Trickery play provides silver lining
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — An ineligible receiver downfield negated senior holder J.T. Tartacoff’s first-career touchdown pass Nov. 29, 2012 against Louisville.
Nearly a year to the day Saturday at Connecticut, Tartacoff finally secured a score, giving him more than senior quarterback Chas Dodd has this season.
With 10:15 left in the first quarter, sophomore Kyle Federico lined up for a 27-yard field goal on fourth and 3 to give the Rutgers football team its first lead in nearly a month.
Then the Scarlet Knights called an audible, making some blockers into receivers.
Tartacoff took the snap from shotgun and faked a run option to the right, drawing the linebackers in.
Swarmed by two Huskies, the former wide receiver at Montgomery (N.J.) High School lobbed a 10-yard pass tailing left into the end zone.
It looked like Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu, coming in with leverage up top from the left side, had an interception. Two linebackers fell back late into coverage.
But sophomore tight end Tyler Kroft, one of three initial blockers on the audible, went up and came down with the jump-ball for the touchdown, cradled under Melifonwu.
“The idea was to put me in the guard spot and then we make the shift call and everyone moves, and I step off the ball to get myself eligible,” Kroft said. “And then once we snap it, I hold it for a few seconds and then let the defense kind of disperse to play the run.”
It capped a 13-play scoring drive — Rutgers’ longest of the season from scrimmage — and was one of few bright spots in a 28-17 loss.
“The fake field goals, faked punts on special teams have always been a part of our repertoire,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “It’s one of the positives of the game for us.”
Tartacoff admitted he was unsure how the play would end as he let go of the pass. But even with a safety gunning for Kroft, Tartacoff had faith in one of Rutgers’ more gifted receivers.
Kroft, who leads the team with 37 catches and 479 receiving yards, was the only pass option on the play, Tartacoff said.
“He’s a great athlete, a great player,” Tartacoff said. “It was something that if I did see the safety there and the run option wasn’t there, then we were hoping he would make a play.”
Rutgers ran a similar play Oct. 10 at Louisville on fourth and 3 from the 27-yard line. On that night, Tartacoff’s pass to Kroft went for 26 yards just short of the end zone.
The audible, which Tartacoff said has no specific name, is something the Knights are confident in. Both times they ran it this season came in the first half.
“We’re always trying to draw fakes that’ll work,” Tartacoff said. “We usually always have something in our back pocket, and the look they gave us, we were able to run it and I’m just happy coach Flood gave me the go to.”
Trickery on special teams may be Rutgers’ best asset this Saturday in hopes of securing bowl eligibility with a win against South Florida.
Rutgers’ offense produced only one score each of the last two games, as the team scored only 17 points in three straight contests. It recently had another special teams score on a blocked punt Nov. 21 at Central Florida.
But the Knights know they still need more offensive consistency to supplement special teams creativity.
“We know we have a lot of playmakers, especially at the receiver and tight end positions,” Kroft said. “When it comes down to it, we know we can make the plays. We just overall have to execute better. … I know nine out of 10 times it comes down to execution.”
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