Pressure on Rutgers Defense to Adjust

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Averaging 33.8 points allowed per game in Big Ten play and possibly down its starting quarterback, Rutgers faces another significant challenge in Wisconsin, The Badgers scored 52 on Maryland Saturday, and have the film from Rutgers losses to Nebraska and Ohio State as a blueprint to attacking the traditional Scarlet Knight scheme.

The secret is out against the Rutgers defense after a combined 98 points scored between Ohio State and Nebraska in the last two games. Rutgers and first-year coordinator Joe Rossi made noise in the first half of the year with strong shows against the likes of Penn State, Navy and Tulane.

But coaches like Nebraska’s Bo Pelini saw what Rutgers did, and adjustments in the offensive game plan set up for two rough Saturdays. Nebraska spread out the field with empty-backfield sets, and used Ameer Abdullah’s superior speed of the edge to win a consistent advantage.

Pelini explained what he saw on film after the 42-24 victory.

“We thought we could take advantage of some of the things they did and get some matchups we wanted to get,” Pelini said on the basis of empty sets. “I thought it was good for us.”

Matchup problems included multiple third-down conversions surrendered by weakside linebacker Steve Longa, and the touchdown pass to receiver Sam Cotton against middle linebacker Kevin Snyder.

Snyder had the coverage, but Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Cotton executed a perfect throw and catch.

“You really just learn how difficult it is to perform every single play and execute that play,” Snyder said on the last two games. “It gets a little repetitive, but I’ve got to continue to watch, make the checks and continue to work the game plan. We’ll get back at it, and on to Wisconsin.”

It is now Rutgers’ turn for adjustments with Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1). The Badgers dropped 52 points on Maryland Saturday, and present an equally challenging running back attack led by Melvin Gordon and New Jersey’s own Corey Clement.

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said no wholesale changers were coming defensively after the loss to Ohio State, but is in search of an answer to make plays in space after Nebraska.

“It unfolded unfortunately exactly like I knew it would during the week if there was going to be an issue,” Flood said on Nebraska’s offense. “If you don’t disrupt that runner before he hits the line of scrimmage it’s going to be very hard to get him on the ground. He’s an elite player. And the more open space he has one on one the less likely you’re going … to tackle him.”

Gordon sits side-by-side with Abdullah when it comes to the numbers – 1,168 yards and 16 touchdowns in seven games. Clement has 566 yards and five touchdowns of his own.


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