Game Preview: Nebraska at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers is banged up but back home after a painful month for the Scarlet Knights. In a decisive game when it comes to bowl eligibility, Rutgers and Nebraska both have a lot on the line for kickoff. Scout's Brian Dohn and Sam Hellman preview and predict the action.

 

Nebraska (4-6, 2-4) vs. Rutgers (3-6, 1-5)

Time – 3:30 p.m., High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

TV/Radio – Big Ten Network, 1450 AM WCTC, 710 AM WOR

Series – Nebraska leads 2-0

Last meeting – Oct. 25, 2014, Nebraska won 42-24

Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (4th season, 26-22); Nebraska – Mike Riley (15th season 97-86, 1st at Nebraska, 4-6)

Storyline Central

Desperation – Desperate men are dangerous men, and both Rutgers and Nebraska are in do-or-die games. Both teams need the victory to become bowl eligible. Both coaches Flood and Riley need a statement. Look for both sides to pull out all of the stops to push toward a six-win season.

Stop the Bleeding – Rutgers lost its last three games by a combined 146-33 score. That’s almost as bad as it gets when it comes to the modern football era in Piscataway. It marks the worst three-game stretch since Greg Schiano lost by a combined 160-14 in his first season.

Back to Basics Chris Laviano made his true Rutgers debut against Nebraska last season, and Saturday is the best chance to showcase his improvement. Laviano completed four of seven passes with a 46-yard scramble last year. He took over the starting job in game two of the 2015 season with 1,633 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions to his name. 

 

Matchup to Watch

Rutgers Safeties Anthony Cioffi & Kiy Hester vs Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong

Every Rutgers safety was an exploitable target for Michigan, and it could be the same for Nebraska. Armstrong is a dynamic threat that won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after a victory over Michigan State. Armstrong threw for 320 yards against Michigan State with four touchdowns. If Rutgers wants to improve against dual-threat quarterbacks, it starts with better safety play.

Scarlet Knights win if …

Carroo Returns with Authority – Rutgers is simply a different team with Leonte Carroo, but if he comes back from the ankle Saturday, it has to be at a high level. Carroo proved himself as one of the best players in the Big Ten, but Rutgers cannot rush him back. If Carroo returns, he opens up the Rutgers offense to a different level. Rutgers has a deep threat. Rutgers has a receiver that can get open. Rutgers forces Nebraska to respect the passing game.

Huskers Win if …

Follow the Script  – The strategy is in front of them after Wisconsin, Ohio State and Nebraska showed what it takes to dominate Rutgers. Attack the edges in the running game, take what the defense gives over the middle and prepare for a short passing attack against Laviano. Rutgers is going to make mistakes, but Nebraska has to be in position to capitalize.

 

KICKOFF PRIMER

 

Impact Player

WR Janarion Grant – Fresh off the longest play from a visiting team in 81 years at Michigan Stadium, Grant is on everyone’s radar and teams for some reason still kick to him. Grant is a school-record machine in the return game and the first Big Ten player in nine years with three kick return scores in the same season.

Something to Prove

LB Kaiwan Lewis – Lewis chose Rutgers over Nebraska in his search for a graduate-transfer home. What better way to show why than with a big game and victory when the two meet? Lewis plays well against the run, and leaves more to be desired against the pass. The middle of the field was wide open last week for Michigan. Lewis needs to bring a stronger performance against another dangerous quarterback.

Looking to Build

PK Kyle Federico – The senior put together one of his best showings to date at the Big House. Federico is as reliable right now as he was at any time in his kicking career. He made 75 percent of his kicks through nine games, including the game-winner against Indiana. Rutgers needs every point in the final stretch, and Federico is a key player.

Freshman to Watch

WR Dontae Owens – Now that Owens is on the field, Rutgers need to get the most out of him through the next three games. Flood played Owens against Michigan to prepare him for a bigger role in the next three games. That begins against Nebraska where Carroo cannot be the entire offense. Owens likely begins the game as the fourth-string X, but anything is possible with Carroo’s and Carlton Agudosi’s health in question.


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