano told reporters Sunday. "Certainly, there’s expertise. But I’ve done a lot of research in the last 24 hours … and there are enough stories, starting with Adam Taliaferro."
Taliaferro was a New Jersey native who played at Penn State. Ten years ago he also suffered a major spinal injury. He was paralyzed from the neck down. After a long and hard rehabilitation period, Taliaferro did walk again.
Schiano and the Rutgers team is certainly holding out hope.
"As I talked to our team, we are going to believe that Eric is going to walk onto that field again," Schiano said Sunday.
The Rutgers players and coaches now will go through the process of preparing for Saturday’s Big East Conference contest at Pitt Saturday at noon.
Rutgers is coming off the come-from-behind overtime win against Army. Rutgers trailed 17-3 in the 4th quarter prior to rallying to force overtime. In the first overtime session, Rutgers held Army to a field goal. Then Joe Martinek won it with a one yard run. It was the largest 4th quarter come back win for the Scarlet Knights since 2004.
Rutgers was held to -1 rushing yards. The story again was quarterback Chas Dodd.
Dodd threw second-half touchdown passes of 3 yards to Kordell Young and 16 yards to Mark Harrison to tie the game at 17. Dodd also hit Keith Stroud on third-and-6 to reach the 3 in overtime, setting up Martinek’s game winning run.
Dodd finished 18 of 30 for 251 yards in a game in which he was sacked eight times for 76 yards in losses.
"We’ve got a big opportunity here going out to Pittsburgh," Schiano said Monday. "They are a very good football team that seems to have hit its stride with the game at Syracuse.
"We are going to try to keep moving this thing forward, but at the same time making sure that Eric’s family is cared for and that we are there to support Eric," Schiano continued. "It is certainly a challenge but it is one I think our university and our football program is prepared for."
Pitt won 45-14 at Syracuse as the Panthers scored touchdowns on four of their first six offensive possessions. The victory was the third in a row for Pitt inside the Carrier Dome.
Quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for 266 yards with a career high four touchdown passes. He was not intercepted on the day. Pitt scored on the first play from scrimmage as Sunseri hit Devin Street with a screen pass. Street would race 79-yards for a touchdown. Sunseri completed passes to eight receivers and each of his four touchdown passes went to a different receiver.
"He has taken steps forward ," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "You are always under the microscope at that quarterback position, but things happen at a different time frame with each individual player.
"He did things in the Syracuse game that he wouldn’t have been able to do in the opener out in Utah," Wannstedt said. "that is all part of the process. It is a good start where we are at right now, but this will present a whole different challenge because (Rutgers) is as aggressive on defense as any team we will play all year long."
Another positive for the Panthers last week was the re-emergence of running back Dion Lewis. Lewis had a season high 80 yards rushing.
As for the Pitt/Rutgers series. Pitt snapped a four game losing streak in the series with a 24-17 win at Rutgers. Rutgers has, however, won the last two games at Heinz Field, site of Saturday’s contest.
The Big East week will again start early as South Florida visits Cincinnati on Friday night. The Bulls lost in Morgantown last Thursday. The Bearcats won at Louisville last Friday.
Last week, Cincinnati’s Zach Collaros threw five touchdown passes as he finished with 275 yards passing. Collaros got help from Big East Conference offensive player of the week Armon Binns. Binns had eight catches for 175 yards. Running back Isaiah Pead finished with 145 yards on the ground.
"We went on the road and come away with a victory after overcoming a 10 point deficit and three turnovers," Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. "We had some self inflicted mistakes that we have to get cleared up very quickly.
"On the positive side, we outscored them 14-3 in the fourth quarter," Jones said. "Offensively, we had four drives of 70+ yards and we made the plays we needed to."
Cincinnati has four conference games at home this year including the next two in a row and three of the next four. The Bearcats have won 14 consecutive games at Nippert Stadium. They’ve won 13 consecutive Big East games.
Cincinnati’s win at Louisville last week was made even more impressive considering UC started eight sophomores on defense. The Bearcats also finished without receiver D.J. Woods when Woods who left the game in the third quarter after suffering a head injury on a play he scored a touchdown.
The biggest concern for Cincinnati remains turnovers. The Bearcats are near the bottom of the Big East with 11 so far this season. And Cincinnati has forced just five leaving the team ranked 108th in the nation in turnover margin.
"This is a first time for me," Jones admitted. "Two years ago (at Central Michigan) we led the country in ball security. Last year, we were #1 in the country until the final week of the season.
"It is just being conscious of the football and using (the correct) fundamentals in keeping the ball high and tight and covering the tip,"Jones said. "In throwing the football, some of it is inexperience. Zach has to get rid of the football. He has to learn that throwing the football away can be a good play."
The Bearcats squared their overall record at 3-3 while winning their Big East Conference opener.
South Florida will try and avoid falling into an 0-3 hole in the league as it plays a second consecutive road game inside the conference. Bulls coach Skip Holtz hinted at some offensive changes following Thursday’s 20-6 loss in Morgantown.
"In eight quarters we’ve put up nine points as an offense," Holtz said following the game Thursday. "We’ve got to take a hard look at where we are, what we’re doing, who were doing it with, how were doing it. Right now we’ve got to take a hard look because we can’t keep going the way we’re going."
The Bulls offense continued to sputter against WVU as they had a season low 202 offensive yards in that game. South Florida had just 219 total yards the week before against Syracuse.
Sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels has now thrown ten interceptions in six games. He threw nine interceptions in 13 games all of last season.
Holtz, however, refuses to blame the quarterback alone.
"Nobody needs to point a finger on the offensive side of the ball right now," Holtz said. "We all need to look at ourselves and what we’re doing and what we need to do to get it straight."
UConn’s game at Louisville Saturday afternoon will feature the league’s two most productive running backs.
Bilal Powell had his second consecutive 200+ yard performance as he rushed for 209 yards and two touchdowns in Louisville’s loss to Cincinnati last Friday.
Powell is second in the conference and fourth nationally with an average of 150 yards per game. Just ahead of him on those lists is Jordan Todman of Connecticut .
"UConn is a very physical football team with a really good offensive line," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "It always starts with your offensive line. That is just like with us. We have an outstanding offensive line and that is why Powell is able to run like he does.
"Todman is a very powerful back,:" Strong continued. "He can run through people and he can also make people miss."
Strong says Powell’s strong start to the season is all about the collective effort.
"On his long run (an 85-yard touchdown in the Cincinnatis game) he ran through two tackles and then he has the break-away speed to out run people," Strong said. "Everyone is blocking. The offensive line (is blocking well.) And the receivers are blocking down field on the perimeter allowing him to break long runs."
Strong was certainly disappointed in not being able to pick up his first Big East Conference coaching win last week at home. He hopes it is a minor setback in the rebuilding process.
"Any time you go into a program where you have to turn it around, the number one thing is you want to be competitive,:" Strong said. "Up to this point though six games we’ve been very competitive. What we have to learn how to do now is win. That is what we are not doing right now. We are not finishing games.
"Its been great watching these guys improve each week," Strong said. "Now that we’ve been able to compete, we need to go win football games."
Connecticut is coming off a bye week. The Huskies are 3-3 so far with home wins against Texas Southern, Buffalo and Vanderbilt. UConn has dropped all three of its road games with losses at Michigan, Temple and Rutgers.
"We’ve got to prove we can go on the road and win," Huskies coach Randy Edsall said. "We’ve got to get better on third downs on offense and eliminated the big play on defense."
Edsall has great respect for what Powell has brought to the Louisville offense.
"I see a guy who is power and who is a hard runner." Edsall said. "He’s got speed. You see the three runs he has broken this year all over 74 yards. He’s got power, speed and strength . He will be a tremendous challenge for us on Saturday."