Rutgers Football: Game-By-Game Analysis of the Year Ahead

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Rutgers Football: Game-By-Game Analysis of the Year Ahead

 

DATE

OPPONENT

LOCATION

TV

TIME/RESULT

Monday, September 1

FRESNO STATE

Rutgers Stadium

ESPN

4:00 PM

Thursday, September 11

NORTH CAROLINA

Rutgers Stadium

ESPN

7:30 PM

Saturday, September 20

Navy

Annapolis, Md.

CBS CSN

3:30 PM

Saturday, September 27

MORGAN STATE

Rutgers Stadium

 

 

Saturday, October 4

West Virginia

Morgantown, WVa.

 

12:00 PM

Saturday, October 11

Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio

 

 

Saturday, October 18

CONNECTICUT Homecoming

Rutgers Stadium

 

 

Saturday, October 25

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, Pa.

 

 

Saturday, November 8

SYRACUSE

Rutgers Stadium

 

 

Saturday, November 15

South Florida

Tampa, Fla.

 

 

Saturday, November 22

ARMY

Rutgers Stadium

 

 

Thursday, December 4

LOUISVILLE

Rutgers Stadium

ESPN

7:30 PM

 

 

Monday, Sep. 1 vs. Fresno State

 

Right off the bat, high octane offenses will be on display for Labor Day.  A Fresno State team that is included in many preseason Top 25 lists strolls into Rutgers Stadium.  Keep an eye on the two quarterbacks, Mike Teel of Rutgers and Tom Brandstater of Fresno State (both are on the Davey O’Brien Award watch list), as the tempo they set could decide the outcome of the game.

 

Rutgers needs to stay out of a shootout here but force Fresno into a passing game at the same time.  The Bulldogs averaged 32.8 points per game last season, but they got 210 yards per game on the ground versus 209 through the air.  They didn’t put a receiver over the 700-yard mark, while Rutgers had Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood over 1,000 yards.

 

Ryan Matthews is the man to watch out for on the ground for Fresno as he racked up 866 yards and 14 touchdowns.  RU fans may scoff at the total, as Ray Rice ran for 2,000-plus yards and 20 touchdowns last year, but Fresno had three other backs over 440 yards, so the threats are balanced.

 

Turn the game into a secondary battle, and Greene, Lee, and Lefeged will win the game for RU in a close one on a holiday in Piscataway.

 

RU 35, Fresno 28

 

 

 

Thursday, Sep. 11 vs. North Carolina

 

I’d imagine that there will be something special planned for this game in the tri-state area on the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington.  Hopefully there are some dignitaries in attendance to honor America and see a Thursday night game at RU (I hear they have a good track record in those…ha ha).

 

This is a very young Tar Heels team that is much different from the squad that Rutgers took on two days before Labor Day in 2006.  The Scarlet Knights won that day, 21-16, in Chapel Hill, with two interceptions from Manny Collins and three TDs from Baltimore Raven RB Ray Rice, commencing their magical 9-0 start to an 11-2 season.

 

Joe Dailey started the game at QB for UNC in 2006, but injuries hampered him last year before graduation.  T.J. Yates saw the lion’s share of the action at the helm for UNC in 2007.  He threw for 2,600-plus yards and 14 touchdowns and played in all 12 games.

 

The deep threat is WR Hakeem Nicks, who nearly reached the 1,000-yard plateau (958) on 74 catches with five touchdowns. 

 

On defense, the Tar Heels had 34 sacks last year, so this will be a true test for the young Rutgers O-line.  Anthony Davis needs to have a big game against a very strong UNC defensive front.

 

Overall, UNC was outscored last season by three points per game—not a winning formula.  They ran for less than 100 yards per game.  Make them run, pressure a young quarterback, and put this game in the 30s.

 

Rutgers 30, UNC 17

 

 

 

Saturday, Sep. 20 @ Navy

 

The Scarlet Knights’ first Saturday game of 2008 (oh, how college football has changed), and their first road tilt comes in Annapolis against a completely revamped Navy Midshipmen squad.  Paul Johnson has left and there is a new head man at the Academy—Ken Niumatalolo

 

The announcer’s nightmare, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, will run the triple-option (or so we think it’ll stay that way on offense) as he has since the last time Rutgers faced Navy in Annapolis.  It was in the first half of that October 2006 game that RU defensive lineman Ramel Meekins tackled QB Brian Hampton, dislocating his knee and tearing his ACL

 

RU remembers that game fondly—a 34-0 shutout win in the midst of their hottest streak of ’06.

 

Kaheaku-Enhada is also on the O’Brien watch list along with Teel

 

Navy loses a big all-purpose option in Reggie Campbell to graduation and one of their best fullbacks ever in Adam Ballard.  That is a huge hit that can’t be underestimated.  Navy allowed 36.4 points per game last year and surely needs defensive help as coaching regimes switch.

 

The Midshipmen gained over 4,700 yards on the ground last year and only a bit over 1,200 through the air—so maybe Kaheaku-Enhada will have a bit more freedom with a new coach and without his best two rushing options.  He’s pretty mobile too.

 

The Scarlet Knights will hope to not revert back to the form of their game in Annapolis in 2004, in which a pre-game snafu lead to Navy exploding for 54 points.

 

RU 27, Navy 17

 

 

 

Saturday, Sep. 27 vs. Morgan St.

 

Oh boy…another game against an FCS MEAC squad.  I’m overjoyed.  Morgan St. will surely join the ranks of Howard and Norfolk St., who suffered severe beatings in Piscataway against coasting RU squads.

 

These games aren’t pretty, as evidenced by last year's matchup, when Rutgers scored 42 points in about 90 seconds of game time in the second quarter alone against the Spartans of Norfolk.

 

Donald Hill-Eley sure has a lot on his plate when it comes to preparing for this game, but he can take solace in the fact that his squad, which finished 5-6 last season, will get to face Big East talent.  However, he graduated Chad Simpson and his 1,400 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns from a team that ran for 200 yards a game. 

 

Rutgers needs to play their game.  This is a bad game to have before a trip to Morgantown.

 

RU 42, Morgan St. 7

 

 

 

Saturday, Oct. 4 @ West Virginia

 

Quick trivia—name the last time Rutgers beat West Virginia in football.  The answer: Sep. 10, 1994, a 17-12 win in the second game of the first year of the “new” Rutgers Stadium.  I’m pretty sure Marco Battaglia caught some passes in that game.

 

Case in point, it has been a very long time since RU gave the Mountaineers a loss.

 

For those that follow Big East football, you know a lot about WVU.  They return senior dual-threat quarterback Pat White in the same backfield with sophomore sensation Noel Devine.  They lost RB Steve Slaton to the NFL Draft, but Devine is as good of a replacement as they come. 

 

The RU linebackers need to be up for this game.  Ryan D’Imperio, Kevin Malast, Manny Abreu, and maybe even Eric LeGrand all need to be on their “A” game spying White and keeping this offensive attack at bay. 

 

Bill Stewart takes over for the somewhat maligned Rich Rodriguez, and Morgantown will be very rowdy for the Big East opener.  At least the WVU students will have to get up very early to be in their usual state of mind.

 

WVU 21, Rutgers 17

 

 

 

Saturday, Oct. 11 @ Cincinnati

 

Let’s cut to the chase: Revenge will play a huge role in this game.  The last time Rutgers entered Nippert Stadium, they left with their first loss after nine straight wins to start 2006.  Last year, Ben Mauk led the charge to defeat RU in Piscataway.

 

Mauk was denied a sixth year by the NCAA, thus handing over the QB reins to Dustin Grutza for ’08.

 

The Bearcats’ wide receivers owned the Scarlet Knights last year.  Marshawn Gilyard and Marcus Barnett each scored a touchdown against a depleted RU secondary last year, so RU needs to step it up there.

 

It will be Homecoming weekend in southern Ohio, which somewhat baffles me.  I thought the days of RU playing at other teams’ homecomings had ended.

 

If Rutgers can run the ball well, they can win.  Ray Rice couldn’t get anything going last year against Cincy, largely because the left side of the O-line didn’t produce in the game.  Anthony Davis is once again put under the microscope as a sophomore.

 

Rutgers 24, Cincinnati 21

 

 

 

Saturday, Oct. 18 vs. Connecticut (Homecoming)

 

I love this decision to make UConn (a geographic rival) the homecoming game.  By a stroke of luck, it is the one-year anniversary of Rutgers' win over No. 2 South Florida. 

 

Special teams killed Rutgers in their loss at “The Rent” last year, but the news of WR Terrence Jeffers' recent departure to Vanderbilt is a welcome sight.  His touchdown set the tone for the Huskies and put the Scarlet Knights on their heels. 

 

Listen, there is one key to this game: Donald Brown.  The RB has torched RU in back to back years—199 yards in 2006 followed up by 154 yards in 2007.  Stop him, and Rutgers will succeed.

 

I just don’t know if Randy Edsall’s superb coaching can pull it off one more time (although I do remember 20-19 at Rutgers Stadium a few years back—but that’s ancient history).

 

Rutgers 30, UConn 20

 

 

 

Saturday, Oct. 25 @ Pitt

 

I don’t know how Dave Wannstedt does it.  He simply knows how to recruit.  Everyone is high on the Panthers this year—and trust me, I’m a believer.

 

Rutgers fans saw firsthand last year how much Pittsburgh has improved, and the Panthers may have won the game had it not been for a questionable offensive pass interference call on Senior Day. 

 

RB LeSean McCoy and LB Scott McKillop are two surefire All-American candidates, and both have extreme talents on their respective sides of the ball.  RU did a solid job containing McCoy last year, but McKillop got to Teel quite a few times on one of RU’s worst offensive days, yet best defensively. 

 

QB will be interesting to see for Pitt, who like UNC was outscored by opponents.  At only 178 yards per game through the air, youthful returnees Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith will battle it out with Bill Stull who is coming off an injury. 

 

1,328 yards and 14 touchdowns come back with LeSean McCoy as well.  The last time RU ventured to Heinz Field, it was the wake-up game for the nation as Ray Rice sent RU to 7-0.  I don’t know if RU will be able to hold down McCoy again.

 

Pitt 24, Rutgers 23

 

 

 

Saturday, Nov. 8 vs. Syracuse

 

After a week off, RU will return fresh to Rutgers Stadium to take on a floundering Syracuse program that has faced so many issues this offseason.

 

Head coach Greg Robinson announced that wide receiver Mike Williams had been dismissed for not completing out-of-school credits that were required of him.  Now conflicting media reports may have him back on the team.  Their other deep threat, Taj Smith, declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft and was not drafted.    

 

Andrew Robinson continues his steady improvement at quarterback, but he’ll be looking to his blind side for Joe Lefeged all day long after last year’s hit left him dizzy and his coach upset.  The Orange simply don’t have enough talent right now.

 

Rutgers 30, Syracuse 10

 

 

 

Saturday, Nov. 15 @ South Florida

 

Speaking of revenge…the Bulls really want to beat the Scarlet Knights.  The 22-20 win in Tampa in 2006 after Jason McCourty’s two-point breakup and last year’s upset in Piscataway have USF yearning for a shot at the gridiron boys from Jersey. 

 

QB Matt Grothe is a constant threat to run and throw and is seen as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks out there.  His speed and innovation make him fun to watch.

 

Ray Rice tore up USF’s defense in two straight years and was the only running back to break the 100-yard plateau against the Bulls during that time (he broke 200 in 2006). 

 

Jim Leavitt is a great coach, and Mike Ford is a load to bring down as a 6’2", 225lb. running back.  Watch out for the Bulls in 2009, but this time the Scarlet Knights make it three in a row against the second-best team in Florida.

 

Rutgers 28, USF 24

 

 

 

Saturday, Nov. 22 vs. Army

 

This is a series that needs to end soon, as it has become a little too one-sided.  Navy gives Rutgers troubles, but Army just doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up.

 

Army lost defensive back Caleb Campbell to the NFL (he is a class act who I got to talk to at length at the NFL Draft) and will have trouble staying with RU period.  This game deserves about as much analysis as Morgan St., but I will say that I 100 percent respect and love all of our troops for the work they do. 

 

Army was outscored on average by a score of 30-17 last season…not good.

 

Rutgers 37, Army 3

 

 

 

Thursday, Dec. 4 vs. Louisville (Senior Day)

 

This will be Louisville’s first time back at Rutgers Stadium since the infamous program-changing night of Nov. 9, 2006. 

 

Rutgers let up late in the game in Kentucky last year and really got overly relaxed on defense, leading to their demise.  If Teel can connect with Underwood and Britt over the top again, this could be a big win for RU.

 

The Cardinals lost a lot of firepower in QB Brian Brohm, WR Harry Douglas, and WR Mario Urrutia.

 

There have also been a few legal problems for Steve Kragthorpe’s team in the offseason, so we will see how those are dealt with as the season approaches. 

 

QB Hunter Cantwell will need to pick up where Brohm left off—and that’s as hard as it gets.  Plus, it will be COLD in NJ on Dec. 4.

 

Rutgers 28, Louisville 14

 

 

 

Final Projected Record: 10-2

 

Swing Games: @ USF, @ Cincy

 

I think 9-3 or 8-4 is very possible as well, but we shall see.  If they do finish at 10-2, the BCS or Gator Bowl is possible.

 

Otherwise, the new Big East bowl tie-ins will be in order for this year.

 

On to September 1 in Piscataway—Rutgers football will be underway before you know it.

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