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Rutgers vs. Army preview: Knights must get back to basics

rutgersarmy111012_optBY SAM HITCHCOCK
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY

During Rutgers’ bye week, the rest of college football experienced another Saturday filled with high scores. Really, really high scores.

USC suffered another defeat despite amassing 91 points and 1,233 yards on offense during a two-game losing streak. Troy University accrued 721 yards on offense, netting 48 points, but lost by a touchdown to Tennessee. In the Patriot League, Colgate and Lafayette combined scored 106 points. Harvard beat Columbia by 69 points.

College football teams are generating astronomical amounts of points, with teams getting progressively more pass-happy thanks to the cult-like following the spread offense and no-huddle have recently garnered.

This will not be the case today when Rutgers plays Army University at High Point Stadium.

Army runs the triple-option offense with an enumerate of options implemented so deliberately it could be a re-run on CSPAN. The Black Knights’ senior quarterback, Trent Steelman, receives the ball from center and runs right or left. He will look to give it to fullback Larry Dixon first, possibly pitch it to tailback Raymond Maples, or call his own number. Yes, football’s version of the Princeton Offense will be broadcast in color.

After Rutgers’ homecoming game gone awry against Kent State two weekends ago, this contest on home turf could be the shot in the arm the team needs to get back on track. They will be facing the most one-dimensional offense of the season. (Steelman has 61 pass attempts this year, 15 more than Rutgers’ Gary Nova attempted against Kent State.)

After KSU’ offensive line outmuscled the Knights’ front seven so badly inside and outside the tackles, Rutgers will have an opportunity to reassert itself as an aggressive, speedy, predatory defense. This calls for a big performance from the Knights’ leaders on defense: Khaseem Greene, Scott Vallone, Steve Beauharnais, and Jamal Merrell. All will need to be swarming, punishing ramparts on Saturday afternoon.

Offensively, feeding running back Jawan Jamison to reestablish the ground game will be a big priority for the Rutgers offense, but when they pass, they should look to take a page out of the playbook of the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator, Mike Tice.

Tice uses hulking wide receiver Brandon Marshall on plays in the red zone and on short yardage drag-slide routes. For the same reason, the Knights enjoy utilizing Brandon Coleman and Tim Wright on East-West passes for bubble screens (they have excellent size coupled with athleticism). Rutgers should allow their big targets to catch the ball in space when receiving short-to-intermediate throws from quarterback Nova. This will help open up the middle of the field.

Nova had a miserable game against Kent State with a lot of his interceptions coming through the middle. But he also has shown very good decision-making skills this season and has had a bye week to review his mistakes. If Rutgers can control the middle of the field in more capacities than an underneath pass to tight end D.C. Jefferson and a checkdown to Jamison, it will open up the perimeter for their big-play wideouts on the go route.

Considering how massive the Knights’ receivers are, the chances are very high on every go route for a) a long completion; b) a pass interference call; and c) having the receiving target knock down the off-target ball to prevent the turnover if the throw is poor.

After a startling reality check, Rutgers needs to get back to basics. This means controlling the line of scrimmage, attacking the ball, and moving the football along the ground. Kent State was able to exploit an offense that had become too mundane and predictable in its horizontal and across-the-middle passing, and the Scarlet Knights’ seven turnovers sealed their fate.

Today, Rutgers faces an offense whose strength (run offense) will be pitted against their strength (their front seven), and by sticking to the fundamentals that helped them reel off seven consecutive wins (wrapping up the ball-carrier on first contact should be a huge focal point), they can get back in the win column. How they execute, and what adjustments they have made after their bye week, will determine whether victory is achieved.

 

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