Game Preview: Rutgers at Navy

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Rutgers football faces a crossroads game tomorrow when it travels to face the favored Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Coming off a heartbreaking loss and poor showing from quarterback Gary Nova, can the Scarlet Knights rebound?

Rutgers (2-1) at Navy (2-1)

Time:3:34 p.m., Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md.

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network, 1450 AM WCTC, 98.7 FM, 610-WIP AM

Series: Rutgers leads, 12-11-1

Last meeting: Oct. 15, 2011, Rutgers won 21-20

Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (3rd season, 17-12); Navy – Ken Niumatalolo (7th Season, 51-31)

Storyline Central

  • The Hangover -- Rutgers put its heart and soul into beating Penn State and came up short in front of a sold-out crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium. With so much put into the last game, Rutgers is set to face Navy in a “let-down game” environment. Navy is the favorite anyway, but it is up to the Rutgers coaching staff and captains to find the right energy level to bounce back.

  • The Highs and Lows of Gary Nova -- Low was very low last week when Nova threw five interceptions as one of the primary culprits in a 13-10 loss. Nova was inaccurate and reverted back to poor decision-making. With the Rutgers decision to get away from the running game, it was up to Nova to win the game. He fell short. There are two ways this can go. Nova can bounce back like he did against Arkansas in 2013 or it is the start of a tailspin a la Kent State 2012.

  • Revamped Defense -- The triple option has been talked out throughout the week, but the Rutgers defense comes to Annapolis with momentum. For the first time in a long time, Rutgers looked like Rutgers in shutting down the Penn State run game and frazzling quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the process. With a different look defensively, coordinator Joe Rossi has to stop Navy from dominating time of possession. Offensively, coordinator Ralph Friedgen must maximize possessions because Rutgers will not get very many of them.

Matchup to Watch

Rutgers nose tackle Kenneth Kirksey vs. Navy interior offensive line

The best way to beat the triple option is with a disruptive nose guard. Kirksey needs to have a big game to throw the rhythm off quarterback Keenen Reynolds. Navy has a senior center in Tanner Fleming that missed the Ohio State game but was back for the last two. Fleming is supported on either side by junior E.K. Binns (13 starts) and senior Jake Zuzek (29 consecutive starts). Kirksey needs to eat up space and give play-makers like Darius Hamilton and David Milewski chances to create havoc in the backfield.

Scarlet Knights Win If…

They keep the defense fresh -- Rutgers has the personnel and athleticism to stop Navy’s triple option. The challenge comes in execution and discipline. The Scarlet Knights cannot afford the stupid penalties they showed defensively during the first three games. A personal foul against Navy means a free first down and another three minutes on the field for the defense. Rutgers cannot afford to wear down because it is going to be a sloberknocker by the time the fourth quarter arrives. The Rutgers scoop and score mentality comes into play this week after both Ohio State and Temple took fumbles back for six points against Navy.

Midshipmen Win If …

Reynolds Rolls at 100 Percent -- Navy took care of business without Keenan Reynolds against Texas State, but need him on his A-game to take down Rutgers for the first time since 2008. The senior Navy quarterback led the offense to a solid showing against fellow Big Ten opponent Ohio State and was explosive the following week with 173 yards and two touchdowns. If Reynolds shows up healthy and protects the football, Rutgers is in for a long day defensively.


Impact Player

LB Steve Longa — Whether on the weakside or at his old middle linebacker position, this is the kind of game for which Longa is built. Longa is a faster linebacker with the vision and experience to close off the edge and deliver big hits. It is the first career game for Longa against the triple option after 147 tackles in his first 16 career games.

Something to Prove

QB Gary Nova — Bounce back or the Chris Laviano conversation becomes increases in seriousness within the Hale Center. Nova’s 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio disappeared with five picks and only a rushing touchdown against Penn State. The Rutgers locker room continues to stand behind the senior and will have to make plays around him. Rutgers needs a strong running game from Paul James, Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin to truly open up the passing game. The Nova that shows up tomorrow goes a long way in determining the final score.

Looking to Build

DE Kemoko Turay — Do not expect a significant role on the defense, but Turay’s field goal block against Penn State is as good as you will ever see. With two blocked kicks in three career games, the 6-foot-6 mega-athlete has potential to be the ultimate impact guy on special teams. He also works as a gunner on kickoff coverage and pass rush specialist in just his third year of organized football.

Freshman to Watch

DT Kevin Wilkins — He worked as a second-team tackle leading into game week. The 300-pounder arrived late to Rutgers, but is finally in the swing of things. Flood admitted to looking at him to play this week. The former Don Bosco and St. Joseph Regional big man and wrestling star is a good fit for combatting the triple option. Wilkins could be the latest true freshman to see the field.

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