Thanksgiving Notebook: Holiday Practice Notes

Rutgers football celebrated its Thanksgiving morning with the final practice before shipping up to Connecticut to take on the Huskies. Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood spoke with reporters before heading home for the holiday, and broke down the need to improve defensively and more leading up to kickoff.

After giving up 42.3 points per game in four road games this season, Rutgers football has its sights set on a stronger showing against Connecticut. The Huskies (1-9, 1-5) have ugly numbers offensively, but will not be taken lightly by a defense still searching for answers.

Connecticut starting quarterback Casey Cochran is inexperienced after taking over as a starter late this season, but led the Huskies to their first win of the year against Temple. Cochran sports five touchdowns and four picks for 521 yards in 88 passes this season. Because of recent struggles against UCF's Blake Bortles and Cincinnati's Brendon Key, the defensive secondary plans to be on high alert in the passing game.

"We have a tackling system, and every week we try to do things to get better at it," said head coach Kyle Flood. "It's no different this week, and I think we have worked every day. They players know we need to tackle better, but you do have limitations in terms of contact at this time of the season. We didn't do anything differently, but we tried to do what we do better."

Rutgers plans to maintain its defensive scheme, but has some wrinkles planned.

"We're going to play Rutgers defense, but we worked on some things this week to make us better against the run and pass," Longa said. "I feel like we're very prepared to play them. We're running the same defense, but with a little tweak here and there. When you have a football game and things go wrong, you've got to make changes."

Longa's team-high 93 tackles this season put him on pace to be the first Rutgers middle linebacker to break 100 since Gary Brackett 10 years ago.

"We're trying to win right now, and our goal is to beat Connecticut and be 1-0 this week," Longa said. "We can't expect any goals or to look past UConn. Any given day, anybody can get beat. They're a pretty good football team, but they haven't won any big games yet this season. They're getting close, so we can't go into UConn saying it's going to be easy or we're going to blow by them."

Missed Tackles

Whatever scheme changes Rutgers makes, fundamentals are at the focus of Thanksgiving week practices. Rutgers missed multiple sack opportunities on Bortles, and consistently struggled to bring down ball-carriers in 1-on-1 tackle situations.

"We have to get on it from the jump," said sophomore defensive tackle Darius Hamilton. "Man, we can't come up flat. We just have to play our game, man. Fundamentals was the focus all week. It was frustrating to watch against UCF. We're focused on finishing. We're focused on the basics, because without the basics, man you can't do the big things."

Kneel before Dodd

Quarterback Chas Dodd has not been announced as a starter in nearly two years, but the way he stuck it out has his teammates excited to rally behind him.

Senior receiver Quron Pratt experienced a breakout sophomore year with Dodd as the starter, and cannot wait to line up next to him again Saturday at Rentschler Field.

"Chas has won plenty of games for us here at Rutgers, big games," Pratt said. "We know him very well, and he's a confident person. He easily could have just bailed out and left or transferred or something, but he stuck with it all these games. He was on the sidelines hungry, watching, observing, every single day. He's a team player, and that's what we need to have a great opportunity to win."

Friendly Clash

Connecticut receiver Shakim Phillips and Rutgers linebacker Davon Jacobs have had plenty of friendly trash talk this week as good friends off the field.

Jacobs and Phillips played together at Wayne (N.J.) DePaul in high school. After Phillips transferred from Boston College to Connecticut, the battle between the two has been highly anticipated.

"I told him I'm looking forward to it," Jacobs said when asked about a chance to hit his former teammate. "… He's definitely gotten better. I've seen his hands get a lot stronger, and he's gotten bigger. His routes are definitely sharper than before."

Phillips was the No. 49 receiver in the country in 2010 out of DePaul. He is second on Connecticut in receiving with 28 catches for 406 yards, and leads UConn with three receiving touchdowns.

"He's one of their playmakers," Flood said. "They've had some different quarterbacks that they've used this year, but he's a guy that, given the opportunity, can make a big play for them in their offense."

Flood Family Thanksgiving

Flood has the pleasure of two Thanksgiving meals today, one spent with team members and one with his family. Flood, along with about a dozen players, and some staff members will eat at the team hotel.

Offensive coordinator Ron Prince and video coordinator Ricky Palmer are expected, Flood said, and they will help celebrate safety Johnathan Aiken's birthday.

Flood will then head to New York to spend the rest of the day with his family.

Other Notes

Flood does not expect any changes to the depth chart at the last minute, and is excited at the progress made Thursday by center Betim Bujari. Bujari practiced Thursday, and "adds depth" for the Connecticut game.

The plan offensively is to start Paul James at running back and use junior Savon Huggins as a third-down back because of his versatility. Freshman Justin Goodwin will also be available, and a part of the game plan, Flood said.

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