Before each Minnesota football game, GopherIllustrated will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Rutgers beat writer Sam Hellman of the ScarletReport.com (Piscataway, New Jersey) to preview the Gophers' Week 8 home game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
1) Rutgers started off the year strong with two victories in their first three games, but has come back down to earth last week since the Big Ten started as they've lost all four Big Ten games with a combined score of 174-14. What's going wrong with the Scarlet Knights right now?
SH: Well the main difference between Rutgers and Maryland is the schedule. Rutgers played three top-five teams already. The other difference is that Maryland inherited a pretty talented roster. Rutgers was at bare bones after multiple years of poor recruiting and attrition. Maryland isn't a total rebuild. Rutgers is. Does a total rebuild mean that a team should be losing 78-0? Of course not.
2) It appears Rutgers will be starting a new quarterback this weekend in junior signal caller Giovanni Rescigno. What are his strengths and weaknesses, and how do you expect the offense to change this weekend?
SH: Rescigno is a mobile quarterback. He's a powerful runner that has a lot of development to do in the passing game. He can throw but not nearly as well or consistently as some other options. It's a change that had to be made. Too much of the Rutgers offense is about read-option and quarterback runs to use a quarterback that can't run. Rescigno brings a spark, and that's how I expect the offense. to change. There's going to be more juice.
3) With Janarion Grant out for the season with an ankle injury, who are some playmakers on Rutgers' offense for this Minnesota defense to be keeping an eye on Saturday?
SH: There really aren't any, that's the issue. Rutgers has a few guys to watch but no one that will keep a defensive coordinator awake at night. Running back Robert Martin is a legitimate Big Ten back but he fumbled last week and hasn't been as impactful over the last month. Red-shirt freshman Jawuan Harris replaced Grant with most responsibilities. He's a dangerously fast guy (led Big Ten baseball in stolen bases) but he isn't as strong or balanced as Grant.
4) On defense, Rutgers defenders Odrick Pinnix and Blessuan Austin look like two players to watch. What are their games like and who are some other names to watch for on defense for Rutgers?
SH: They're two of Rutgers' better individual performers right now. Julian Pinnix-Odrick is a powerful defensive end. He has enough experience as a 3-technique that he does very well against the run now that he's back on the edge. He isn't a dynamic pass rusher (Rutgers doesn't really have one) but he's consistent and moves well. Austin put up two straight strong performances after Ohio State picked on him a few weeks ago. Cornerback was Rutgers' biggest on-field weakness last season and it's now one of the team's strengths. Austin and fellow starter Isaiah Wharton looked like they belonged against top offenses, and true freshman Damon Hayes has been a solid guy in subpackages.
5) What are the keys for Rutgers if they're going to beat the Gophers on the road, and what's your score prediction for the Rutgers vs. Minnesota game, and why?
SH: A spark isn't enough from new quarterback Giovanni Rescigno. Rescigno needs to start a five-alarm fire. Minnesota won't know what to expect from him outside of a few drives last week and useless high-school film, so Rescigno has to catch them off balance and light up the offense, which has been downright bad the last month. Rutgers should be OK defensively against Minnesota as long as it tackles better and pursues better at linebacker. I don't see Rutgers having enough to steal an upset here but it should be a better product than the last few games.
Prediction: Give me Minnesota for the win 35-17.