Time: 3:30 p.m., Rutgers Stadium
Series: Syracuse leads, 29-10-1
Last meeting: Nov. 21, 2009: Syracuse won, 31-13
Coaches: Rutgers – Greg Schiano (10th season, 59-59); USF – Doug Marrone (10-11, 2nd season)
- Is the Big East title still in sight? Thanks to Pittsburgh's loss at Connecticut on Thursday, the winner will have two losses in a conference in which the Panthers have one loss, and everyone else enters Saturday with two losses.
- Can Rutgers handle Syracuse's blitz? The Orange had nine sacks a year ago, and saved a few special packages for Rutgers late in the season. The Scarlet Knights identified and practiced against the blitzes Syracuse has shown this season, but what about the ones the Orange are saving for this game.
- The emotion of Rutgers' first home game since Eric LeGrand was paralyzed. Certainly, the players have lived a very long 28 days since the injury, and after reminded of it several times a day. However, this is Rutgers' first home game since the injury, and memories and emotions will be high throughout the pregame.
The only givens are center Howard Barbieri and left tackle Desmond Stapleton. After that, the shuffling could go for a while as right tackle Devon Watkis, right guard Caleb Ruch and left guard Desmond Wynn all will be playing for time.
While the offensive line had its best game of the season at South Florida, the running backs missed holes, missed blitz pick-ups and also didn't gain yards after the catch like they need to, and the health of running back Joe Martinek's ankle continues to be a problem.
The running game is generated mostly from Wildcat package as running between the tackles from a pro-style set has been reserved for rare occasions. Freshman Jeremy Deering has taken over most of that package while Mohamed Sanu's sore foot mends.
Quarterback Chas Dodd is coming off a 19 of 22 effort at USF, but few of those throws were down the field.
Defensively, Rutgers has had trouble getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and their pressure is nearly non-existent outside of blitzing. Defensive tackle Scott Vallone leads the team with 1½ sacks, and defensive linemen have contributed 4½ sacks in eight games.
Rutgers should be buoyed by the return of linebacker Manny Abreu, who missed the last two games with a knee injury.
Offensively, the Orange is balanced. Delone Carter is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, has seven touchdowns and is on pace to rush for 1,000 yards (he has 853 yards). Junior quarterback Ryan Nassib is much more poised and confidence than a year ago, and he is connecting on 56.1 percent of his passes, and he is taking care of the football. He has 15 touchdowns against five interceptions.
The passing game is also spread around as four players – receivers Van Chew (33 and Alec Lemon (29), tight end Nick Provo (25) and running back Antwon Bailey (22) – each are prominent catching the ball.
It's a broad matchup to watch this week, but really is better than any one-on-one on-field confrontation.
2. Run the ball in some way. There is no trade-off for running out of the pro-set because it opens up play-action, but getting some yards out of the Wildcat, be it with Deering or Sanu, will keep the defense rested and give the offensive line confidence.
3. Keep Carter under 80 yards. The running back is averaging 94.8 yards per game, so limiting him puts the game in Nassib's hands. That is work the tradeoff.
2. Don't give up cheap points. That means no turnovers deep in its own territory, don't allow any big returns and don't get any kicks blocked to aid Rutgers' struggling offense.
3. Test the secondary. When quarterbacks are given time, they find holes in Rutgers' defense.
With seven sacks on the season and an average of four quarterback hits a game, Nassib could find comfort in the pocket.