However, the captains of the Scarlet Knights defense believe there is a pressing need to dramatically improve in a key area Saturday against Tulane: tackling.
Strong safety Joe Lefeged and defensive tackle Charlie Noonan both said the Scarlet Knights missed nearly four times their pre-game target, and both said the missed tackles weren't exclusive to the North Carolina game.
"Tackling is a real concern of ours," Lefeged said. "We missed a lot of tackles the first three games. The thing is, what helps us out is the way we get to the football, so if one guy misses, there's another guy right there to make the tackle and make sure the guy gets to the ground the first time.
"That's key right there. We just have to focus and read the hips, press the hip. It's the small things we need to work on."
The Scarlet Knights allowed 295 total yards to the Tar Heels, but Noonan said the number could have been below 250 if the tackling was better.
"We need to definitely tackle better," Noonan said. "We go through the tackling drills every day, but that was a good back. It's a matter of putting your face on it, using your feet. Sometimes you don't use your feet. Why that happens, it's kind of an individual thing."
While the tackling needs to improve, Noonan said there is no surprise why Rutgers remains a strong defensive team, which has forced nine turnovers in three games.
"Everyone likes to hit. Even our cornerbacks," Noonan said. "Sometimes you get the pretty corner, but I would say I like the way everyone likes to stick our face on the hit."
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said during the week the running game issues didn't lie solely on the offensive line, and that the running backs needed to show more patience to allow plays to develop and holes to open.
And leading rusher Joe Martinek seconded the philosophy.
"We have a responsibility not only to run the ball and hold onto the ball, but to help out our linemen," Martinek said. "It's not like back in (high school), when you get the ball and do whatever you watch. For me, coming up in high school you get the ball and run and you're faster than everyone else, so it works."
Scarlet Knights fifth-year center Howard Barbieri knows it sounds cliché to say the running game is often a block away each play, but he said that is the best way to describe.
However, he isn't sure when everything will fall into place.
"It could just click and we'll run the ball for 200-plus yards," Barbieri said. "It could click, but I don't know. But we are close. I've been here for a while, five years. I've seen really good offenses, and I've seen offenses were we took a step down a little bit.
"We've been practicing better this year than we have the last couple of years. We've been more physical, with more energy."
Feeling of Comfort
Red-shirt junior strong side linebacker Manny Abreu has 11 tackles, and his play has been solid. And Abreu knows why.
"It's my focus level when things don't go my way, or our way …I don't get down," Abreu said. "I just go out there and keep choppin'. We're not thinking about winning or losing, I'm just going out there and reading my reads."
And how does that differ than the past?
"I would think about it," Abreu said. "Now that I'm more mature and have been here for a few years, it grows into you and you can understand it. The older guys pass through and leave it with you, and it's part of me now.
"I can see myself calm out there."
Barbieri, in his first season at center, hopes to be much better snapping the ball than he was in shot-gun situations against the Tar Heels.
"It's something I need to focus more on since I'm not doing it to the best of my abilities," he said.
Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage's struggles have been well chronicled through the first month of the season, and Lefeged said he talked to sophomore to pledge his support and belief.
"Tom's a strong kid. He has great mental toughness," Lefeged said. "I'm not too worried about it. He's our No. 1 quarterback, a great quarterback, and he's going to make sure that he picks up his play. I think he's going to be fine."