Preview: Rutgers at West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.V. -- Rutgers hopes to finish its season on a high note while West Virginia still has eyes on a Big East title and BCS berth. The Scarlet Knights face a tough task of winning at Milan Puskar Stadium for the first time while trying to end a 15-game losing streak to the Mountaineers. Check out the scouting reports, the keys to the game and the matchup to watch inside ScarletReport.com.

Rutgers (4-7, 1-5) at West Virginia (8-3, 4-2)


Time: Noon, Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.V.
TV/Radio: ABC/710-AM, 1450-AM
Series: WVU leads, 31-4-2
Last meeting: Dec. 5. , 2009: WVU won, 24-21
Coaches: RutgersGreg Schiano (10th season, 59-62); West VirginiaBill Stewart (27-11, 3rd season, 35-36 overall)

Storylines

  • The Big East title. West Virginia gets it if it wins and Connecticut losses at night at South Florida. Rutgers has never won in Morgantown, and have a 15-game losing streak agaist the Mountaineers.

  • How much pride does Rutgers have left? With nothing to play for but pride, the Scarlet Knights are trying to recover from back-to-back blowout losses in which they were outscored 109-51.

  • Looking at the future. Rutgers has plenty of young players in key roles, and a strong showing at a place the Scarlet Knights never won could be a boost for the offseason, not to mention give Rutgers something positive to talk about as the recruiting season hits high gear a month early.

Scouting Rutgers
The defense has been abysmal the last two weeks, so mental and physical effort are issues. Rutgers gave up 69 points at Cincinnati, then allowed Louisville to sustain long drives on four their first four possessions, each of which led to a touchdown.

The once-hardy defense is missing assignments and missing tackles and this week could be missing senior cornerback Brandon Bing, who is doubtful with a leg injury he picked up during the week of practice. It means converted receiver Marcus Cooper could be in line for his first start.

Marcus Cooper
Offensively, the Scarlet Knights are facing WVU's unorthodox 3-3-5 defense. Rutgers already cannot pick up blitzes, which is why opponents have registered 55 sacks, including 16 in the last two games.

Keeping freshman quarterback Chas Dodd upright will be a big thing, but defenses have gotten wise to the quick passes to take pressure off the offensive line, and playing bump-and-run coverage could force Rutgers' receivers to get loose off the line of scrimmage or it will another long day in the pocket for Dodd.

Running back Joe Martinek isn't healthy, and isn't expected to play, which means Jordan Thomas and De'Antwan Williams could be plenty of work if the Scarlet Knights decide to run out of the traditional I-back set like last week.

At least Rutgers has found a few capable receivers with Mark Harrison (41 catches, 8 TDs) and Keith Stroud (11 catches in last two games) to offset the loss of Mohamed Sanu, who should play but is banged up and severely limited.

Scouting West Virginia
West Virginia has owned Rutgers, especially in Morgantown, and have the motivation of a BCS berth still on the table as third-year coach Bill Stewart looks to overcome a tough start to the season by rallying for his first BCS bid.

Stewart also has the second-best 38-game record (27-11) in WVU history, and best since The Great Depression.

Bill Stewart
WVU quarterback Geno Smith is completing 64.3 percent of his passes, and has 22 touchdowns to go against six interceptions. He also spread the ball between the trio of receivers Jock Sanders (58 catches), Tavon Austin (47) and runnig back Noel Devine (29). One of the curious parts of the offense, though, is Smith's lack of running and how the Mountaineers have gotten away from using Devine in the running game more often. Devine is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has six rushing touchdowns on 187 yards, but there have been times he has not been used.

Turnovers, particularly fumbles, are the biggest issue for WVU's offense. The Mountaineers lost 13 of 21 fumbles (lost 4 of 8 against Connecticut), and 10 of their 19 turnovers came in losses to LSU, Syracuse and UConn.

Defensively, WVU is built for speed and blitzing, with the secondary able to cover plenty of ground. The Mountaineers have 34 sacks, and get them from a variety of places. Also, cornerback Keith Tandy is one for Dodd to stay away from. Tandy has six interceptions.

Matchup to Watch
Rutgers' defensive line vs. WVU's offensive line. If Rutgers is going to make this game competitive, it starts there. If Rutgers cannot control Devine, and if allows Smith outside of the pocket, it could get ugly fast.

What Rutgers Must Do Offensively
The best thing to do is find a way to make play-action work, which means something must happen in the traditional running game to keep the blitzers away from Dodd. It is something Rutgers did only once, last week against Louisville, and that was only after the Cardinals scored 28 points in the first 20 minutes.

What Rutgers Must Do Defensively
Show up and pay attention to assignments. There is talent on the defense, but the last two weeks they were lost and didn't even give themselves a chance because they kept missing assignments and were taking the easy way out on plays.

Three keys for a Rutgers win
Charlie Noonan
1. Find energy and be accountable on defense. Coach Greg Schiano said in the aftermath of the loss to Louisville, he doesn't worry about defensive tackle Charlie Noonan showing up and playing with passions. What he didn't say was the rest of the defense did.

2. Don't give up early points. The best way to cut the will out of a team playing for nothing is to score early. If Rutgers can get into halftime with a chance, maybe they try and make their season by spoiling WVU's season.

3. Get lots of turnovers. The offense cannot consistently move the ball, so a few 35-yard drives will go a long way in helping them, and making the Mountaineers press.

Three keys for a West Virginia win
1. Score on the first two possessions. If that happens, Rutgers' beleaguered defense could go in the tank, and by halftimes folks will be thinking what couch they want to burn should USF beat UConn later in the evening.

2. Make sure turnovers don't happen. In the three losses, WVU turned the ball over 10 times. In eight wins, the Mountaineers turned the ball over nine times.

3. Don't party like it's 2007. That is when a play-for-nothing Pittsburgh team rolled into Morgantown 4-7 and a four-touchdown underdog and won 13-9. It knocked WVU out of the national title game, and set in motion the wheels for coach Rich Rodriguez to head to Michigan.

Prediction
West Virginia 44, Rutgers 13

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