At a glance, it would seem that Rutgers is over-matched by a physically bigger, stronger and faster Pitt team. However, the Knights can win in Pittsburgh if Greg Schiano and the coaching staff can get some things righted this week.
First, it is worth noting that recent history has been on the side of Rutgers. They have won four of the last five meetings with Pitt, including the last trip they made to Pittsburgh in 2008.
That Rutgers team had a record of 2-5 and was coming off a 12-10 win over UConn. They faced a ranked Pitt team who was again physically superior to them. Rutgers got their deep passing game going in that game, en route to scoring 54 points in the win over Pitt.
Similar to the 2010 Knights offense, that 2008 offense also struggled protecting its passer, running the ball and scoring points up to that point in the season.
The first thing Rutgers must correct is offensive line play, particularly protecting the passer. Chas Dodd took eight sacks last week against Army, a team not noted for an overwhelming pass rush.
Dave Wannstedt loves to drop seven in coverage and to get pressure using the front four. Though the tendencies say he has blitzed more this season, the defensive line is still the preferred way of getting pressure for Wannstedt and the Pitt Panthers.
This is a particularly scary proposition for the Knights, as the offensive line has struggled and given Dodd or Savage little time to throw the ball.
The Knights must be able to protect the passer against the front four and force the blitz. If they do force the blitz, Rutgers needs to do a better job identifying the blitzers to protect Dodd this Saturday. Schiano has stated that he isn't sure if it is a schematic problem, or if players are simply missing assignments.
One weapon R.U. had found to slow down the blitz is senior running back Kordell Young. Once a promising young RB, Young has worked hard to make himself an option on third down. The senior has good hands and good timing, finding open spots as an outlet for Dodd.
Last week, Dodd found him for a key first down and on a quick out for a touchdown against Army.
The Rutgers offensive line has also struggled opening holes in the running game for straight-ahead runs and the Wildcat package. Late in the game against Army, the line looked as good as it has looked all season opening holes in the running game.
Although they have struggled with false starts and need to get that corrected, history does suggest that Rutgers teams under Schiano have gotten the line to play better as the season reaches about this point—Big East play.
The Rutgers defense should be able to keep the Knights in the game. Though the Knights surrendered 17 first-half points against Army, they once again pitched the second-half shutout until the Black Knights kicked an overtime field goal.
The Knights defend the traditional run game well, but will have their hands full this week.
They will face arguably the Big East's most talented duo of running backs with last year's freshman sensation Dion Lewis now the second back to Ray Graham, the back who was supposed to be the star last year.
Against Rutgers last season, Lewis torched the Knights for 180 yards and two touchdowns. He is unlikely to see the same 31-carry workload he had in that game this Saturday due to Graham's emergence.
The Panthers are also a threat to throw the ball with talented receivers Jon Baldwin and Mike Shanahan in the fold.
The Knights cannot afford to give up big plays as they simply do not have the offense that is dynamic enough to keep up—particularly with a banged up Mohamed Sanu, who hopes to play Saturday.
They will struggle on offense but cannot afford disastrous plays, as their young quarterback makes his first real road start in hostile territory.
I think the Knights can keep it close with their style of play, but can they make enough plays to win the game?
A lot of that will depend on how Dodd reacts when faced with adversity and the progress of the offensive line. If they can protect Dodd effectively and Dodd is not overwhelmed by the circumstances, the Knights have a great chance on Saturday.
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