Locking Down Left Tackle

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Keith Lumpkin has 20 straight starts at left tackle for Rutgers, and could nearly double that before his career comes to an end. Averaging fewer than two sacks allowed per game as an offensive line, Lumpkin spoke about the struggles against Ohio State and the need to fix it fast.

A four-sack performance against the Rutgers offensive line is the best of any team this season against the Scarlet Knights. If not for a few quick-footed moves by quarterback Gary Nova, Ohio State could have put up even more.

That is unacceptable, said left tackle Keith Lumpkin, and has to become a learning point through the final five games of the year.

“I wouldn’t say we’re beat up, we’ve just got to bounce back,” Lumpkin said. “Take it as a learning experience. Sometimes you fall down, and you’ve got to get back up. That’s what we’re going to focus on. We have to prepare better. We have to do the little things. Pay attention to more details of our assignments and stuff. That’s our focus this week.”

Rutgers (5-2, 1-2) held its first six opponents to eight sacks, and plans to return to form against Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers are ninth in the Big Ten with 2.3 sacks per game, but have what coach Kyle Flood described as a tough front seven.

“I think they run to the ball well,” Flood said. “I think they play with great passion as you would expect them to with a coach who's got the defensive background that Bo Pelini does. They've got defensive linemen. They've got a sophomore [Maliek Collins] who is a tremendous, tremendous inside player, a very disruptive guy, very twitched up, and they've got a defensive end who's a junior [Randy Gregory], who I would put in the same category.”

The 6-foot-8, 315-pound Lumpkin always took football seriously, but teammates noticed a change going into his junior season. Ohio State represented the 20th straight start at left tackle for the Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep product.

Every start comes with improvement, said his quarterback Gary Nova.

“He’s taken a big leap from last year,” the captain said. “I think his mindset has totally changed, and in order for us to have success, he has to keep putting up good games.

“I think he realizes how good he can be. His attitude toward practices and workouts is way better, and he’s playing really well. … I’ve known him since eighth grade, and I definitely trust him. I know he’s going to protect for me.”

Ask Lumpkin, however, and he is not pleased with his performance. He wants more, and that became clear to him after playing Ohio State.

“There’s a lot of stuff I need to do better,” Lumpkin said. “We have to do better in the run game, and we have to get better at protecting Gary. We have a lot of things to work on, so that’s what we’re going to do. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Nebraska is not a sack machine – ninth in the Big Ten – but look for the Cornhuskers to attack Nova in the same way Ohio State did.

Lumpkin said the offensive line will be ready.

“I get excited every game to be honest with you,” Lumpkin said. “Every game is a big challenge because every team has good defensive linemen. That’s just a challenge that you have to be willing to accept. I think it’s going to be a fun game. They have a good defensive end and a good 3-tech. It should be fun.”

The excitement increases slightly because of one Husker specifically – safety D.J. Singleton from St. Peter’s Prep.

“That was one of my good friends in high school, so it would be great to see him out there,” Lumpkin said. “Hopefully I’m able to see him out on the field and get to block him a few times on a long run or something like that. It’s great to see old high school teammates and stuff. … It’s a great moment for everybody.”

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