Like most teams, Rutgers will probably go as their quarterback goes.
Senior quarterback Gary Nova is an athletic, drop-back guy with good size who throws a nice ball. He's got a smooth, easy release with plenty of touch and strength. He just makes bad decisions sometimes. When he avoids those, he's pretty good. Nova can fit the ball into a small window, but that doesn't always mean it goes to the right guy.
Nova has a few nice weapons to throw to with the top pass catchers so far being Leonte Carroo and Janarion Grant. Meanwhile, could Andrew Turzilli be the Knights' answer to Devin Smith? He has three touchdowns on only six catches this season, including a 93-yarder against Tulane. He averages both 46.0 yards per game and 46.0 yards per catch, which is pretty insane if you think about it. Carroo and Turzilli, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Kansas, are both big targets who can run while Grant is a classic slot receiver who can make people miss. Grant is also a dangerous return man.
The running game began the season with a great one-two punch in Paul James and Desmond Peoples, but James is out for the season with a knee injury. Peoples is a waterbug type with surprising power, kind of a poor man's Warrick Dunn. He can run between the tackles but is more dangerous in space. They moved Justin Goodwin (6-0, 200) back to running back after James was injured, and he has done well in flashes.
The offensive line is a veteran unit that appears to be playing much better than last season, when it was a liability. They would like to have a strong downhill running game and impose their will on people, but losing James has hindered that ability somewhat.
Without a grinder at tailback, they rely mostly on big plays offensively. It is a pretty classic pro-style approach of pound, pound then go over the top. The rubber often meets the road on third down when things fall back on Nova and the receivers to make something happen. I would expect they will drop Nova back and look to attack down the field, so Ohio State should have some chances to get after him, but they will also likely keep extra guys in for protection, so it will be interesting to see how much pass rush the Buckeyes generate. Michigan had some success with stunts.
Defensively, I would look for Rutgers to try to follow the lead of past Ohio State opponents and load the box and force the Buckeyes to throw. I think this is what they want to do anyway.
They showed some funky looks to Michigan and played a lot of man coverage. They still gave up 158 yards rushing, though. Their aggressive scheme also gave Devin Gardner room to run for a 19-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter when he broke contain and there was no one to clean up, so watch for J.T. Barrett to have a chance to hurt them if he scrambles.
Turay is not a starter, but he has 5.5 sacks as a reserve thanks to his sick athleticism at 6-6, 235. He also blocked a field goal against Michigan just by jumping straight up in the air and putting up an arm. The ball hit him in the forearm, and it didn't look like a kick that was on an unusually low trajectory. Hamilton (6-4, 255) draws a lot of attention at three-technique and can also get in the backfield (6.0 TFL/3.5 sacks), although he was nearly invisible against Michigan.
Gause is the SLB and had two tackles for loss against Michigan to give him five on the season. He's a good-looking athlete who shows the ability to close distance in space.
Waters plays a very aggressive strong safety and also really passes the look test at 6-0, 195. Very athletic. He is third on the team in tackles with 31, including four for loss and two sacks. He really plays downhill. Watch out for him.
The secondary was terrible last year according to the numbers, and it doesn't appear much better this year, but they could present some problems in protection with their athletes up front and their variety of different looks.
I referenced Football Outsiders numbers in this week's column and thought it would be worth going deeper into them here.
Those numbers get more valuable as the season goes on and more data is accumulated, so I don't put much stock in them early in the season.
At this point, the offensive S&P+ has Rutgers 33rd overall. That's a figure that combines success rate and explosiveness to somewhat equate OPS in baseball. It's a nice number, but I really prefer to look a little deeper in these numbers to see how teams are playing in more specific situations. The Scarlet Knights' rating comes from having a top 20 passing game (18th) with a solid running game (45th). They've been better on standard downs (30th) than passing downs (47th) offensively.
Defensively, Rutgers is just slightly above average overall at 58th in S&P+, but more specifically the Scarlet Knights have continued to struggle against the pass (85th) and on passing downs (104). They have been better against the run (52nd) and above average on standard downs (40th). They tend to give up many more explosive drives than methodical ones, owing to their style of play.
I think when you get down to it, they just don't have the players at this point to hold up in the secondary, but what they do is somewhat effective at least at getting teams to attack them in certain ways.
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