Preview: North Carolina at Rutgers

After a bye week, Rutgers returns to the field to face North Carolina in huge game for both sides. Rutgers (2-0) can make people notice with a win, and the Tar Heels (0-2) can right their season after a slow start amid an NCAA investigation and a horde of suspensions. ScarletReport.com continues its "Kickoff Primer" package with a preview of Saturday's game.

North Carolina (0-2) vs. Rutgers (2-0)


Time: 3:30 p.m., Rutgers Stadium
TV/Radio:ESPNU/710-AM, 1450-AM
Series: Rutgers leads, 3-1
Last meeting: Sept. 11, 2008: North Carolina 44, Rutgers 12
Coaches: Rutgers –Greg Schiano (10th season, 53-51); North Carolina – Butch Davis 20-20, fourth season, 71-40 10th overall)

Storylines

  • Rutgers won its first two games, but this is the first true test. Despite a defensive ravaged by injuries, North Carolina is extremely talented. If Rutgers wins this game, it could foreshadow what could happen in a wide open (and mediocre) Big East Conference.

  • Can Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage fix what ails him, mainly his accuracy and his decision-making in throwing the ball down the field? He has heard about it for two weeks.

  • Suspensions, suspensions, suspensions. The Tar Heels defense is a shell of what it should be, although it is still pretty good, because suspensions stemming from an NCAA investigation. In total, North Carolina has 12 players suspended.

Scouting Rutgers
Two games showed three key things for the Scarlet Knights, and they are three things every team left on the schedule will examine.

Tom Savage
First, the special teams can be a devastating feature even because Rutgers is turning in big plays there. Living up to the reputation of a punt-block team, the Scarlet Knights got four of them in the first two games, and they are doing it from different spots.

Two blocks came through the middle, one came from the right side and another came from the left side.

Second, the defense will force turnovers and play aggressively. Rutgers has six takeaways and 10 tackles for loss in two games, and what it lacks in size is made up for in speed. Also, Rutgers defensive front four are playing very well, and their quickness and tenacity are giving offensive line's fits.

Third, the offensive line cannot block. Part of Savage's struggles are on him, but a good portion goes to the offensive line, which has yielded a staggering 14 plays for loss and accounted for 19 points and 172 yards of offense at Florida International.

Scouting North Carolina
Quarterback T.J. Yates' top target is tight end Zack Pianalto, and he creates matchup issues for defenses. Yates is 46 of 70 for 621 yards and four touchdowns, but isn't nearly as comfortable in the pocket when he gets pressure early in the game.

T.J. Yates
An interest twist will be how much running back Shaun Draughn plays. He returned last week after missing the opener while part of the NCAA investigation, but didn't get to play much as he worked his way into shape and also because third-stringer Johnny White was running well.

The offensive line is unsettled allowed five sacks in the first two games and the running game is churning out 83.5 yards per game. The passing numbers (310.5 ypg) are skewed because the Tar Heels have played from behind in both games. But the offensive line has maturity on the right side in a pair of seniors in right tackle Mike Ingersoll and right guard Alan Pelc.

Defensively is where the issues lie as defensive tackle Marvin Austin and defensive end Robert Quinn remain suspended., as does the Tar Heels starting secondary of cornerbacks Kendric Burney and Charles Brown, free safety Deunta Williams and strong safety Da'Norris Searcy.

The result has been an unexpected youth movement that, while showing flashes of potential, has The linebackers are the strength of the defense and are big and physical players.

Matchup to Watch
UNC tight end Zack Pianalto vs. the Rutgers linebackers and safeties. Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano talked about junior Manny Abreu covering the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Pianalto, but expect a mixed bag of coverages given the way Rutgers likes to change things up on defense. He has a team-leading 15 catches for 135 yards, and while he may not stretch the field, he is a possession receiver.

What Rutgers Must Do Offensively
Anything positive to give confidence. In the end, it is asking too much for the running game to dominate, but because two games in showed the offensive line isn't capable of doing such. So, it means Rutgers' most consistent way to move the ball will be through the passing game, so receivers need to get open, Savage must trust them and the tight end needs to be involved. In other words, Rutgers offense isn't to the point where it can dominate in passing or running, so a potpourri is needed.

What Rutgers Must Do Defensively
Hit quarterback T.J. Yates and get him thinking about the rush. When having its most havoc-wreaking success, Rutgers is a heavy blitzing team, which puts pressure on the secondary to cover. Setting an early tone is huge not only to give the Tar Heels the feeling they will be playing from behind again, but also to let the offense know it won't need to score 30 points to win.

Three keys for a Rutgers win
Rutgers SS Joe Lefeged
1. First down creativity on offense. Rather than straight runs or simple pass routes, mix in a screen or two and take some chances down the field.

2. Communication in the secondary. If Yates has time to throw, if will take chances down the field, so the coverage better be there or Rutgers will get beat for a quick score over the top.

3. Convert third-and-short. Rutgers has yet to prove it has a bread-and-butter play for third-and-1 or third-and-2, but it must come up with a way to convert and keep the offense moving.

Three keys for a North Carolina win
1. Get up the field and into Rutgers' backfield on first down. Opponents have done it so far, and the psyche and makeup of Rutgers' offense is not built to perform well in second-and-long.

2. Power the ball down the field. Rutgers' defense is built to defend the pass and pursue to the football, and the best way offset that is to run between the tackles and minimize the Scarlet Knights' speed and athleticism.

3. Score early. Not only will it be close to a sellout, but getting an early lead will do a pair of things. First, it gives UNC confidence and the feeling it isn't sinking again. Second, Rutgers is not built to come from far behind.

Prediction
North Carolina 20, Rutgers 16

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