Preview: Rutgers at Pittsburgh

With heavy hearts and lots on their minds, Rutgers takes to the field for the first time since defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down as the Scarlet Knights travel to Pittsburgh for a Big East content. The scouting reports, keys to the game, storylines and much more are provided by ScarletReport.com.

Rutgers (4-2, 1-0) at Pittsburgh (3-2, 1-0)


Time: Noon., Heinz Field
TV/Radio:SNY/710-AM, 1450-AM
Series: Pittsburgh leads, 20-7
Last meeting: Oct. 16, 2009: Pittsburgh, 24-17
Coaches: Rutgers Greg Schiano (10th season, 59-57); Pittsburgh – Dave Wannstedt (39-29, 6th season)

Storylines

  • Emotions, emotions, emotions. Rutgers will have plenty of them flowing as it takes the field for the first time since junior defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down last week against Army. Can Rutgers focus on the game knowing what they are enduring as a team off the field?

  • Will Rutgers be able to protect freshman quarterback Chas Dodd. His nerves shouldn't be an issue, but the pass protection could be. The Scarlet Knights were stacked a staging eight times against Army, and have trouble protecting against a base rush and also blitzes.

  • Will Pittsburgh run all over Rutgers again with Jersey backs? True, Dion Lewis only played one year in Jersey, but it didn't look good when he ran for 180 yards in last year's win. He hasn't been as productive as Jersey's Ray Graham this season, but he has the last two weeks (vs. Notre Dame and Syracuse) as he rushed for 141 yards and on 27 carries while Graham ruan for 97 yards on 19 carries.

    Scouting Rutgers
    It is tough to get a read on what the preparation level was for the Scarlet Knights, who were rightfully concerned about their fallen teammate. Coach Greg Schiano said the preparation in practice was fine, but there is concern about emotional burnout after the initial surge in energy at kickoff.

    Ka'Lial Glaud
    Offensively, it's quite simple these days. Can Rutgers protect Dodd enough so he can find receivers – and he will – downfield, or will he be scrambling and trying to force throws while dodging defenders? Picking up the blitz has also been problematic for the offense, and there is blame to spread from the line to the tight ends to the running backs.

    There is also the matter of a poor running attack – Rutgers is averaging 79.6 rushing yards per game against FBC schools – and have been flagged for 32 penalties in the last three games.

    Defensively, the loss of LeGrand takes an emotional and pragmatic toll. He wasn't only a leader on the defensive line, he was a very, very good defensive tackle. Against a downhill running team like Pittsburgh, controlling the middle of the line of scrimmage is vital to shutting down the run.

    There is also the insertion of sophomore Ka'Lial Glaud to the strongside linebacker position to offset the loss of injured Manny Abreu is also a big factor. Abreu was physical, strong and playing well. Glaud spent much of the season at weakside linebacker before being moved to the middle a few weeks ago.

    Now, the talented but Glaud makes his first career start, and will be asked to cover the tight end in certain packages.

    Scouting Pittsburgh
    Few teams do less with more talent than Pittsburgh, and much is unknown about the Panthers this season since their wins are against New Hampshire, Florida International and Syracuse, and they lost to Utah, Miami and Notre Dame.

    Tino Sunseri
    Pittsburgh is built to run the ball, but aside from a 300-yard showing against Florida International, the Panthers haven't run for more than 128 yards in a game against a FBS school. Lewis (74 carries, 284 yards) and Graham (71-589) will get the bulk of the carries, but Lewis has been the back of choice in the last two games.

    Like Rutgers, the offensive line is young, as is quarterback Tino Sunseri. The sophomore is completing 65.6 percent of his passes, and has nine touchdowns and three interceptions. His top target is 6-foot-5 Jon Baldwin (25 catches, 3 TDs), but there he also spreads it out to receiver Mike Shanahan (23 catches) and to the backfield as Lewis (13) and Graham (14) combined for 27 catches.

    Defensively, the Panthers are not a heavy blitzing team, because they don't have to be. Pittsburgh has 14 sacks, and three defensive linemen – ends Jabaal Sheard (5) and Brandon Lindsey (5) and tackle Chas Alecxih (4) – have all of them.

    The stout front four makes running the difficult, and the Panthers are yielding 92 yards per game. Conversely, opposing quarterbacks are completing 59 percent of their passes.

    Matchup to Watch
    It is not as glamorous as seeing Rutgers cornerback David Rowe matchup with Baldwin, but how the Scarlet Knights tackles deal with Lindsey and Sheard will go a long way in determining this game. Not only can both rush the passer, they can shut down a running game. And given Rutgers' penchant for allowing sacks, holding and false starts, it will make a lot of third-and-long situations if Rutgers doesn't have some success against these two.

    What Rutgers Must Do Offensively
    Get first down yardage. Do it with short passes, running the ball, the Wildcat, or any way possible. It will change the complexion of the game, and take an incredible amount of pressure off Dodd.

    What Rutgers Must Do Defensively
    Tackle Lewis and Graham. Lewis did a lot of his damage a year ago by breaking tackles. Rutgers cannot allow that to be the case again. Those 2-yard runs turn into 8-yard runs, and puts the defense in a bad spot. If it comes down to Sunseri needing to move the offense with his arm, let him prove he can do it.

    Three keys for a Rutgers win
    Chas Dodd
    1. Keep emotions in check. It will be very hard to do, but burning the energy out by not controlling emotion in likely the most emotional game any Scarlet Knight will ever play could be a detriment as the game progresses.

    2. Protect Dodd. It is unrealistic to think Rutgers can run the ball with regularity, or Dodd won't get sacked. But limit the sacks to two or so and give him time to throw, and he could deliver the game.

    3. Shut down Pittsburgh's running game. Whenever Pittsburgh as to throw to win, it seems the Panthers lose.

    Three keys for a Pittsburgh win
    1. Blitz Dodd. The Panthers aren't a blitzing team, but neither was Connecticut. Give him time to maneuver in the pocket because of only four rushers and he will side step enough sacks to make plays down the field.

    2. Score early. Rutgers will be a very emotional team, especially early and late in the game if things are close. It will deal a blow to the Scarlet Knights' psyche of the Panthers get a couple of early touchdowns.

    3. KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid is perfect. Pittsburgh is a run-first team. Don't get cute and try to out-think Rutgers by going to the air. Let the running set up play-action, and then let Rutgers try and cover the 6-5 Shanahan and 6-5 Baldwin.

    Prediction
    Pittsburgh 31, Rutgers 16

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