Game Preview: Arkansas at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Gametime is on its way to High Point Solutions Stadium where Rutgers plays host to an SEC opponent for the first time. After stunning the Razorbacks in 2012 behind a Gary Nova passing attack, Rutgers looks for another statement victory going into a bye week and the start of conference play.

Arkansas at Rutgers

Time: 3:30 p.m., High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
TV/Radio: ESPN, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 97.5 FM
Series: Rutgers leads 1-0
Last meeting: Sept. 22, 2012 – Rutgers won 35-26
Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (2nd season, 11-5); Arkansas – Bret Bielema (8th season, 71-24, first at Arkansas, 3-0)

Storyline Central

  • Battle of Backups? -- Both starting quarterbacks enter Saturday's battle with injury question marks. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova suffered a concussion last week against Eastern Michigan, but was back on the practice field less than 72 hours later in a limited capacity. Nova, at this point, is probable to play but senior backup Chas Dodd will have to be ready to go and more prepared to lead the offense than he was last week. For Arkansas, starter Brandon Allen has an injured throwing shoulder and did not practice until late in the week. Backup A.J. Derby is in line to replace him.

  • Year of Change -- Arkansas is a changed program from what it was under John L. Smith in 2012 when Rutgers came out on top. The Razorbacks, hiring Bret Bielema from Wisconsin, are now a run-first team with two of the top 10 backs in the country statistically. Losing quarterback Tyler Wilson to the NFL draft, Arkansas brings a run-first attitude and is off to a 3-0 start under improved management with the coaching staff. Rutgers went through plenty of change itself in year two under Kyle Flood. The Scarlet Knights lost 10 defenders to NFL rosters or practice squads and have a new face in the running game. Seventh-round pick Jawan Jamison went for 118 yards against the Razorbacks last year, but new starter Paul James is tops in the country with 493 yards and six touchdowns.

  • Blackout -- This is a lot more than a regular non-conference game to everyone within the Hale Center and the fans eager for another signature victory. Meaningless in the Rutgers quest for a BCS berth, Arkansas represents the type of competition and buzz road teams will consistently bring the Piscataway as members of the Big Ten. Playing on national television in a 3:30 p.m. game, Rutgers will wear its black alternate uniforms and ask fans to aid in the blackout atmosphere. This game is also a huge recruiting opportunity to sell Flood's vision to some big time visitors and plenty of others watching at home.

Matchup to Watch
Rutgers cornerbacks against Arkansas RB duo Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins.

The Arkansas run scheme has many similarities to Rutgers in that the goal is to create 1-on-1 matchups with defensive backs. The Razorbacks offensive line, led by center Travis Swanson, will do everything possible to pick up linebackers and force the cornerbacks and safeties to bring down Williams and Collins. The Rutgers defensive secondary has to show it is a better tackling unit than the one that lost to Fresno State to stop the super-powered Razorbacks run game. With questions at quarterback, Arkansas will need to run successfully to score against one of the best traditional run defenses in the country.

Scarlet Knights Win If…
Nova Repeats 2012 Gary Nova is in position to play and will need to channel the greatness he displayed in Fayetteville, Ark., at this time last year. Nova was lights out against the Razorbacks last year in a stunning victory but will have to be even better this year against a more disciplined team with better coaching. Nova needs to be protected by his offensive line like never before and cannot take the same risks outside the pocket. Paul James is a weapon on the ground, but Rutgers cannot win with a one-dimensional attack.

QB Gary Nova
Razorbacks Win If …
Big Passing Plays Happen -- Look for Arkansas to run first to set up the pass. With questions surrounding Brandon Allen as the starter, the Razorbacks will try to pass against Rutgers regardless. Rutgers is intent on preventing the big plays, to the point where small plays added up to 335 passing yards for Tyler Benz last week. If Arkansas establishes a passing game to compliment two of the top 10 running backs in the country, watch out.


Impact Player
WR Brandon Coleman — Coleman was unstoppable against Arkansas last season with two touchdown catches against a porous defensive secondary. The 6-foot-6 junior has multiple costly drops to start this season but can still have a tremendous impact against Arkansas. The Razorbacks have two returned members of last year's starting secondary that gave up 397 passing yards last year and add former Rutgers JuCo target Carroll Washington.

RB Paul James
Something to Prove
RB Paul James — Leading the NCAA with 493 rushing yards and six touchdowns, James said he feels more pressure this week with the questions in the passing game. James has had big games against lesser defenses and faces the biggest athletic challenge of his career against the Arkansas defensive line. James, a walk-on, is eager for the chance to prove himself and add to his nation-leading numbers against two other marquee running backs.

Looking to Build
MLB Steve Longa — Longa has been a tackling machine and his MIKE role becomes even more important with questions at other linebacker spots. Longa leads Rutgers with 29 tackles as a red-shirt freshman. He is second in sacks and TFLs behind Marcus Thompson and brings more speed against the quick Arkansas offense than Steve Beauharnais offered last year.

Freshman to Watch
OLB Davon Jacobs — The red-shirt converted safety got his first career start last week and will be under the spotlight yet again Saturday because of the kidney injury to team captain Jamal Merrell. Jacobs is not a lock to start again, but will have a huge role on the defense and needs to improve from what he showed against Eastern Michigan. Jacobs is undersized but his speed and coverage experience as a safety make him a necessary cog in tomorrow's defense.

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