Ranking in at No. 23 after an impressive road victory over SEC foe Arkansas, Rutgers (4-0, 1-0) has momentum heading into phase two of the schedule.
Taking an in-depth look at what happened during the first part of the season, ScarletReport.com is here to break down what has Rutgers back under the national spotlight.
Though Rutgers is 4-0, the program is a long way from its first Big East title. As senior linebacker Steve Beauharnais put it in practice this week, four wins does not even get you bowl eligible.
Heading into phase two of the schedule, ScarletReport.com is also here to break down the major areas for improvement in a season starting to mirror 2006.
Nova Time — The hope going into the year was that quarterback Gary Nova would manage games and not do anything to lose them. Instead, Rutgers is getting a quarterback that helped win games with his arm. Look at the stats.
A "good" quarterback traditionally completes 60 percent of his passes and has a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Through four games, Nova has nine touchdowns to two interceptions (4.5:1) and a 59.7 completion percentage.
This may have started with a vanilla offensive scheme, but offensive coordinator Dave Brock has asked Nova to make every throw in the book during the last three weeks and the sophomore answered the call so far.
One-back System — Instead of "riding the hot hand," coach Kyle Flood now has Jawan Jamison as his feature back and the running game is more consistent than any time since Ray Rice left. Playing exclusively Jamison allows for him to build up steam and get stronger as the game goes on.
The results speak for themselves – five straight 100-yard games dating back to last season and five straight wins.
Play Calling — Dave Brock on offense and Robb Smith on defense are both earning their paychecks as coordinators. There is an unconventional style to Brock's first four games that has Nova playing his best football and the offensive line on top form. Brock is finding a way to play to his offense's strengths and still keep defensives off balance. Think the wheel route to Jamison for a touchdown.
Defensively, Smith's players are always in a position to make the play. Even on the big plays Rutgers gave up the last two weeks, no one is out of position. Logan Ryan simply could not close fast enough short on Cobi Hamilton's first touchdown pass. The biggest play of the day for B.J. Daniels came when Marcus Cooper tipped a should-be interception.
Pass Protection — At this point in 2010, Rutgers gave up 13 sacks and finished with 61 allowed. This year, Rutgers has two.
Clean Up the Laundry — Rutgers is still giving up 10 penalties per game. Simply put, Rutgers will not win the Big East championship if that number does not drop. The offensive line has multiple players in new roles, which has led to an increased number of holdings and false starts.
Championship-caliber football teams do not give away free yardage. Penalties were a key focus in the bye week and will be leading up to Connecticut, which will be a tough battle for the Rutgers offensive line.
Holes in the Secondary — With so much experience in the defensive secondary, the amount of big plays surrendered in the first four games is cause for major concern. Rutgers has two All-Big East defensive backs and four fifth-year seniors.
Three of four starters are proven plays with safety Lorenzo Waters being the lone newcomer. But the inability to limit big plays and lock down players in 1-on-1 coverage will become more problematic as the season rolls on.
Headed Home — A heavy slate of home games is not necessarily the advantage one may think. Rutgers is 22-13 at home since 2007 and 14-12 on the road, meaning the winning percentage is just a tenth higher (63 percent to 54 percent) when playing in Piscataway.
Rutgers should be favored in every home game until Louisville, but do not expect the Scarlet Knights to coast because of a home-field advantage. Some of the ugliest losses in recent years have come at home, including Tulane in 2010, Fresno State in 2008 and Cincinnati in 2009.