Game Preview: Rutgers at Connecticut

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Rutgers makes its final trip to the house of horrors that has become Rentschler Field. This time, the Scarlet Knights face Connecticut with the chance to end a losing slide and become bowl eligible. For the first time since the Pinstripe Bowl, Rutgers takes the field with Chas Dodd as its starting quarterback.

Rutgers (5-5, 2-4) at Connecticut (1-9, 1-5)

Time:Noon, Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Conn.
TV/Radio: ESPNU, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 97.5 FM
Series: Rutgers leads 22-10
Last meeting: Oct. 6, 2012, Rutgers won 19-3
Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (2nd season, 14-9); UConn – interim coach T.J. Weist (1st season, 1-5)

Storyline Central

  • Quarterback Change -- In a moment that many thought they would never see, Chas Dodd returns as the Rutgers starting quarterback after 23 games on the bench. Flood benched starter and team captain Gary Nova after another poor performance against UCF. Nova, who has 18 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 2,159 yards on his season. Does Dodd's emergence provide the spark to turn the corner? Was the decision to play Dodd made too late? Dodd got a full practice week to shake off the rust, and it will be a different-looking offense with the gunslinger back in charge.

  • Bad History -- Rutgers has had plenty of ugly moments on the natural grass surface of Rentschler Field, and needed a miracle play from Tom Savage to Tim Brown to get out alive in 2009. Rutgers blew a shot at the Orange Bowl with an embarrassing loss last time, and also laid an egg in 2007 against the Huskies. Rentschler Field the weekend of Thanksgiving will be empty, cold and an equalizer for a Connecticut team coming off its first win.

  • Crunch Time -- Suddenly, bowl eligibility becomes a lot more significant after Flood lost four of his last five games. Beating a 1-9 Connecticut team is not a big deal on paper, but any win right now will go a long way in smoothing over the rough patches of the last month. This is as close to a must-win game as a 5-5 team gets, and it would be a big reward for the large group of true freshmen making an impact this season.

Matchup to Watch
Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood vs. Rutgers running back Paul James

Smallwood fits the mold of a tough, hard-nosed Connecticut linebacker and is the brightest spot on the team. Smallwood is a defensive play-maker and should be a major concern for a Rutgers offense struggling to build momentum. Smallwood is second in the American with 102 tackles, and he is one of the most impact players in the conference. Smallwood is strong against the run, and makes quarterbacks force throws. Smallwood won the Temple game with a pick six.

Scarlet Knights Win If…
Dodd provides a spark -- The spark was there in practice this week, and Rutgers is in good shape if the motivation carries over to kickoff at Rentschler Field. Look for Dodd to make quick passes, quick reads and use three-step drops often to move the ball. If Dodd makes quick decisions accurately, and efficiently manages the running game, Rutgers is in good position to become bowl eligible.

QB Chas Dodd
Huskies Win If …
Rutgers lets them -- Connecticut is not a good team, and Rutgers will have to do something specific to put the Huskies in position for a second straight win. Connecticut does not have a quarterback like the ones that have torched an inexperienced defensive secondary. The best chance Connecticut has at a victory comes if Rutgers makes too many mistakes offensively and loses the field position battle.


Impact Player
QB Chas Dodd — In two career games against Connecticut, Dodd is 29-for-51 with 463 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Dodd's marquee game in a Rutgers uniform came in a victory over Orange-Bowl-bound Connecticut in 2010. The move from Nova to Dodd may not drastically fix the problems with the offense, but it should re-energize things. Rutgers averages 16.2 points per game over its current five-game slide, and Dodd needs to help increase that number with the struggles of the defense.

WR Brandon Coleman
Something to Prove
WR Brandon Coleman — How close is Coleman to returning to form? Coleman played well, and got involved early in the loss to Cincinnati. Coleman was also a hot target against UCF, but was inconsistent with his hands. Coleman's breakout day in a Rutgers uniform came as a red-shirt freshman in the 40-22 loss the last time the Scarlet Knights traveled to Rentschler. With limited options at receiver because of injuries, Coleman will have to channel what he did the last time he played in East Hartford.

Looking to Build
TE Tyler Kroft — Kroft leads Rutgers in receiving, and caught a career-high eight passes against UCF as the offense's most consistent performer. Kroft is on his way to an all-conference season, leading the AAC in catches (38) and yards (428) for a tight end. Leonte Carroo and Quron Pratt have injury problems at receiver, which makes Kroft's pass-catching role vital at Rentschler Field.

Freshman to Watch
WR Andre Patton — When it comes to replicating what Carroo and Pratt do offensively, Patton brings the most similar skill set. He received praise from Flood this week for some spectacular catches in practice as well. The freshmen receivers will all get a chance this week, with Carlton Agudosi seeing more time as a deep ball threat, and John Tsimis and Janarion Grant getting more snaps against UCF and Cincinnati.

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