When it came down to where the Rutgers defense went wrong in Saturday’s 34-32 loss at Minnesota, Jay Niemann knew where the problems originated.
“I think the story for us is just rushing yards,” he said.
In his first year as defensive coordinator for the Scarlet Knights (2-6, 0-5), Niemann saw a recurring problem surface once more in Rutgers’ latest game. The Golden Gophers (5-2, 2-2) ran all over his unit for 243 yards and three touchdowns on 53 attempts.
Minnesota milked away the clock on its game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. The Golden Gophers got the ball back with 4:01 left. They took eight carries for 50 yards and won the game on a 28-yard field goal with six seconds left.
“Some corrections were made,” Niemann said. “But at the end of the day, what needed to happen was that we needed a stop on that last drive and we didn’t get it.”
Rutgers’ run defense has now surrendered an average of 340.5 yards per game in the past four weeks and a total of 17 rush touchdowns. Rutgers ranks last in the Big Ten against the run with 261.1 yards per game and 22 touchdowns.
Niemann said Rutgers needs to do a better execution of tackles, especially against a power-run attack like Minnesota.
“Their backs ran really, really hard and I felt they were really under-the-radar guys in the Big Ten looking at the film when I think today that they lived up to expectations,” he said. “I was really impressed when they ran really hard and times when we had guys at the point of attack, couldn’t get them down and they made extra yards after contact. We need to do a better job of getting them tackled.”
Rutgers was without sophomore linebacker Deonte Roberts, who left the game early due to injury. Fifth-year senior Kevin Marquez entered at middle linebacker and filled in with nine tackles.
“Deonte got dinged up, and hopefully he’ll get better as we go through this bye week and he can have a little bit of time to get healed up,” Niemann said. “But this kind of game with the power-running style they have and all that, we just felt like at that particular time it was best to put another guy in there that was a little bit healthier.”
Niemann commended Tyreek Williams for his efforts. The true freshman had 10 tackles with one tackle for loss in his third straight start at the SAM.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job for a true freshman,” Niemann said. “He’s growing, maturing and getting better every week and making some plays and couldn’t be happier with his progress. So he’s on the right path, on the right track and hopefully just continues along those lines, gets better and better as we go. But he’s got a very bright future.”