New Mexico (1-1) at Rutgers (1-1)
Time – Noon, High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
TV/Radio – ESPNews, 1450 AM WCTC, 710 AM WOR, Tune In App
Series – First Meeting
Last meeting – First Meeting
Coaches: Rutgers – Chris Ash (1st season, 1-1); New Mexico – Bob Davie (10th season 54-58, 5th at New Mexico, 19-33)
Laviano's Leash? – Will Rutgers design a drive for Giovanni Resigno or Tylin Oden no matter what the score? What happens if Rutgers does not have its desired offensive production at halftime? After the third quarter? Quarterback Chris Laviano said himself this week that his game requires improvements in every facet. Resigno and Oden are significantly better options as runners in the power spread but neither has a college pass attempt to his name. Rutgers rotated multiple offensive linemen and running backs for production purposes in the first two games. Why not quarterback if Laviano does not improve?
Déjà vu Defensive Backfield – Safety Saquan Hampton is out. The same goes for sophomore Ronnie James, who continues rehabilitation from offseason groin surgery. Rutgers is very thin in its defensive secondary for different reasons than last season but in a tough situation nonetheless. Rutgers has three true freshmen in its rotation, once of which is 5-foot-8 walk-on Larry Stevens.
Wake Up – Back-to-back slow starters caused major problems for Rutgers. The coaching staff, under Ash's lead, showed adjustment ability against both Washington and Howard, but playing from behind becomes even more challenging in an offense without a fluid identity.
Matchup to Watch
Rutgers SS Anthony Cioffi, SAM Najee Clayton vs New Mexico QB Austin Apodaca
The Lobos' leading rusher, Teriyon Gibson, is likely out tomorrow following a recent concussion. That makes Washington State transfer Austin Apodaca an even bigger focal point of Bob Davie's option attack. Cioffi and Clayton (or potentially Greg Jones) cover the most ground against the run, so assignment football and tackling fundamentals have to be near perfect. Apodaca is New Mexico's second-best eligible rusher with 99 and a touchdown. He is 24-of-39 through the air with 287 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Tyrone Owens likely steps in as the starting running back with 4.8 yards per carry on 26 attempts.
Scarlet Knights win if …
They Maintain Discipline, Gap Integrity – Tackling was a disaster very early in the win over Howard but Rutgers quickly adjusted and finished powerfully as a defense. This week, it's not about the talent gap, it's about the coaching and player execution. Rutgers has better athleticism as a team. Eye discipline in the defensive secondary and gap integrity from the front seven are the keys to stopping the run.
Lobos Win if …
Their Defense Shuts Down the Run – Whichever team runs more successfully is the favorite in this one. New Mexico's defense gave up 21 and 32 points in its first two games with 142.5 yards per game allowed on the ground. Rutgers averages 255.5 rushing yards per game including three touchdowns from receiver Janarion Grant in special formations. Make Laviano's arm and the Rutgers receivers beat you, not the running backs.
DE Julian Pinnix-Odrick – Howard was no match for the powerful fifth-year senior and team captain. Pinnix-Odrick has the size and explosiveness to do the same against New Mexico. Pinnix-Odrick, at worst, forces New Mexico to design runs away from him. At best, the fifth-year senior builds upon his team-best three TFLs and two sacks.
Something to Prove
DT Sebastian Joseph – It does not show in the statistics but a true nose tackle is the key to victory against an option-heavy offense like New Mexico. Anybody remember the dominant performances from players like Ramel Meekins or Scott Vallone? Joseph needs to be the beast of the defensive line because the more disruptive he becomes off the snap, the harder it becomes for New Mexico to properly run its offense.
Looking to Build
WR Janarion Grant– How can Grant build off his latest electric performance? That's the challenge for offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer and special teams coordinator Vince Okruch. Offensively, Grant was the x-factor in the running game, and can expect a bigger wildcat role this week after Rutgers dialed it back against FCS Howard. Mehringer and Ash need to find him more often in the passing game. On special teams, Okruch showed multiple return packages on punt and kick that forced Howard to kick to him. New Mexico may be in the same situation at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Freshman to Watch
WR/CB Dacoven Bailey – Fans so far enjoyed the true freshman as a reserve slotback and special teams weapon. His defensive debut could be tomorrow after he worked as a nickel this week in practice. Rutgers is without multiple defensive backs this week and Bailey has the high-school experience and athleticism to help. With protective gear on his wrist in practice, his hands may not be in a position to contribute at receiver anyway.