Here's the scouting report ahead of Arkansas' trip to Piscataway, N.J., to play Rutgers, as provided by ScarletReport.com publisher Sam Hellman for Hawgs Illustrated.
Offense – The Rutgers offense is completely dependent on the health of Gary Nova. Nova, whom Arkansas fans remember from his five touchdowns in last year's upset, suffered a concussion Saturday. He is listed as probable on the injury report, but it can really go either way. He practiced Tuesday in a limited role, but was not available for interviews.
If Nova plays, Rutgers brings a multi-dimensional offensive attack that is significantly more potent than last year. Nova has cut down on turnovers and has better receiving weapons. Junior receiver Brandon Coleman is an NFL draft prospect at 6-foot-6 with 4.4 speed. Coleman has sub-par ball skills but is a major deep threat. Sophomore Leonte Carroo only played special teams last year but is emerging as the most complete option in terms of first downs, hands and big-play ability. He and Nova are from the same high school and won two state titles together. Without Nova, backup Chas Dodd changes the dynamic of the game. Dodd is right around 6-foot and has problems with holding the ball too long and taking sacks. Dodd was rusty and inaccurate last week, completing 44 percent of his passes.
Running back Paul James leads the NCAA in rushing yards. He came to Rutgers as a walk-on, but beat out former five-star recruit Savon Huggins for the starting job. James does not have elite speed but he breaks tackles and can make people miss. The offensive line features two starts from last year's Arkansas game and has new faces at left tackle, right guard and right tackle. Rutgers has strength in run blocking that is improved from 2012, but the athleticism of SEC defensive ends will likely give left tackle Keith Lumpkin troubles in his first real test. An understated storyline for Rutgers is the health of starting center Betim Bujari. Bujari missed the last game with an injury, but is crucial to what the Rutgers offense does to be successful. He is probable for Arkansas, but any set-backs in his health this week make for a major setback on game day.
Defense – The Rutgers front seven is missing outside linebacker and team captain Jamal Merrell, which is the first concern. Rutgers is very strong against the run, but runs into trouble when players get to the second level. Rutgers rotates six to eight defensive linemen with senior Marcus Thompson and sophomore Darius Hamilton as the playmakers. Thompson plays a hybrid position and can also drop back into coverage against halfbacks and tight ends.
Without Merrell, strongside linebacker becomes a weakspot with an inexperienced tackler filling in. Tackling in the defensive secondary was the biggest issue when the Scarlet Knights gave up 52 points to Fresno State in the first week. Rutgers lost five of its best six defensive backs to the NFL and the inexperience filling in could have tackling issues in 1-on-1 situations in the run game. Lewis Toler and Ian Thomas project as the starting cornerbacks for the game. Toler is a fifth-year transfer from Western Michigan that is a sure tackler. Thomas is a converted receiver and did not tackle well in the opener against Fresno State, which is the same story for the corners behind him.
In coverage, Rutgers gave up career days to Fresno quarterback Derek Carr and Eastern Michigan quarterback Tyler Benz. Rutgers has a new defensive coordinator in Dave Cohen, whose scheme focused on giving up small plays to prevent the big ones. It worked against EMU, but can be a concern with better athletes like the ones Arkansas has on the roster.
Special Teams – Rutgers takes special teams very, very seriously. Look for at least on big play on special teams and if that doesn't happen, then Arkansas has an advantage. Rutgers leads the country in blocked kicks (by a significant margin) over the last five years. They will go after every Arkansas punt the entire game. In the return game, starting kick returner Jeremy Deering has a foot injury but his two backups – Janarion Grant and Quron Pratt – have 100- and 99-yard touchdown returns this season. Grant also returns punts, where he muffed two against Fresno State.
Other notes – In terms of environment, this is "the game" for Rutgers fans this year with the two biggest conference games taking place on the road. High Point Solutions Stadium only holds 52,000, but can get rowdy with it being a "blackout" game for the student section. Rutgers is coming off an emotional high in retiring Eric LeGrand's number.
Rutgers Scouting Report
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Arkansas On Game Days | Tailgate TravelsAs much fun as it is being at an Arkansas football game, the pregame can be just as enjoyable, especially if you have an RV. Head out to Fayetteville to see what makes the…
Scout 2017 Rankings DirectoryThe Scout positional, state, regional, national and team rankings for the Class of 2017...
Scout FootballMonday at 7:00 AM
Bowl Game Matchups: Who's Going Where?Here's a look at the postseason lineup for 2016.
Missouri-Arkansas By The NumbersMissouri (3-8, 1-6) hosts Arkansas (7-4, 3-4) in a Southeastern Conference contest on Friday afternoon.
Black & Gold Illustrated11/21/2016