As is the case with Maryland and to a certain extent Penn State, Rutgers is a team that seems to be worse than the sum of its parts.
While there are other teams in the Big Ten (we’ll let them be anonymous for now) that aren’t very good because they are bereft of talent (and some that are able to win games in spite of that lack), the Scarlet Knights have a handful of really big-time talents who could play for a lot of teams in the country.
They seem to fall short in terms of how they fill in the cracks between those guys, though.
Of course, the biggest name and the biggest game belong to Leonte Carroo, the senior wide receiver who has had crazy production this year despite being out of the lineup about half the time for disciplinary reasons.
He missed the end of Rutgers’ crazy comeback win over Indiana last week but said he would be able to come back against Ohio State. Let’s assume he is correct.
At 6-1, 215, Carroo is very well put together and has plenty of speed. He could be a clone of Michael Thomas, actually. Very polished, very hard to cover. Very dangerous all over the field. Aside from Carroo, Andre Patton and Carlton Agudosi have flashed some big-play ability but not been consistent. Janarion Grant, who is also questionable with an injury, is a slippery slot receiver who can carry the ball and is among the best return men in the country.
Rutgers is deepest at running back, where the Scarlet Knights have three players with at least 48 carries who are averaging at least 5.4 yards per attempt. Senior Paul James and sophomores Robert Martin and Josh Hicks are all fairly similar backs who can run between the tackles but have some burst and vision. James has started every game after losing most of last season to a knee injury, but he’s not been used as much as Martin and Hicks. None of them are burners, but they can all make explosive plays (if not go the distance) and exploit creases created by the offensive line that is pedestrian at best.
The line is not overpowering, but it can at times do enough to get the backs going. Rutgers has been pretty good in short-yardage situations this season, and they have a lot of tight ends and fullbacks that give them the flexibility to load up the running game if they want to. Twice against Indiana they popped touchdown runs out of heavy sets with the defense concentrated in the middle.
Pass protection has been pretty solid, but I don’t think they are going to leave the offensive line alone much.
First-year starter Chris Laviano is having a very solid year for the Scarlet Knights. He runs the play-action game pretty well and throws a nice ball. He can go deep and gives his receivers a chance to make plays. Not a plus arm but accurate enough. He’s thrown six interceptions in 5.5 games, including one against Indiana that was on a tipped ball but also a bad decision under pressure.
Laviano threw three touchdown passes without an interception against Michigan State (whose secondary was in tatters), helping keep that game close until he unfortunately spiked the ball on fourth down to end the game.
The Spartans mostly stoned the Rutgers running game other than a 72-yarder by James, and a long pass play was key in their first touchdown drive while the other two TDs came on passes of 28 and 39 yards to Carroo. However, the Knights did mount a 91-yard field goal drive that was pretty methodical so it wasn’t totally feast or famine (just mostly). That drive also included a 26-yard pass to (guess who) Carroo.
So Rutgers has a very functional quarterback with a big-play receiver and can lean on a team if it is able to hang around even if the Knights’ running game isn’t strong enough on a play-by-play basis to dictate the action.
I would say Rutgers would have the type of offense to make it dangerous if the defense were good. It is far from that, though.
Rutgers has a lot of problems in coverage and can’t rush the passer without blitzing.
They blitzed Michigan State heavily with some success, managing to keep the Spartans off schedule and bother Connor Cook at times. He countered by putting the ball up to his receivers for 50/50 balls they more often than not came down with.
Curiously, they didn’t blitz Indiana as much until their comeback began, and then it helped them create a couple of turnovers that were key to winning.
Against Indiana’s spread offense there were more creases to run than there were for Michigan State as those blitzes were often on early downs and created problems for the patchwork Spartans’ front.
Rutgers has two very good linebackers in Steve Longa and Quentin Gause. Longa suffered some sort of injury early in the Indiana game but kept playing anyway. He’s been listed as probably for this week. They are both athletic, physical players who are around the ball a lot and tackle well.
The defensive line is pretty short on playmakers, but sophomore nose tackle Sebastian Joseph has shown some some potential with Darius Hamilton out for the year. Huge things are expected of Kemoko Turay, but he’s not starting and has had very little impact this season. He’s an amazing athlete so Ohio State will have to aware of him to make sure his expected breakout comes against someone else.
In the secondary they are very young but junior safety Anthony Cioffi seems to have some playmaker in him. He’s got three interceptions and will come up and make a tackle.
Ohio State should run roughshod over the Rutgers defense, but the Scarlet Knights could do what some opponents did particularly early in the season and throw a lot of different things at the Buckeyes’ front and hope for the best.
The Ohio State defense will get a solid test as Rutgers brings a much more balanced offense than last week’s opponent, but unlike Penn State, the Scarlet Knights' biggest playmaker is at receiver.