The Orange are now 3-2 entering the second week of Big East play after dropping the conference opener to Pitt. Things don't get any easier as the Rutgers Scarlet Knights play host to Doug Marrone's squad in the second weekend of October. Surprisingly, the game has not been moved to NYC even though the game features the past two Pinstripe Bowl Champions and DOCTOR Gross is alive. Let's get straight to it.
Rutgers' offseason was defined by the loss of Greg Schiano, the head coach who had led the Scarlet Knights to some relevancy in football. Last season, Rutgers saw two quarterbacks take starts on a semi consistant basis. Both Chas Dodd and Gary Nova had come from behind victories to their resume, but the one who led the comeback over 'Cuse gets the starting job this year. Of course. Rutgers went 9-4 last season with an impressive 6-1 home record, only losing to WVU. This season, they take on a much tougher schedule, traveling to Arkansas and Pittsburgh. Many pick first year coach Kyle Flood to guide the team to a strong finish, either second or third, thanks to a revamped offensive line and stellar defense.
How the Orange should attack the Scarlet Knights:
Very carefully. Rutgers returns seven starters to the defensive unit some say is better than the 2006 unit that guided the team to an 11-2 finish. Corner Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon are returning All Big East selections while newcomers Brandon Jones and Lorenzo Waters are former top recruits with the same hype. Phil Steele calls them the best secondary in the conference. Moving to the front seven, the linebackers may be the best unit on the team. Returning all three starters from last year, Big East co-defensive player of the year Khaseem Greene is the favorite to win the award outright this season. The only uncertainty lies in their defensive line wasn't very strong last season (7th in rush defense in conference) and losing two more starters doesn't help.
The Orange are going to need the running back corps to step up yet again. Much like last time against Pittsburgh, passing will be very difficult and only effective if the defense has to focus on the running game first. It is nerve racking to see Marrone continually say the running backs aren't ready because they need to be by weeks five and six. It would be great to see a bruiser like Jerome Smith take this game by the horns and attack the weak front line.
How the Orange defend the Scarlet Knights:
After splitting time at quarterback last season, new offensive coordinator Dave Brock picked sophomore Gary Nova to lead the Rutgers offense. The passing attack under Nova won't be as potent without Mohamed Sanu, but sophomore Brandon Coleman is having a terrific camp and will work with returning starter Mark Harrison to vill the void. Running back is still a concern as Jawan Jamison failed to reach 1,000 yards last season and underachieving blue chip prospect Savon Huggins is looking for a breakout sophomore season. The key to this unit is the offensive line, where Rutgers plugs in R.J. Dill from Maryland (transfer) and freshman All American Kaleb Johnson with experienced juniors on the line.
The Rutgers offense will be spending the first few weeks of the season defining themselves, but the key will be to foce Nova into making mistakes. Nova had issues throwing to the right colored jersey and fumbling the ball because of a refusal to let go of the ball while being pressured. The Orange will need to penetrate the offensive line and pressure Nova into bad decisions. If they can do that, Rutgers may opt to run the ball over throwing it, a much less dangerous option for the Orange especially is the hype on Coleman is true.
X Factor: Playcalling on Offense:
Last year, Rutgers played eight games decided by two scores or less, five of which were settled by three or less. If the same holds true this season, the Orange will need to maximize the possessions they have against a stingy defense that may eclipse Louisville for best in the Big East, especially on the road.
On paper, Rutgers looks just as good as Louisville, the favorites to win the conference, minus a proven quarterback. The defense is stacked with blue chip prospects Schiano recruited and the team even got fancy uniforms this year from Nike. The Scarlet Knights should be a favorite to win the conference and I don't think Syracuse's offense has what it needs to break through such a solid unit. Orange lose this one 21-10.