Coming off an excruciating loss a week ago to South Florida, the Scarlet Knights will look to climb out of the Big East basement when they host Syracuse on Saturday at 3:30.
Rutgers returns home for the first time in over a month having last played a game at Rutgers Stadium on October 8th against UConn.
In that game, the Knights came from behind to beat the Huskies on a last-minute field goal by San San Te. The win at that point gave the Knights a 1-0 Big East record. They have since dropped back-to-back Big East contests, setting the Knights back to a .500 overall record and 1-2 in Big East play.
They face the reality of possibly not going to a bowl game for the first time since 2005. A win Saturday would go a long way to avoiding that fate.
A win however won't be easy to come by for Greg Schiano's team against an upstart Syracuse squad who had been playing very solid football before falling to Louisville at home last week 28-20.
There is no love lost between these two teams. The two programs seem obsessed with each other. In 2008, then Syracuse coach Greg Robinson called Rutgers, "one year wonders", and promised to "recruit their tails off".
Rutgers appeared to have the former 'Cuse coach eating his words as he was summarily fired later that season, and the Scarlet Knights were in the process of defeating Syracuse for the fourth straight time.
In fact, Greg Robinson was in a way largely responsible for Rutgers emergence. When he replaced the fired Paul Pasqualoni, Ray Rice de-commited from S.U. and the rest became history.
However, that all changed in 2009: Doug Marrone replaced Robinson as head coach, and the Orange upset Rutgers late in the season 31-13.
This season, Syracuse is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. They are one win from being bowl eligible for the first time since 2004, and Rutgers is on the other end of the totem pole with a .500 record.
This Orange team presents unique challenges to a Rutgers team that is seeking an identity this season. In the four games Rutgers has won, the team has had to come from behind in three of them.
Their only "dominating" win, was a 31-0 defeat of FCS Norfolk State. That game, however, was just 6-0 at the half in favor of R.U.
The team is working through a quarterback controversy, offensive-line issues, and plenty of criticism of personnel and in-game coaching decisions.
The Knights have struggled against the pass this season, and quarterback Ryan Nassib has the ability to take advantage. He comes into the game having thrown 15 touchdown passes and only five interceptions.
WRs Van Chew, Alec Lemon, and Nick Provo each average over 10 yards a catch, and will pose problems for a Rutgers' secondary that has failed to record an interception since the Connecticut game.
The front four have struggled to generate a pass-rush all year. When they have gotten through, misdirection plays like the quick-shovel USF utilized last week or mobile quarterbacks like Daniels of USF have presented serious problems. Nassib is not quite as explosive as Daniels, but on occasion has shown the ability to take off. You can be sure he has studied game film and will be ready to take advantage of these openings.
Lately, Rutgers has struggled against the conventional run as Pitt's dynamic duo tore R.U. apart. and USF's Moise Plancher went for 135 on the ground against the Knights last week.
Syracuse's Delone Carter is an NFL-caliber back, and you can almost pen 100+ yards on the ground along with at-least one game-changing run in the game.
Part of the defensive problem has been Rutgers' inability to sustain offense. Last week, the Knights showed some signs of being able to adjust to personnel shortcomings to get some offense going.
They utilized Jeremy Deering in the Wildcat look, and some quick screens and short passes to move the ball without forcing the underwhelming R.U. line to sustain blocks.
The Knights should be able to do similar things this week to slow down the Syracuse pass-rush, and reduce the number of disastrous plays like sacks and tackles for loss that have killed R.U. this season.
The question is: Can the Knights score enough to stay with 'Cuse and make the key defensive stops they'll need?
As with most Rutgers' home games, I'm betting it will be close. Chas Dodd gets the call to start as of now, but Schiano hinted that Savage may have a chance to beat him out over the course of the week in practice. Whoever plays will have the chance to pull it out in the end.
It should be a classic Big East battle on Saturday.
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