DALLAS – Gametime is on its way to Gerald Ford Stadium for the start of the American Athletic Conference Slate. Rutgers enters its first conference game against SMU with momentum off the bye week and a 28-24 comeback win at home over Arkansas.
Rutgers at SMU
12:02 p.m., Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, Texas
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Rutgers – Kyle Flood (2nd season, 12-5); SMU – June Jones (15th season, 108-78, sixth at SMU, 32-37)
Matchup to Watch
Rutgers defensive ends Marcus Thompson and Jamil Merrell vs. SMU left tackle Ben Gottschalk
- Game On -- The American Athletic Conference has a BCS bid in 2013 and Rutgers is hungry to win it before moving on to the Big Ten next year. The road to a BCS bid begins in Dallas against SMU, where the Mustangs are seeing an increase in conference competition after moving from Conference USA. Rutgers will continue to take things one game at a time, but it will be hard not to look ahead to Louisville at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on national television.
- Spread Test -- Rutgers game up short in its first matchup with a pass-heavy spread offense. After giving up 52 points to Fresno State in the season opener, the Rutgers defense stepped up big time but has not seen a pass-happy team like SMU since Fresno. Rutgers went into Fresno State with a young defensive secondary and a new defensive coordinator. The result was not pretty, but Dave Cohen and his personnel have had a month to clean up and improve. Facing SMU will be the second test for the young defensive secondary and a chance to display improvements in coverage and open-field tackling.
- Gunslingers -- June Jones is known for big offense and the Mustangs, led by Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert, are no different. Rutgers, which is known for defense, may be the more potent offense going into tomorrow's battle at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Rutgers has 28 points or more in each of its first four games for the first time in school history. Though Gary Nova's turnovers and decision-making need improvement, he is off to a torrid start to his junior season. Missing most of the Eastern Michigan game with a concussion, Nova is on pace to break Mike Teel's single-season touchdown record (25) and push for the passing yards record as well (3,418).
By design, Fresno State's spread offense kept the pressure off Derek Carr with quick drops and bubble screens. Expecting SMU to take a similar approach against the young Rutgers defensive secondary, the Scarlet Knights have to get to quarterback Garrett Gilbert whenever possible. SMU is dead last in the AAC and 120th in the country in sacks allowed. Rutgers is very much aware of that issue and needs to exploit it time after time.
Scarlet Knights Win If…
The defense adjusts
The Rutgers defense needs to be more prepared for its second test against a spread offense. Jones' schemes dating back to Hawaii
are pass- and play-heavy with big numbers. Rutgers did not tackle or cover consistently at linebacker or cornerback against the Bulldogs. Defensive coordinator Dave Cohen and Flood made changes, specifically with more time for Nadir Barnwell
, and get a second chance against SMU. Rutgers has to show improvement from the 52 points surrendered in the first week of the season.
Mustangs Win If …
Gilbert gets time
|CB Ian Thomas|
-- Gilbert is a former five-star recruit and has National Championship Game experience. The talent is there, and the Jones spread allowed for quarterbacks like Colt Brennan
and Timmy Chang
to have some of the most statistically dominant games in the history of college football. Give Gilbert enough time to run the offense comfortable, and Rutgers would need a major offensive performance from Gary Nova.
WR Leonte Carroo
— Carroo is a late-game player and the tempo of this game gives him plenty of opportunities to break out. The sophomore out of Don Bosco Prep has four fourth-quarter touchdowns this year and a strong connection with high school teammate Nova. SMU has three losses against Texas-caliber athletes and faces some of the best New Jersey has to offer in Carroo, Nova and Savon Huggins offensively.
Something to Prove
|WR Leonte Carroo|
RB Savon Huggins — Huggins gets another chance as the feature back and needs to take advantage. With Paul James
out, Huggins is the first option when looking to establish the run. Huggins averages 3.5 yards per carry after entering the season below 3.0 on his career. He needs to show a power game and more of what he did in the fourth quarter against Arkansas
. Rutgers can throw successfully against SMU, but a two-headed attack makes it easier on offensive coordinator Ron Prince
Looking to Build
OLB Quentin Gause
— The red-shirt sophomore was arguably the most effective linebacker on the field against Arkansas and a run-heavy offense. Gause projects to start with Jamal Merrell
's kidney injury but needs to show he can be more productive against the pass. Gause made his debut by stopping the run and faces his first spread offense as a starter.
Freshman to Watch
RB Justin Goodwin
— Goodwin should see the bulk of the work behind Huggins and could emerge as a feature back with a strong start to the game. Goodwin saw time in the fourth quarter against Arkansas and needs to build on that with his speed and quickness off the edge.