1. How will Rutgers improve their defense?
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano turned over the defensive duties to co-coordinators Bob Fraser (who also coaches linebackers) and Ed Pinkham (secondary). Their debut couldn't have been more disastrous (well, at least UC didn't hang 50 in the expanded stadium), as the Scarlet Knights allowed 564 yards of total offense. This week RU faces a Howard team that was predicted to finish last in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and only placed one player on the All-MEAC first and second team offenses (sophomore receiver Willie Carter, second team All-MEAC). Now's the time to get the house in order before Florida International comes calling next week, though Carter could give Rutgers fits if it leaves the middle open like it did last week.
2. Will we continue to see the Jabu package?
Rutgers named true freshman quarterback Tom Savage as the starter for Saturday's tilt versus Howard. It's the right move considering RU already burned his redshirt year and has a chance to get him some experience against two teams Rutgers should handle before a key game at Maryland on Sept. 26. Savage relieved fifth-year senior Domenic Natale and completed 15 of 23 passes for 135 yards, one TD and no interceptions in two quarters against Cincinnati. True, it was a blowout when Savage stepped in, but he was also placed in a situation where UC knew he was going to pass on almost every down (RU attempted 26 pass plays to just seven rushes in the second half last week).
So, what to do with Lovelace? The fifth-year senior did not play a down in the second half last week and finished the game 0-for-2 passing with a net minus 2 yards rushing on three attempts. The Lovelace "Wildcat" package has fooled no one since 2007 when he rushed for 332 yards (granted, he was injured much of 2008), and he has completed eight passes on 28 attempts for 78 yards in his career. He has tremendous athletic ability, but maybe QB is not the spot for him.
3. Will the offensive line take a step toward their potential?
Rutgers pushed around Cincinnati on its opening drive of the season and ground out an impressive 20-play, 78-yard drive. It was all downhill from there, especially for the quarterbacks who were sacked five times. RU, which returned all five starters on the offensive line this year, allowed 19 sacks last season (1.46 per game). RU is bigger, faster and stronger in the trenches than an overmatched MEAC opponent, but the Scarlet Knights are going to have to come together quickly when they face more athletic opponents down the line.
4. Can the Rutgers offensive establish the run?
In its opening drive against Cincinnati last week, Rutgers ran the ball 15 times during a 20-play, 78-yard drive that consumed 10:44 on the clock. The Scarlet Knights gained 51 yards on the ground in that drive and managed a net negative 1 the rest of the game (41 if you factor out sacks). During a 56-7 drubbing of Howard in 2006, three different players accounted for seven RU rushing touchdowns as the Knights gained 215 yards on the ground as a team. This is a chance to get healthy in that department.
What can we expect this week?
You can thank the MEAC for helping RU get healthy the past couple of years. This is the fourth straight year RU faces a MEAC opponent and the second time Rutgers is playing Howard. Last year the Scarlet Knights notched their first win of the season with a 38-0 decision against Morgan State (they lost their first five against Football Bowl Subdivision teams). Nothing's going to be fixed this week, but it will look nice on paper and will give the Knights time to work out some deficiencies. Keep an eye on the Savage-to-Mohamed Sanu connection, as I expect they'll connect for the first of what we hope to be many touchdowns in Rutgers uniforms.