Preview: Tulane at Rutgers

Coming off its first loss of the season, Rutgers returns to the field for Saturday's homecoming tilt against Tulane (2 p.m., ESPN3.com) at Rutgers Stadium. There are concerns about Rutgers' offense and the play of quarterback Tom Savage, and ScarletReport.com has the ins and outs of what you need to know heading into the matchup.

Tulane (1-2) at Rutgers (2-1)


Time: 2 p.m., Rutgers Stadium
TV/Radio:ESPN3.com/710-AM, 1450-AM
Series: Rutgers leads, 3-1
Last meeting: Nov. 11, 1995: Rutgers 45, Tulane 40
Coaches: Rutgers Greg Schiano (10th season, 53-52); Tulane – Bob Toledo (10-29 fourth season, 88-97 17th overall)

Storylines

  • Can Rutgers' offense finally get untracked? It is homecoming against a two-touchdown underdog, and the Scarlet Knights continue to say the offense is close to clicking. With the Big East opener a week from today, getting confidence is huge.

  • Will quarterback Tom Savage shake out of his funk? He is expected to play despite sore ribs, and he acknowledged he has to play markedly better than he has the first three games.

  • The maturity and focus of the Scarlet Knights will show. It is a lesser opponent coming off an emotional loss with the conference opener next week. It is a classic trap game, so it will be interesting to see how Rutgers handles it.

    Scouting Rutgers
    The defense runs well and has tremendous athleticism and speed. It has nine takeaways in three games and the understanding of concepts is tremendous.

    Logan Ryan
    Rutgers loves to use cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon is its nickel and dime packages, respectively, and it has worked well for the Scarlet Knights, who are holding opponents to 24 percent (9 of 38) on third down and are perfect in five fourth-down calls.

    Then, there is the offense, which switches between pro-style and "Wildcat," but is yet to gain any rhythm this season. Part of the issue is the running game out of the conventional offense is ineffective, which is why Rutgers is using the "Wildcat" so much. It is also why receiver and "Wildcat" operation Mohamed Sanu has 28 rushes while running backs Joe Martinek (39) and Jordan Thomas (29) combined or 68 carries behind an offensive line that is still trying to find its way.

    Scouting Tulane
    Injuries, injuries and more injuries is Tulane's calling card as once-renowned UCLA coach Bob Toledo brings the Green Wave to New Jersey for the first time since 1995. And the injuries begin at quarterback with starter Ryan Williams, who missed the second half of last week's loss with a sprained non-throwing (left) shoulder. He is expected to start, but backup Kevin Moore is out.

    Antonio Lowery
    Tulane is also without one of its top rushers in Orleans Darkwa, who has four of the Green Wave's five rushing touchdowns. And while Tulane operates out of multiple sets, it's base is a pro-style with Albert Williams (35 rushes, 180 yards) as the workhorse.

    Williams' top targets are Casey Robottom (17 catches, 147 yards) and D.J. Banks (14-153), but speeds Devin Figaro (4-95) is also a threat. The issue is Tulane's quarterback situation, where Williams will start despite the sore should and backup Kevin Moore is out.

    Defensively, the Green Wave run a conventional 4-3, and are led by middle linebacker Trent Mackey. He has 38 tackles, which for perspective, is 15 more than Rutgers leader Antonio Lowery. He is battling an ankle injury, although he is expected to play.

    Tulane incorporates plenty of blitzes into its package, be it with linebackers, safeties or cornerbacks. And the Green Wave does it from all over the field.

    Matchup to Watch
    Tulane defensive end Dezman Moses against Rutgers' right tackles. Moses, a Willingboro (N.J.) High product and Iowa transfer, had 10 tackles in his season debut last week. Rutgers right tackle Art Forst has been inconsistent through three games, and it could pave the way for Devon Watkis to get playing time there against the Green Wave.

    What Rutgers Must Do Offensively
    Establish a rhythm. Be it in the passing game or running the ball, there needs to be fluidity to build confidence that progress is being made. The offense has felt mechanical through much of the first three games, and that feel can be aided with a quicker tempo to provide a rhythmic feel and get guys in a groove.

    What Rutgers Must Do Defensively
    Exactly what it has been doing, and that is pursuing the football. Players talked about missed tackles in the first three games of the season, but that is offset by the way Rutgers runs to the football. The gang-tackling mentality continues to permeate throughout the unit, and quite frankly, wears on an offense as the season progresses.

    Three keys for a Rutgers win
    Rutgers SS Tom Savage
    1. Get production from quarterback Tom Savage. His confidence seems a bit rattled, but that can be fixed by a few quick solid reads and completions early in the game.

    2. Do not turn the ball over. Despite the offensive woes against North Carolina, Rutgers still wins the game if Savage doesn't throw a pair of red-zone interceptions.

    3. Play with energy. Rutgers is a young team, so it has to make sure it doesn't fall into the trap of playing like it already has the game won since it falls between two big games, the UNC loss and the Big East opener against UConn.

    Three keys for a Tulane win
    1. Control the ball. It will tire out Rutgers' defense, and it also means they are moving the ball down the field and it could begin to wear on the Scarlet Knights' confidence if their offense is struggling

    2. Confuse Rutgers via the blitz. The Scarlet Knights have not done well picking up the blitz this season, and Tulane brings it from all angles. It is a lot to prepare for, and there are questions whether Rutgers can handle it.

    3. Keep the field long. Rutgers has not shown an ability to consistently drive the ball the length of the field to score. The Green Wave must limit the turnovers and not get hit with a big special teams play. Make Rutgers go 70 yards for scores.

    Prediction
    Rutgers 30, Tulane 7

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