Preview: Syracuse at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers returns to the field for the first time in 10 days, and hosts conference rival Syracuse in what has turned into a crazy and wide open Big East. Seven teams sit with two losses, each chasing one-loss Pittsburgh. What are the storylines? The keys to the game? How about the scouting report for each team? has you covered for all that stuff, and much more.

(6-3, 3-2) at (4-4, 1-2)

Time: 3:30 p.m., Rutgers Stadium
TV/Radio:ESPNU/710-AM, 1450-AM
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.

Scouting Rutgers
Since spring practice, the story of Rutgers has been the development of the offensive line. Two-thirds of the way through the season, that continues to be the case as the mixing, matching and configuring continues.

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.

Desmond Stapleton
Backups Art Forst, Antwan Lowery and Andre Civil will also get worked into the rotation, but the offensive line is only part of the offensive issue facing the Scarlet Knights.

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.

But a building concern is punter Teddy Dellaganna, who is listed as questionable with a leg injury. If he cannot kick, backup placekicker Kyle Sullivan could be asked to do it.

Scouting Syracuse
The Orange blitz is getting a lot of attention this week, and rightfully so after it spent as much time in the backfield a year ago as Scarlet Knights quarterback Tom Savage, but there is much more to a defense that plays physical, is fast and experienced with seven seniors and nine returning starters for 2009.

Mike Holmes
Middle linebacker Derrell Smith has a team-leading 75 tackles, and weakside linebacker Doug Hogue gets up the field quickly. He leads the team with seven tackles for loss. Junior defensive end Chandler Jones has a team-leading four sacks, and cornerback Mike Holmes ahs three sacks, which gives an indication blitzes come from a variety of places.

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.

Syracuse also has a stellar punter in Rob Long (44.5 yard average) and a strong field goal kicker Ross Krautman, who is 13 of 14 and has made 11 straight.

Matchup to Watch
Going with Rutgers play-caller Kirk Ciarrocca against Syrcause's changing defense. He did a nice job for nearly the whole game against USF because Rutgers went to a short passing game and ran the ball well out of the Wildcat. To expect the Scarlet Knights to silence Syracuse's blitz is a little much given what the season has shown, but a few perfectly-timed screen passes and getting the ball out of the edge quickly could give Rutgers an advantage.

It's a broad matchup to watch this week, but really is better than any one-on-one on-field confrontation.

What Rutgers Must Do Offensively
Finish drives. The Scarlet Knights moved the ball against USF, but had to settle for field goals of 25 and 30 yards. In fact, in the last four games San San Te has made kicks of 28, 19, 25 and 30 yards. That means Rutgers kicked field goals when it had the ball inside the 15-yard line four times.

What Rutgers Must Do Defensively
Dominate first down. Put the Orange offense in second and long, and that means making tackles behind the line of scrimmage and put the pressure on Nassib to make a play. Rutgers has seven sacks this season, and part of the reason is the lack of third-and-longs opposing teams are facing.
Three keys for a Rutgers win
Jeremy Deering
1. Come away plus-2 or better in the turnover battle. The offense isn't good enough to piece together long drives, and the defense needs to do a better job of creating turnovers.

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.

Three keys for a Syracuse win
1. Rattle Rutgers' offensive line. Rutgers knows the blitz is coming, Syracuse knows it will blitz, so if it can get to quarterback Chas Dodd early, it will cause the offensive line to doubt itself.

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.

Rutgers 19, Syracuse 17

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