Hey, the Syracuse Orange football team won last week! But the buzz only lasts for so long before we need to turn the page to the next game. And that next game’s pretty important, as we’re up against frequent recruiting foe (and former conference opponent) the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Since we’re not Rutgers fans, we went ahead and asked someone that knows a whole lot more about the Scarlet Knights than we do to share some things in advance of Saturday’s matchup. On the Banks’s Aaron Breitman joins us to talk about Rutgers. You can check out his responses below, and we provide some insights on SU over there as well.
Rutgers fans seemed pretty thrilled to bring back Greg Schiano last year. How do fans feel about his return thus far?
The fan base united in a way I had never seen before in support of Schiano returning. While I never agreed with the notion that he was the only coach who could win at Rutgers, he was the best choice by far. His built-in advantages of knowing the school, having credibility established across New Jersey recruiting circles, Big Ten experience and the fact he had made the program a winner before just made bringing him back a no brainer. He has proven to have grown as a coach and program leader in his return and has hired arguably the best coaching staff in school history.
After ending the 19-game Big Ten losing streak and winning three conference games, last fall exceeded every fan’s expectations. That might have created unrealistic expectations this season with many hoping and or even expecting a bowl bid. However, it’s clear he has things clicking both on the recruiting trail and the direction of the program on the field as well. Fans are excited for now and the future.
What did you take away from the Scarlet Knights’ week one win over Temple?
Rutgers was dominate defensively and with special teams against an FBS opponent in way they haven’t been since Schiano’s first tenure. We don’t know how good or bad Temple is, I lean towards the latter, but it was still impressive regardless. Having 20 starters back overall and having a full offseason to work with the coaching staff were obvious pluses that showed up in week one. Despite scoring 61 points, the most impressive thing I took away from the victory was that Rutgers committed just one penalty and had zero turnovers. If they can play clean football in the Big Ten, they will be a better team this fall.
Obviously beating anyone 61-14 is impressive. But do you feel like the offense being less of a factor in that lopsided victory creates any questions?
Absolutely. In fact, questions started the night before the season opener with the surprising news that Gavin Wimsatt, the highest rated QB recruit in program history, announced he was forgoing his senior season of high school to join the program a year early. He began practice this week. Starter Noah Vedral struggled against Temple so of course it created doubts about his ability to carry Rutgers further ahead in the rebuild this season. He is a great leader and has had his moments, so I don’t expect him to play as poorly this week. Wimsatt isn’t eligible this week because he has less than a week of practice under his belt, but it does seem very possible he’ll get a chance to work in games either situational or for a specific series down the road. How Vedral handles the pressure of this dynamic will be key to the team’s success this season.
The biggest question all offseason was whether the offensive line would be improved and by how much. They didn’t look great in the first half against Temple but played much better in the second half wearing down the Owls. How the line performs both this Saturday and all season will be a major factor this season.
On the other side of that coin, though: The defense looked excellent. What do you attribute the rapid improvement on that side of the ball to?
Schiano and defensive coordinator Robb Smith, who is also in his second stint at Rutgers, have preached the importance of takeaways above all else since they returned. It’s why they stunned Michigan State last season with seven takeaways and completely changing the dynamics of the game. They can’t do that every week obviously, but the defense is allowed to play free and isn’t overly complicated. Creating turnovers against Temple set up the offense in short field possessions several times and changed the game.
The key has been developing guys like linebackers Olakunle Fatukasi and Mohamed Toure that can create havoc. The secondary is good and has playmakers, but depth is thin. The key to defensive improvement this season is stopping the run after they allowed 4.5 yards per carry last fall. Syracuse offers a real test in this regard on Saturday.
What are the odds that last year’s game at Rutgers gets rescheduled for a future season? It seems weird we haven’t heard anything there yet.
I agree it’s odd they haven’t addressed it. I would think Schiano wants to play the game. The current non-conference opponents for the next few years include former Big East foes Temple, Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia Tech. Former head coach Chris Ash made those scheduling deals but I have to imagine Schiano likes the idea of playing former conference opponents who they match up against a fair amount of time on the recruiting trail. Hopefully they figure out a way to play again after this season. The issue is when?
Rutgers plays BC and Temple already next season, so I can’t see them adding Syracuse also. They’re booked in 2023. They play at Virginia Tech in 2024 and nothing else yet, so my guess is they could set it for then as its a home game for Rutgers. See you in three years!
Speaking of the matchup in general, have you missed us? Know it’s been awhile since the last couple ugly games between these teams…
I’ve been a Rutgers fan since before they joined the Big East so I loved when they were part of the conference and played Syracuse in every sport. I’m dating myself, but my senior year at Rutgers was went they went 1-11 in 1999 with the lone win coming on a game winning field goal against… Syracuse. I don’t miss the days of playing you with Donovan McNabb and Marvin Harrison, but these two schools have had some good battles over the years.
I was also thrilled to play in hoops last season, although Rutgers totally screwed up the potential rematch in the Sweet 16. My question is how does Cole Swider expect to get any shots this season with the brothers Boeheim and Joe Girard in the backcourt? Whoops, wrong Q&A. I digress.
Share your honest take on the state of things at SU. From the outside looking in, did last year seem like a fluke or the beginning of the end of the Dino Babers era?
To be honest I’m not too in tune with what is going on with Syracuse but I can say I’m surprised they took such a step backwards last season. It was also a very weird year for every team due to COVID and I’m curious to see if any leveling out or balancing effect occurs this season in college football across the country. I suspect Syracuse isn’t as bad as last season’s record and Babers obviously had things working right for awhile. I do wonder if losing to Rutgers could mark the beginning of the end for him. Can’t imagine Syracuse fans will be happy if that happens, especially after losing to RU in hoops last seas…sorry I did it again.
Who’s an unsung Rutgers player or two that Syracuse fans should get more familiar with?
Bo Melton is a fantastic receiver who has really blossomed, but Shameen Jones is probably the best receiver in the red zone that Rutgers has. He had moments of greatness last season but played poorly in the season opener. I expect him to bounce back and he is momentum type player who if gets involved early could end up having a monster day.
On defense, defensive lineman Mike Tverdov and Julius Turner are workhorses who have the ability to be disruptive. Both are tough, experience players who are defensive anchors and will be very motivated for this game.
While he’s not really unsung because he’s made the Ray Guy Award Watch list for years in a row now, punter Adam Korsak is a true weapon. He pins opponents deep in their own territory time and time again. He hasn’t punted for a touchback since 2019. His ability to change the game for a positive for Rutgers is invaluable.
Any Orange player(s) you’re particularly concerned with?
Being that Tommy DeVito is from New Jersey and went to Don Bosco Prep, he is familiar to a lot of Rutgers players and will likely be extra motivated to play well. That certainly is a concern, as is his potential to find a groove in week two. The only relief is that he isn’t a running quarterback, as Rutgers always struggles against those types of players who can run out of trouble and make plays with their legs on the outside.
However, that brings us to Sean Tucker who certainly seems like a back who can give Rutgers a lot of trouble in this game. Hopefully he got the big game fits out of his system after Ohio last week.
I know it’s only one game, but Duce Chestnut worries me and is the type of player I could see being a nuisance the entire game. Also tremendous name.
What does Rutgers need to do to win this game? Conversely, what does Syracuse need to do to pull off a victory?
They need to minimize their own mistakes on the road by limiting turnovers and penalties. They have to keep their composure playing in a true road game in front of fans for the first time in two years. Falling behind by more than one score is something they need to avoid. Having sustained drives on offense is key as well.
Syracuse needs to limit the big plays of Rutgers and make them drive 80 yards on 14 plays to get touchdowns. Establishing the run game early in hopes of wearing down a talented but thin defensive line from a depth perspective later in the game is key. If Syracuse takes care of the football, it will eliminate any advantage Rutgers has in creating a short field for its offense. Special teams play has to be on point as Rutgers is excellent in all phases, including the return game with Aron Cruikshank.
Prediction time: How do you see this one turning out, and why?
I think it will be a relatively close game and whichever team can force turnovers in the second half will be in a good position to win the game. Rutgers has to generate a few big plays on offense and limit the Syracuse run game or I could actually see them losing by double digits. That being said, I think Rutgers is much improved under Schiano and expect them to throw the kitchen sink at DeVito from a coverage and blitzing standpoint. Special Teams will be a factor and I think Rutgers a clear edge in that area. After a slow first half with both teams feeling each other out, the game picks up in the third quarter and Rutgers makes a couple more plays than Syracuse to win the game 30-23.