Analysis: Rutgers whips Maryland

Rutgers physically beat down Maryland in Saturday's 34-13 win, but so much more went on. Yes, there were two defensive touchdowns and an explosive fourth quarter by running back Joe Martinek, but it is broken down here in-depth.

The defense confused, battered and frustrated Maryland quarterback Chris Turner, the running game was effective and quarterback Domenic Natale played smartly, but plenty more went on during Rutgers' 34-13 win at Maryland.

Let's start with the maligned offensive line. Given the circumstances of a rainy day and a backup quarterback under center, the offensive line did a fair job of creating running lanes in the first three quarters. While the running lanes weren't consistently huge, Maryland was unable to get into the backfield with regularity despite spending much of the game with eight guys in the box.

There were consistent 2- and 3-yard gains, which is enough to keep plugging away at the run and wear down the opponent.

The rushing numbers were skewed by Joe Martinek's two big runs late in the fourth quarter, a 29-yarder through the middle and a 61-yarder around the left side, but there were several times holes were open but either Jordan Brooks or Martinek danced too much or missed the hole.

The biggest complaint with the offensive line was the inability to give Brooks a chance on a fourth-and-goal run from the 1-yard line in the third quarter. It came after Brooks was also stopped on third-and-goal from the 1, but also brought to light an underlying game plan design. Given Maryland's offensive inability, a wet field and Natale's season-opening interception problems, it made sense to play conservatively. The score further dictated that.

But a play-action to the tight end on the third down play would have been an interesting call since Maryland had 11 guys crowded in the box, especially since coach Greg Schiano elected to go on fourth down.

Natale was 4 of 12 for 42 yards, but did make a big throw to Tim Brown in the fourth quarter to extend a drive. But the best thing Natale did, besides not turning the ball over, was misfire in the correct spot. Unlike the Cincinnati debacle when poor passes resulted in turnovers, the mis-fired passes could not be caught by anyone. He also scrambled on several occasions rather than force a throw down field.

True, he under threw receiver Mohamed Sanu on what could have been a third-quarter touchdown, and if a throw was made toward the sideline rather than up the field, Natale and Brown would have connected for a big gain.

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano mentioned the day after the game the need for another reliable receiver, and there was no better illustration than freshman Marcus Cooper's drop of a sure first down in the red zone. It is asking a lot for a true freshman like Sanu to be the secondary receiver, and teams will start to pay more coverage attention to the speedy Brown, so someone must move into the mix or it will further bog down the offense.

Another important offensive development was the mild success of the "wildcat'' formation, which was its most effective this season. Quarterback Jabu Lovelace rushed six times for 24 yards, and on one occasion avoided a blitz from his left to shoot up the field to the right. It's one more thing opponents will have to devote time to in practice, which is always a plus.

Defensively, Rutgers had one bad drive, and that was the result of missed tackles that led to Maryland's only score. Zaire Kitchen missed two tackles along the sideline, but other than that, the Scarlet Knights' tackling was superb, and their swarming to the ball was exceptional. The defensive front four controlled the line of scrimmage, and was a big reason Turner threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.

While Antonio Lowery's game-opening 36-yard interception return for a touchdown was the product of excellent mid-week film study and a horrendous play by Turner, Devin McCourty's interception was a by-product of defensive end George Johnson getting pressure, and Turner panicking and throwing into double coverage.

In fact, Rutgers' secondary covered well throughout the game, and the safeties did a nice job of providing help over the top. Adding to the stellar defensive game plan was a nice blitz package, which featured safety Joe Lefeged making a pair of huge hits on Turner.

Lefeged came off the left corner to hit Turner's right arm and cause the ball to flutter in the air and be intercepted at the line of scrimmage by Billy Anderson. Lefeged later came off the right side to hit Turner and cause him to fumble in the end zone, which Johnson recovered for a touchdown.

Perhaps the signature play, for me, for how strong the defense played was linebacker Damaso Munoz's jarring hit on Terps running back Da'Rel Scott. Not only did Scott fumble and Rutgers recovered, but Munoz filled a hole and executed a perfect tackle, sticking his helmet on the ball and wrapping up the runner. He stayed in his spot and waited for the play to come to him.

The one special teams play I keep thinking about is the fake field goal, which was a brilliant call but executed poorly. With the swinging gate formation to the right, tight end Shamar Graves received the ball and threw back to his left.

There were three Scarlet Knights wide open, but Graves' pass, perhaps affected by the rain, was woefully short to long snapper Chris DePaola. Hey, at least now everyone knows why teams line up like that before a kick. Maryland was woefully prepared for the fake because they had two guys trying to cover four.

Overall, Maryland wasn't nearly the caliber of ACC opponent that should make you think Rutgers has it all figured out and righted its season.

However, a dominating road win against a BCS conference school, with a backup quarterback playing in messy conditions, is a nice start after two cupcake wins against Howard and Florida International.

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