Preview: Rutgers vs. Army

Rutgers (5-4, 2-3 Big East) takes a break from Big East play for its final non-conference tilt of the season. The Scarlet Knights, smarting from back-to-back losses to West Virginia at Connecticut, travel up the Hudson River to take on Army at Michie Stadium with a shot to become bowl eligible. Army (3-6) has been up and down this year, with some big losses in the last few weeks.

SCOUTING ARMY

The Black Knights were outclassed 30-10 at Air Force last week and were victimized by standout "wide receiver" Chad Hall (his technical position is WR), who broke his own school record with 275 rushing yards. It was another ugly outing in a season that has slipped away from the Cadets, who have been outscored 111-43 in three straight losses.

Army hung around in the first half of games against BCS opponents Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech. But those teams had too much depth and power in the second half, outscoring the Black Knights 42-13 in the third and fourth quarters.


OFFENSE

Army has one of the worst offenses in college football and has been unable to get anything going over the last couple of games. Air Force limited the Black Knights to just 17 yards rushing (59 when you factor out sacks) and 181 yards of total offense. On Oct. 20 Georgia Tech held the Cadets to 266 yards of total offense. In both games Army has managed just two total offensive touchdowns.

Army is different from the other service academies in the offense it employs. It resembles most other college teams, with pro style elements that rely on straight-ahead running and drop-back passing, and just a tiny bit of spread option out of shotgun formation. The result is a woefully inefficient attack that is 109th (out of 119 Division I-A teams) or worse in several offensive categories.


DEFENSE

Army runs a 4-3 defense, but the Black Knights are slower than most of their opponents. Air Force torched the Black Knights for 542 total yards, and Army yields an average of 413.3 yards of total offense per game. The Cadets are getting crushed on the ground, yielding more than 200 yards per game rushing, ranked 109th in Division I-A. Two players, Air Force's Hall and Tulane's Matt Forte, have gained more than 200 rushing yards against the Black Knights this season.


SPECIAL TEAMS

Like UConn last week, Army has elements on special teams that Rutgers lacks. The Black Knights have two solid return men and a punter who can boom the ball. Corey Anderson has taken a kick return back for a touchdown and Jeremy Trimble has converted a punt return into a TD this year (both came in a 37-21 victory against Temple on Sept. 29). Punter Owen Tolson is fourth in the nation with a 45.9 yards per punt average, he has kicked 19 punts more than 50 yards, and he has landed 23 of his 59 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

While Tolson is superb in punting and kickoffs, he suffers as a field-goal kicker. He has made just six of 11 field goal attempts this year and is 3-for-6 from 30-39 yards.


KEY MATCHUPS

1. Ray Rice vs. Army's run defense
Rutgers' true junior tailback is putting up impressive numbers (first in the Big East in rushing yards, all-purpose yards and rushing TDs) despite his team's lackluster performance this season. Rice has a chance to gain a lot of yards against the worst run defense he will face all year. Look for RU to take out its frustrations on an overmatched defensive line that gave up 437 yards on the ground to Air Force.

2. RU's pass rush vs. Army's pass protection
The Black Knights have not protected the quarterback this year and have yielded 27 sacks, including five to Air Force last week. Rutgers failed to register a sack against Connecticut, the first time this season the Scarlet Knights did not put the quarterback down. RU has 24 sacks this year and will likely bring constant pressure on Army QB Carson Williams.

3. Army return man Jeremy Trimble vs. RU's punt coverage
Rutgers was burned for a kickoff return for a touchdown last week and has one of the weakest punting games in the nation (117th). Trimble is fast and can exploit poor coverage. He almost single-handedly won the game against Temple at the end of September and returned one punt 85 yards for a touchdown. Rutgers needs to stay in its lanes on punts; or better yet, kick it out of bounds.

PLAYERS TO WATCH (ARMY)

WR/PR Jeremy Trimble
Trimble is the lone big-play threat for Army on offense and is one of the best punt returners in the nation. He averages 16.5 yards per return and took one to the house earlier this year. He also leads Army with 708 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. The senior's best day came during a loss at Central Michigan on Oct. 13 when he hauled in 11 catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns, though much of that came with the Black Knights trailing big.

QB Carson Williams
The sophomore signal caller, who saw significant action in the second half of the season last year, won the starting job over two seniors this year. However, it was backup Kevin Dunn who sparked Army to a 20-17 overtime victory against Tulane on Oct. 6. Williams has been shaky against pressure this year and has thrown 10 interceptions versus eight touchdown passes. He completes just over 50 percent of his passes this year. If Williams leaves the game, Dunn is more of a matchup problem for the Scarlet Knights, as he is more mobile.

P/PK Owen Tolson
With the way Rutgers has suffered on special teams this year, Tolson could play a factor with his booming punts. Rutgers still can't field kicks cleanly, and a long, high punt from the standout senior could change field position and lead to a turnover.


PLAYERS TO WATCH (RUTGERS)

RB Ray Rice
There's no quit in RU's true junior tailback, as long as he gets the ball. Rice has put together four straight 100-yard games after failing to reach that mark in three straight games earlier this year. He is the Big East's leading rusher with 139.7 yards per game, he is No. 1 in the conference with 163.2 all-purpose yards per game, and Rice's 14 rushing TDs lead the conference.

DT Eric Foster
If the senior is indeed the leader of this team, it is time for him to step up with a big game for the Scarlet Knights. Foster, a Sporting News preseason All-American, was limited to three solo and 10 assisted tackled in the last three weeks and has registered 1 1/2 sacks this year (compared with six sacks last year). He needs to step up to put the Scarlet Knights back on the right track.

QB Jabu Lovelace
The redshirt sophomore, backup to starter Mike Teel, has been getting more time at quarterback as a runner out of the shotgun formation. Is this the week that Rutgers turns him loose so we can see what he can do with that cannon of an arm? Not likely, but expect more sets with Lovelace running out of the gun. He averages 5.4 yards per carry and has scored two rushing TDs.


THREE AREAS OF CONCERN (ARMY)

1. Run defense
Army rates as one of the worst run defenses in the nation and has allowed opposing teams to run for at least 200 yards in four games this season. Air Force piled up 437 yards two weeks after Georgia Tech ran for 292, and the Black Knights have yielded an average of 288.3 yards per game rushing in their last four games.

2. Moving the ball
The Black Knights have gone in the tank offensively in the last two games, managing only 447 combined total yards against Georgia Tech and Air Force. The only touchdown drive against Air Force was the result of a Frank Scappaticci interception that put Army at the Falcons' 3-yard line in the second quarter. Army has managed more than 100 yards rushing in just three games this season.

3. Protecting the quarterback
I know I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating and is a big area of concern for the Black Knights. Army has allowed 27 sacks this year, making it statistically one of the worst pass protection units in the nation. The offensive line completely broke down against Air Force, and Williams ended up getting a nice view of the Colorado sky. In the last three losses, Army has yielded nine sacks.


THREE AREAS OF CONCERN (RUTGERS)

1. Special teams
This will remain an area of concern the rest of the season. RU nets fewer than 30 yards per punt, has had one field goal and one punt blocked (the punt resulted in a safety), has turned the ball over four times on punt returns and has allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. Place-kicker Jeremy Ito, who was hung out to dry on the blocked punt, has converted 74 percent of his field goal attempts. However, he outscored the offense 13-6 last week.

2. Red zone offense
Rutgers piled up more than 500 yards against Connecticut but came away with only 19 points. Out of six trips into the red zone last week, the Knights came away with just one touchdown. Rutgers has turned 35 red zone opportunities into 18 touchdowns (51.4 percent) and 13 field goals.

3. Run defense
Rutgers has been virtually unable to stop anyone on the ground, and Connecticut's Donald Brown put up 154 yards and one touchdown last week. RU is giving up more than 160 yards rushing per game, including 510 over the past two weeks. Army running back Patrick Mealy only averages 3.3 yards per rush, but he showed signs of breaking out against Georgia Tech with 86 yards rushing (three runs of more than 10 yards).


HEAD TO HEAD

The teams first played each other in 1891, and Army leads the all-time series 18-15. The Cadets have not beaten the Scarlet Knights since 1997, though they haven't met since Rutgers won 36-21 at West Point in 2003. RU is 2-0 against Army during head coach Greg Schiano's tenure and carries a three-game series winning streak into this contest.


TRENDS/NOTES

Rutgers is 3-1 on Friday night since last, including a 41-14 home victory against Navy on Sept. 7. . . . The Scarlet Knights have not won a November road game since 1998. . . . After playing one game on grass, RU returns to artificial turf for the remainder of its regular season games. . . . A win would make Rutgers bowl eligible for the third consecutive season.

Army is playing its fourth home game of the season. The Black Knights are 3-0 at Michie Stadium this year and 8-2 in their last 10 home games. . . . Army is embroiled in a three-game losing streak, all on the road. The Black Knights' last victory was 20-17 in overtime against Tulane Oct. 6. . . . The Knights have 18 seniors on their offensive and defensive two-deep roster.


PERSONNEL

Rutgers: It looks like it will be all hands on deck except for players who were previously lost for the season.

Army: According to the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., starting cornerback is out for the season after suffering a knee injury against Air Force last week. He is expected to be replaced by junior Josh Mitchell.


WEATHER

This time of year, the weather is a crap shoot, but you can bet tailgating won't be ideal. Check the National Weather Service forecast. As of the time this column was filed, the report was calling for cold weather and a 40 percent chance of snow.


TIME/TV

The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast on ESPN2. Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman and Rob Stone form the broadcast team.


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