KEYS TO THE BOSTON COLLEGE GAME
Since a 20-13 victory over Boston College in 1991 in the inaugural Big East game, Rutgers has looked up at Boston College in the league standings. Even through the throes of a debilitating gambling scandal, Boston College continued to beat Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have not beaten the Eagles since 1991. In recent years the Boston College victories have been decisive – an average margin of victory of 23 points since 1996. That trend changed last year, as Rutgers jumped on the Eagles early and dominated the 1st Half. However, Head Coach Greg Schiano got conservative and tried to sit on the lead, allowing Boston College to come back. The Eagles dominated the 2nd Half and won the game, 35-25, in the final minutes. Boston College continued its dominance over Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights showed that they had closed the gap.
On the second play from scrimmage, QB Ryan Hart connected with WR Tres Moses on a fade route for a 65-yard TD to stun the Eagles. The Scarlet Knight defense stopped Boston College at midfield and then Rutgers crossed midfield before stalling just outside of FG range. P Joe Radigan pinned the Eagles on the BC08 and DE Raheem Orr sacked Eagle QB Paul Peterson for a safety on the next play. PR Willie Foster returned the ensuing free kick 28 yards across midfield but Rutgers went 3-n-out. Rutgers again stopped Boston College at midfield and took possession at the BC37 after CB Nate Jones tackled Eagle P Jeff Gomulinski. Rutgers stalled in the red zone and settled for a 28-yard FG by PK Ryan Sands to take a 12-0 lead at the end of the 1st Quarter. The teams exchanged 3-n-outs but Eagle PR Nat Hasselbeck returned a punt 39 yards to the RU14. Eagle TB Derrick Knight scored on a 1-yard TD four plays later but DE Piana Lukabu blocked the XPA. Rutgers drove 66 yards in eleven plays but again settled for a Sands 28-yard FG and a mere 15-6 lead. Boston College responded with an eight-play, 63-yard drive that Knight ended with a 27-yard TD run. But Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards for a TD to blunt the Eagles' momentum. Rutgers again stopped Boston College at midfield and ran out the clock with a 22-13 halftime lead.
Boston College crossed midfield on the opening drive of the 2nd Half but stalled outside of FG range. Rutgers went 3-n-out and Boston College drove 66 yards in eight plays, scoring a TD on a 3-yard drag route to FB Greg Toal. The teams traded 3-n-outs, with Rutgers gaining field position on the exchange. Starting at the RU47, Rutgers drove to the BC26 but Sands missed a 44-yard FGA. Rutgers forced another Eagle 3-n-out and again gained excellent field position at the BC39. Rutgers drove to the BC18 but settled for a 41-yard FG by Sands to take a 25-20 lead early in the 4th Quarter. Boston College drove 41 yards to the RU34 but the Scarlet Knights stopped the Eagles on 4th-n-6. Boston College forced Rutgers 3-n-out and then drove 69 yards on six plays behind 65 receiving yards by WR Larry Lester, including a 17-yard TD catch. The subsequent TD gave Boston College its first lead of the game and a 2XPA extended the lead to 28-25 with six minutes remaining. Rutgers responded with a nine-play, 48-yard drive but Sands missed a game-tying 43-yards FGA with 1:30 remaining. Knight ran 75 yards in two plays to score the clinching TD for Boston College 30 seconds later.
Boston College (5-2, 1-1 Big East) is in the final month of its final season as a member of the Big East football conference. The rest of the conference has not forgiven Boston College for the duplicitous manner in which Boston College worked to destroy the conference that it helped found. Rising Connecticut gave Boston College a tough game but the Eagles pulled away from the pesky Huskies in the 2nd Half. Bumbling Pittsburgh righted its season with a stunning 20-17 upset that saw the Panthers dominate both sides of the line of scrimmage. Now, it's Rutgers turn. The Scarlet Knights (4-4, 1-3 Big East) are coming off one of their better efforts of the season in a hard-fought 35-30 loss to 15th-ranked West Virginia. However, Rutgers has yet to beat a legitimate opponent on the road under Schiano. Rutgers gave away a golden opportunity at Syracuse and was not ready to play at Pittsburgh. Rutgers has not played a complete game this season. That is what it will take to spring the upset of Boston College. Here are my five keys to a delicious parting gift to Boston College.
1. Turnovers. Rutgers has committed 26 TOs this season. Or over three per game. That ranks #115 (of 117) nationally. TOs cost Rutgers wins against New Hampshire and Syracuse. TOs buried Rutgers in a 20-3 halftime hole at Vanderbilt. TOs let Temple hang around and threaten to steal a win. TOs resulted in a 38-3 halftime deficit at Pittsburgh. And TOs cost Rutgers a chance to upset 15th-ranked West Virginia. TOs are poison to the west coast offense. Especially as constituted at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights lack game breakers. As a result, Rutgers must methodically drive the field with drives that often require double-digit plays to reach paydirt. Such a methodical, ball control offense can not afford so many TOs because it deprives the team of valuable possessions. Typical of a losing program, Rutgers does not play well on the road. The margin of error on the road is much slimmer than it as home. Rutgers played TO-free ball last year against Boston College. And was still outgained by 100 yards. At home. The Scarlet Knights must not commit more than one TO in Chestnut Hill.
2. Outside Containment. The Scarlet Knight defense, expected to improve this season, has performed worse than last year. The amount of mental breakdowns have been staggering. One of the deficiencies has been an ongoing problem with outside containment. Michigan State, Kent State, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia each victimized Rutgers with misdirection wherein the Scarlet Knights lost backside containment and yielded big plays. Boston College attacked this weakness in two ways last season. First, the Eagles ran counters against the Rutgers defense and repeatedly broke big gains against a defense that overpursued on the back side and didn't stay home. Second, Peterson got outside the tackle box, bought time for his receivers, and picked apart the Rutgers secondary. Bootlegs to the TE and FB. Rolling pockets with slow developing WR crossing routes. And scrambles that allowed his WRs to find openings in the secondary. The Scarlet Knight DEs and OLBs must contain the Eagle defense between the tackles. Turn stretch plays and counter trey runs back inside. Contain Peterson within the pocket and make him be proficient pocket passer. Rutgers cannot afford to let Peterson get out of the pocket.
3. Run Defense. This is not a typical Boston College team that awaits the Scarlet Knights. Eagle Head Coach Tom O'Brien had to replace three starters on his OLine this year and his OL have struggled with nagging injuries. O'Brien also returned negligible experience at running back. Three freshmen have been splitting the workload as O'Brien has struggled to find consistent production at RB. The once-formidable Eagle rushing attack is averaging less than 150 yards per game. Boston College has gained only 118 yards on 60 carries (2 yards per carry) in their past two games. Rutgers has faced only three teams that emphasize the running game – Syracuse (380 yards), Vanderbilt (165 yards), and West Virginia (281 yards). Not pretty. Though his rushing game has struggled, O'Brien will likely try to re-establish the Eagle running game against Rutgers. Eagle TBs have rushed for over 200 yards in each of the past four games against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights must limit the Eagle ground game and force Boston College into a one-dimensional passing offense. Rutgers must not allow more than 125 rushing yards.
4. Zone Coverage. Peterson's mobility poses a challenge to the Scarlet Knight secondary. Rutgers cannot afford to play man-to-man coverage in the secondary if the Scarlet Knights cannot contain Peterson in the pocket. If defenders are in man-to-man coverage, their backs are turned away from the QB, who is freer to tuck the ball and run. Rutgers must play its base 4-3 Cover 2 zone underneath coverage. Last season, the Eagles struggled to drive the field against Rutgers but were able to hit enough big plays to score five TDs. The Scarlet Knights must keep the Eagles in front of them and force Boston College to methodically drive the field. If DBs and LBs are in zone coverage, they will be facing the QB and will better contain Peterson. In order to execute the scheme correctly, the CBs must force an inside release by Eagle WRs and funnel them inside towards the deep safeties. The LBs must find, whack, and cover any Eagle running through their zones. The deep safeties must be so anxious to jump the short routes that they let Eagle receivers get behind them. The Rutgers defense must not give up more than four big plays and none for TDs.
5. Kick Returns. Rutgers has closed the talent gap with Boston College. The Eagles are still superior up front – in the trenches – but Rutgers possesses comparable, if not better, talent at the skill positions. The Scarlet Knights must leverage this strength in the return game. Last year, Rutgers averaged 28 yards on KORs and scored a TD. The Scarlet Knights tackled the Eagle punter for a big loss on 4th down. And Rutgers returned three punts for 31 yards in a battle of field position. Schiano needs a big game from his kick return teams to get his team over the hump on the road. So PR Willie Foster is averaging 12 yards per return this season. He must average 15 yards on punt returns. Foster has also been the KOR but is averaging only 18 yards per return. Foster is too slight to break tackles on KORs on the more crowded field. Schiano replaced RS Jr Tres Moses with Foster to reduce Moses' heavy workload. Schiano needs a stronger KOR than Foster. Sr TB Clarence Pittman, Fr TB Dimitri Linton, or So WR Orlando Kane should replace KOR. Regardless of who returns KOs, the Scarlet Knights must average at least 25 yards on KORs. Rutgers must break at least one long kick return.
1. Jr QB Ryan Hart. Rutgers is ranked #114 nationally with 15 INTs. Hart has thrown 14 of those INTs. He underthrew open RS So TE Clark Harris on a corner route on the first play of the game last week against West Virginia. It was an inauspicious start. By the time Rutgers recovered, the Scarlet Knights trailed 14-0. Hart rebounded to complete 35 of 46 passes for 324 yards and three TDs. Hart threw one more INT – on an ill-conceived 50-yard flea-flicker that was at least 10 yards beyond Hart's effective range. Otherwise, Hart had an outstanding performance. As usual, Rutgers will need a strong performance from Hart. More so considering Boston College's stingy rushing defense, which is allowing only 100 rushing yards per game. The game is expected to be played in windy conditions. Hart will have to be extra careful to avoid floating passes into the wind, especially deep passes. He must complete at least 65% of his passes. He must throw twice as many TDs as INTs. He must hit his receivers in stride to maximize yardage after catch against the Eagle zone coverage. And he must hit enough deep passes to at least keep the Eagle safeties honest. He must throw for at least 250 yards and cannot throw more than one INT.
2. RS So TE Clark Harris. Harris has more receptions and more receiving yardage than any TE in the Big East. He is ranked third nationally in receiving yardage among TEs and fifth in receptions. Last week, Harris caught six passes for 49 yards. His biggest play was a play that wasn't actually made as Harris ran a corner route off play action on the opening play of the game and was open but underthrown. Against a two deep zone defense such as the one Boston College employs, the TE is a crucial weapon to exploit gaps in the middle of the field. Harris absolutely must be a frequent target this week. Harris must run post routes to force the Eagles safeties inside, giving the WRs room along the sidelines. Then, Harris must run corner routes to get behind the CB and outside the safety. Harris must also find the holes between the LBs as well as the void between the LBs and safeties. Harris must catch at least six passes for at least 100 yards.
3. So WR Marcus Daniels. Two weeks ago, Daniels had a prominent role at Pittsburgh but struggled to carry the responsibility. He played soft – waiting for contact after the catch and running horizontally to avoid contact rather than gaining tough yards. What a difference a week made. Last week, against West Virginia, Daniels tied his career high with six receptions and gained a career-high 84 yards. Daniels was more aggressive and more fluid. Daniels is a big, fast target. To maximize his ability, he must catch the ball on the move. He lacks Moses' agility and toughness to be a possession receiver. He is a big play receiver. Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg must put Daniels in position to make big plays. Throw him slants, posts, corners, and fades. Boston College successfully jammed Jr WR Shawn Tucker on the line of scrimmage last year. The Eagles likely will employ the same tactic against Daniels. Marcus must fight through the jams and get into his routes quickly. And make the CBs pay once he gets off the line of scrimmage. Daniels must catch at least four passes for at least 80 yards.
4. Fr PK Jeremy Ito. Since missing three of his first four FGAs, Ito has made 13 of his last 16 FGAs. Ito is also 6 of 8 on FGAs from 40 to 49 yards. Ito gives Schiano a formidable weapon in a field position battle. Ito has the range to hit from beyond 50 yards. Last week, Schiano trotted Ito onto the field for a 56-yard FGA. Ito actually squib punted, but Ito has performed so well that a 56-yard did not seem insane. As it would with most kickers. Boston College is a tough defensive team. Their defense is only allowing 280 total yards per game. Rutgers has an edge at PK with Ito. The weather likely will be windy, possibly wreaking havoc with the Rutgers passing game. It could be a very challenging day for kickers. Ito must play through the wind. He cannot miss more than one FGA. And none from inside 40 yards.
5. So MLB DeVraun Thompson. After a surprisingly good freshman season, Thompson has been generally inconspicuous this year. Rutgers has predominantly played teams with spread offenses – Michigan State, New Hampshire, Kent State, and Temple – that throw the football and thus place the defensive burden on secondary. However, in four games against conventional or run-oriented offenses – Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia – Thompson totaled only 23.5 tackles. Thompson has struggled this season, as has the entire LB crew. The LBs have been unsatisfactory at run-stopping and in pass coverage. Thompson included. DeVraun played very well against West Virginia, recording nine tackles, including four for gains of only one yard. Thompson will be in the middle of the game Saturday. He must be a force in controlling the Boston College running game. The Eagles run a lot of zone, stretch, iso, and counter trey. Thompson must find the ball-carrier and make the tackle. The Eagles will also use their TEs and WRs across the middle. Thompson must knock the Eagle receivers off their routes and disrupt the timing of the Boston College passing game. Thompson must honor his zone and man-to-man coverage assignments and not blow any coverages. Thompson must record at least 10 tackles and 2 TFLs.
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