Preview: Connecticut at Rutgers

Rutgers is coming off a pair of losses in which the offense's play has come under heavy scrutiny, but it could begin to regain momentum as the Big East season opens in front of a national ESPN audience. What are the keys to the game? What can you expect from UConn? Which matchup will be crucial for both sides? ScarletReport.com has you covered an in-depth, reader-friendly preview.

Connecticut (3-2) at Rutgers (2-2)


Time: 7:30 p.m., Rutgers Stadium
TV/Radio:ESPN/710-AM, 1450-AM
Series: Rutgers leads, 20-9
Last meeting: Oct. 31, 2009: Rutgers 28-24
Coaches: RutgersGreg Schiano (10th season, 57-57); Connecticut– Randy Edsall (69-67 12th season)

Storylines

  • The Big East season opens with this matchup, so not only is first place on the line, but so is getting off to a good start in the conference. The two schools usually play a tight one as six of the eight games played since 2001 were decided by seven points or less.

  • Can Tom Savage play at quarterback, or will the Scarlet Knights turn to true freshman Chas Dodd for the nationally televised game? Either way, though, Rutgers will have to find a way to generate more offense and keep the defense from getting worn down.

  • Connecticut has struggled away from home in conference play, and are looking to break the trend. The Huskies went 1-2 in Big East road games last season, and are 3-16 in their last 19 conference road games. They are also 17-24 in league games since coming aboard in 2004.

    Scouting Rutgers
    Will Rutgers be able to do anything offensively? That is the question that has dogged the Scarlet Knights since the start of the season, and the usual questions about the offensive line and the running game have taken a back seat to the quarterback situation.

    Tom Savage
    Sophomore Tom Savage's availability will be a game-time decision, which means Dodd could get his first start. Dodd was able to get more receivers involved in the passing game in the two-plus quarters he played last week against Tulane, and he did well moving around in the pocket.

    However, the running game continues to be bogged down with missed blocks, missed holes and blown assignments. Receiver Mohamed Sanu had the most success, but that is out of the Wildcat and lately there have been questions about whether it upsets the rhythm of the offense.

    Defensively, Rutgers leads the Big East in rushing defense (80.0 ypg) and scoring defense (12.0 ppg), and is second in total defense (266.8 ypg). It is led by an active and athletic front four, and a linebacker corps that runs to the ball well and gang tackles.

    The secondary is solid, but teams have shown a willingness to throw away from junior cornerback David Rowe and go after senior cornerback Brandon Bing or red-shirt freshman Logan Ryan.

    Scouting Connecticut
    Look at what Rutgers likes to do offensively – run the ball to set up play-action passes – and that is what you'll find with the Huskies. They are big across the offensive line, averaging 6-foot-5, 316 pounds, but are also susceptible to quickness on defense.

    Jordan Todman
    UConn runs the ball with junior Jordan Todman, who Rutgers coach Greg Schiano says exhibits Ray Rice-like characteristics. The 5-9, 193-poundd Todman is second in the league in rushing at 159.5 yards per game, and he is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He has also been consistent, rushing for more than 100 yards in the four games he played, and breaking the 190-yard mark against Temple and Vanderbilt.

    However, the passing game is another matter with Cody Endres, who took over for Zach Frazer. Endres is 28 of 41 for 318 yards, four scores and one interception in two games. Micahel Moore (20 catches) and Kashif Moore (15 catches) are the leading receivers.

    Defensively, the Huskies have done a lot of third-down blitzing and have had trouble stopping the run. Temple amassed 194 rushing yards in a 30-16 win last month, and UConn is seventh in the league in allowing 161.8 yards per game.

    UConn's secondary is also young, with a trio of red-shirt sophomores and a true sophomore (Mike Lang) at one of the safety spots.

    Matchup to Watch
    Rutgers middle linebacker Steve Beauharnais against UConn running back Jordan Todman. Beauharnais hasn't had a breakout game yet, and what happens here could go a long way in deciding this matchup. Beauharnais will get ample opportunities to shoot gaps and track down Todman. Whether Beauharnais can make the play or whether Todman gets into the secondary will come down to this matchup.

    What Rutgers Must Do Offensively
    Make the big play. For as bad as Rutgers' offense has been in the first four games, all the Scarlet Knights had to do against North Carolina and Tulane was execute a pass to an open receiver and they could have been 4-0. For all the struggles running the ball, there are plays to be made in the passing game that Rutgers, quite frankly, isn't making. Changing that could loosen up the running game a bit.

    What Rutgers Must Do Defensively
    Hit Jordan Todman and make him remember he carried 37 times on Saturday and wear him out. Rutgers gang tackles, which often masks some missed tackles, but in this instance, with a run-first Huskies offense coming to Piscataway, getting him to the ground quickly can make life a whole lot easier.

    Three keys for a Rutgers win
    Chas Dodd
    1. Don't turn the ball over. Sounds simple, but Rutgers lost its last two games, and turned the ball over in the red zone three times in those two games.

    2. Protect the quarterback. If it is Dodd, he moves well in the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield. If it is Savage, he needs to build confidence, and that starts by knowing he won't get hit every play.

    3. Make Endres beat you. It may happen, but given the alternative of having Todman control the clock by running the ball, make the red-shirt junior, who began the season as a backup, push the ball down the field with his arm.

    Three keys for a Connecticut win
    1. Do not allow the offense to gain confidence. It won't take long for boos to surface if Rutgers' offense cannot move the ball in the first quarter. It is a unit in desperate need to something good to happen, and if it doesn't …well, can one keep choppin' for a fourth straight game?

    2. Have Todman carry the ball 30 times. It means he is having success, the offense is controlling the line of scrimmage and the Huskies are not playing from far behind.

    3. Nothing special. Rutgers makes a living off blocked punts and kickoff returns, and its offense needs short fields. Keep Rutgers from making a big play in this area and it bodes very well for the outcome.

    Prediction
    Rutgers 17, Connecticut 14

Scarlet Report Top Stories