Rutgers Football Travels to Syracuse

Rutgers Football (3-2, 0-1 Big East) is on the road for the first time this year, as the Scarlet Knights travel to Syracuse to take on the Orange (1-5, 1-1). SOR gives you a preview of this matchup between two teams searching for answers midway through the season.

Could this road trip be just what the doctor ordered for a Rutgers squad that has lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2005? RU heads to western New York to face a Syracuse squad that has been blown out three times this season yet found a way to win on the road against a vaunted Louisville offensive attack.

The Orange have struggled mightily this season, but they also came up with one of the first of the big upsets this season when they rolled into Louisville and took it to the Cardinals in a 38-35 victory. The final score was not an indication of how dominant SU was in that game, as the Orange were up 17 before Louisville (3-3, 0-1) put together a pair of late scoring drives.

Outside of that win, however, Syracuse has been unable to play a complete game and has been beat by an average score of 38-12 in five losses. SU's offense has been anemic and is ranked 116th or below in four categories. The defense is not much better, allowing 37.5 points per game. In the Carrier Dome, the Orange are 0-3 and have been outscored 138-46.

Last week West Virginia manhandled Syracuse 55-14, scoring 34 unanswered points to break open an early 7-7 tie. WVU held a 486-202 advantage in total yards and converted three SU turnovers into 21 points. It could have been worse, as Syracuse put the ball on the carpet six times but only lost one fumble.

Syracuse is having trouble moving the ball and is ranked last in the Big East in rushing offense, total offense and scoring offense. The Orange employ a standard pro style that relies on pocket passing and running between the tackles. However, the Orange have only been able to manage 49.5 yards per game on the ground. That's better than only one team in college football this year: Notre Dame. Starting tailback Curtis Brinkley only averages 38.8 yards per game and has reached the end zone once this year.

Quarterback Andrew Robinson had a monster game against Louisville last month, racking up 423 yards passing and four touchdowns. His highest output in the five losses is 236 yards, and he has been held to 100 yards or fewer passing twice. His offensive line has also yielded 24 sacks this season, better than only Iowa and Notre Dame.

Syracuse employs a hybrid 5-2 with a defensive back/strong safety but will likely stack the box against the run. The Orange have been porous in the stop unit, allowing nearly 500 yards per game to the opposition. They are last in the Big East in run defense, total defense and scoring defense. SU takes bad angles on stunts and blitzes and often looks confused. As a result, the Orange have held only one opponent -- 2-4 Miami University out of the Mid-American Conference -- to fewer than 35 points (during a 17-14 loss in Oxford).

This is probably Syracuse's best performance area this season. The Orange have a strong return game and a punter who can change field position. Kickoff returners Max Suter and Mike Holmes are threats to score on each return, and punter Rob Long is among the best in the nation with a 42.9 yards-per-punt average. Long has put nine of his 34 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

Place-kicker Patrick Shadle is a lukewarm 5-for-8 on field goal attempts. However, he has made all four of his tries inside the Carrier Dome, all from at least 42 yards. He has also missed a PAT.

1. Rutgers' running game versus Syracuse's run defense
RU has struggled to gain much yardage on the ground the last two weeks, averaging just 90 yards per outing in two straight losses. The Scarlet Knights have a chance to get healthy against one of the bottom defenses in college football, as Syracuse yields nearly 235 yards per game on the ground while Rutgers still averages 173 ypg, despite those two lackluster performances. True senior Jean Beljour was used as a blocking back with some effectiveness against Cincinnati, and he and true sophomore Jack Corcoran will be relied upon at fullback to help open more holes for tailback Ray Rice this week. The Orange have allowed 35.7 points per contest while Rutgers scores 37 points per outing.

2. RU's offensive line versus Syracuse's defensive line
Rutgers' front five have taken a hit in the past couple of weeks for their inability to move the ball effectively on the ground. Also, fifth-year senior left tackle Pedro Sosa has been banged up most of the season. In addition to struggling in the ground game, RU has allowed four sacks over the last two weeks after yielding zero in three wins. Don't be surprised to see true freshman Anthony Davis get significant playing time at right guard this week.

3. Rutgers' defensive line versus Syracuse's offensive front
The Scarlet Knights have been exposed in the run game the last two weeks, yielding a total of 389 yards. Maryland, with a 60-pound average advantage in the trenches, pushed RU around. Cincinnati was able to exploit poor pursuit angles while racking up 150 yards on the ground. Syracuse has not solved an opponent's rush defense yet, as the Orange have yet to reach 100 yards in a game this season while averaging less than 50 yards per game running. True junior defensive tackle Peter Tverdov, a key to the defensive line, looked healthy last week and rang up a team-leading eight tackles for Rutgers.


QB Andrew Robinson

Last season Robinson replaced Perry Patterson during the second half of a 38-7 blowout at Rutgers and led Syracuse on an 80-yard drive that culminated in the first touchdown pass of his career. The sophomore started this year on shaky ground, finding the end zone just once through the first three games until erupting for four TD passes against Louisville in the Big East opener for each team. He has been up and down this year and completed just five of 15 pass attempts with two interceptions and one touchdown against WVU last week.

KR Max Suter

Suter returned a kick 93 yards for a touchdown against Louisville earlier this season to spark a Syracuse run in which the Orange outscored the Cardinals 24-7 over the span of two quarters. He averages 27.9 yards per return this year and has three returns of at least 40 yards. Last week West Virginia kept the ball out of Suter's hands and eliminated him as a threat.

CB/KR Mike Holmes

While Suter was no threat to the Mountaineers, Holmes was. The true freshman busted one kickoff return 64 yards to the West Virginia 25-yard line that set up what could have been a tying Syracuse drive late in the first quarter. But the Orange missed the opportunity and turned the ball over on downs, opening the floodgates for the WVU rout. Holmes registered a game-high 13 tackles (eight solo) against the Mountaineers. He presents an issue for a Rutgers kicking team that has been unable to pin opponents deep, and he has a nose for the ball.


QB Mike Teel

Teel threw three interceptions against Cincinnati and banged up his thumb on a throw in the first half, according to Schiano. He has tossed four picks to just two touchdowns over the last two weeks after starting the season with an 8-1 touchdown-interception ratio. Teel is putting up solid yardage in the passing game (three 300-yard games this season and back-to-back 300-yard affairs), but he hasn't been reaching the end zone lately.

QB Jabu Lovelace

Lovelace saw his first significant action of the season against Cincinnati last week and responded with key plays. The redshirt sophomore should see more time in this game and is a step away from replacing Teel should the starter's thumb injury be more severe than Schiano is letting on. Lovelace gained 21 yards on five rushes and was a weapon from the direct snap on third downs. For the season he has 141 yards on 22 attempts (6.4 yards per rush) and has completed two of five pass attempts for 28 yards.

SS Glen Lee

The true junior filled in as the starter for Ron Girault last week and performed admirably. Six of his seven tackles were solo, and he forced a fumble that Rutgers converted into a touchdown to go up 17-7. Lee is arguably the hardest hitter in the defensive backfield and should dole out a couple in this game.

Syracuse leads the all-time series 28-8-1 and is 11-4 against Rutgers in Big East play. RU has won the last two meetings, including a 38-7 decision to end the home schedule last season. The 31-9 decision at the Carrier Dome in 2005 was Rutgers' first win at Syracuse since 1986 and its only Big East victory there.

This is the first road game of the season for Rutgers and its only away contest this month. The Scarlet Knights were 4-2 on the road last season (2-2 Big East). RU has never won three games in a row against Syracuse in the series.

Former Syracuse All-American running back and Denver Broncos legend Floyd Little will serve as an honorary captain for the Orange on Saturday. SU is 4-12 at the Carrier Dome since the start of the 2005 season and is 1-4 in its last five home meetings with Big East opponents. This is Syracuse's homecoming game.

Rutgers: True senior safety Ron Girault is still questionable for this game with a leg injury. Lee will likely start again and true sophomore Zaire Kitchen, who recently returned from a knee injury, will serve in the backup role.

Syracuse: According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, starting cornerback Dowayne Davis suffered cramps against West Virginia and had to leave the game, but he should get the start against Rutgers. Cornerback Jason Tanner is questionable with a groin injury.

Since the game's in a dome, this section will concentrate on the pregame this week. Tailgating conditions will be less than ideal, with a 50 percent chance of showers and temperatures in the low 50s.

The game is scheduled for noon EDT and will be broadcast locally on MSG. It is also available as part of the ESPN GamePlan package and is available in select markets as the Big East Game of the Week. Dave Sims, John Congemi and Sarah Kustok form the broadcast team.

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