Game Preview: Cincinnati at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The mini rivalry between Rutgers and Cincinnati comes to a close Saturday when the Bearcats travel to High Point Solutions Stadium for a key conference game. The Scarlet Knights enter kickoff needing one more win for bowl eligibility, and looking for a strong showing in the running game.

Cincinnati (7-2, 4-1) at Rutgers (5-3, 2-2)


Time:Noon, High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
TV/Radio: ESPNews, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 97.5 FM
Series: Rutgers leads 9-8-1
Last meeting: Nov. 17, 2012, Rutgers won 10-3
Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (2nd season, 14-7); Cincinnati – Tommy Tuberville (1st season 7-2)

Storyline Central

  • James Returns -- Despite missing half the season with a lower right leg injury, starting tailback Paul James remains the team's leading rusher with 573 yards and six touchdowns. James practice in full leading up to the game and brings a boost to a running game expected to miss Justin Goodwin with a hamstring injury. James is a co-starter with Savon Huggins on the depth chart. Huggins had the best game of his career against the Bearcats last season, and Rutgers is expected to bring a run-heavy look to the field Saturday.

  • Defensive Line Shuffle -- Rutgers is likely down another lineman with the shoulder injury to starting 3-technique Darius Hamilton. Already shuffling inside with injuries, expect multiple changes to the personnel for the Rutgers front four. David Milewski already had time inside because of the injury to Kenneth Kirksey, and projects to start for Hamilton. Rutgers will also work in sophomore Max Issaka at the position with Daryl Stephenson's role increasing in importance. With Milewski and Issaka playing defensive tackle, red-shirt freshman Quanzell Lambert will continue to see increased time at the R position.

  • Bowl Game -- Flood has a chance to lock up his second straight bowl game as head coach with a win against Cincinnati. The Belk Bowl remains the strongest post-season destination for the Scarlet Knights, should they become eligible with one more win. A win sends Rutgers to a bowl game for the eighth time in nine years.

Matchup to Watch
Cincinnati tight end Blake Annen vs. Rutgers linebacker Jamal Merrell

The battle against spread teams is well documented, but tight end has always been a position against which Rutgers struggled when facing the Bearcats. Dating back to Brent Celek, Connor Barwin and Travis Kelce, the tight end position has a dangerous history for Cincinnati. Rutgers needs to efficiently shut down the position in 1-on-1 matchups and make quarterback Brandon Kay focus on his wide receivers.

Scarlet Knights Win If…
They limit Kay's completions -- Kay leads the nation by completing 74.1 percent of his passes, and can pick apart an inexperienced defensive secondary if given the opportunity. To stop Kay from getting overly comfortable, Rutgers has to create pressure with its front four, and show improvement at cornerback. The Scarlet Knights have a smaller look on the defensive line, and have to use that speed to pressure Kay by winning 1-on-1 battles. Blitz and linebacker pressure will not be enough. At cornerback, a healing Anthony Cioffi and returning Nadir Barnwell helps, as does two more weeks of experience for converted receiver Ruhann Peele.

CB Nadir Barnwell
Bearcats Win If …
They improve against the run -- Cincinnati's offense is clearly improved and will not have the same three-point performance it did against Rutgers last year. For the Bearcats to turn the tables on the Scarlet Knights in their final matchup, they have to stop the run. Savon Huggins had the best game of his career against Cincinnati last year, and the Rutgers running game only becomes more dangerous with James back in the fold.





KICKOFF PRIMER

Impact Player
WR Leonte Carroo — Until teams figure out that Carroo likes 1-on-1 matchups and fade passes, he remains the best offensive weapon Rutgers has when it needs a score. Carroo is one touchdown away from tying a school record that has been in place since he was one year old. The majority of his nine touchdowns and 455 yards have come on the sane play. Cincinnati is in trouble if it can't find a way to stop it in 1-on-1 situations.

WR Leonte Carroo
Something to Prove
RB Paul James — He may be medically cleared, but James has not had a live snap or tackle since going down with his lower right leg injury against Arkansas. After Huggins went for 179 against Cincinnati behind a similar offensive line, James could be in for a monster day if he is able to pick up where he left off as the nation's leading rusher through the first three weeks.

Looking to Build
CB Ruhann Peele — The converted wide receiver passed his first defensive test. Peele has a lot more to prove in his second game as a cornerback. Flood added first- and second-down responsibilities to Peele's plate, and he will see a more prominent role with health concerns for Anthony Cioffi and Delon Stephenson. Peele may be the best tackler Rutgers has in the secondary, and he needs to have an impact in coverage.

Freshman to Watch
WR Janarion Grant — The electric specialist will get plenty of opportunities to make an impact against Cincinnati. Grant is improved in his decision-making as a punt returner, and could have a chance to break something after remaining dormant since his hot start.

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