Preview: Rutgers vs. WVU

Rutgers last beat West Virginia in 1994, and since endured a string of 14 losses running the gamut of blowouts to close losses. While no conference title is at stake, a win would help Rutgers in its quest to get to the Meineke Bowl.

The Big East title will be decided 350 miles away, where Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh with a BCS berth on the line.

However, the conference's benchmark program will be visiting Piscataway, N.J., Saturday for a noon kickoff, and until the Scarlet Knights beat West Virginia, a void exists for Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights spent the week hearing reminders of West Virginia's domination in the series, from the 14 straight wins by the Mountaineers, to Rutgers coach Greg Schiano holding an 0-8 record against West Virginia.

There is the never-to-be-forgotten 80-7 loss in Schiano's first season, and the ever-so-more painful triple overtime defeat that cost Rutgers its first conference title and a BCS berth in 2006.

So while the stakes don't seem that high – Rutgers can finish in a tie for third in the Big East with a win and gain a berth in the Meineke Care Car Bowl on Dec. 26 in Charlotte, depending on the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati outcome – there is plenty going on.

Plus, add in a big recruiting weekend in which six uncommitted and highly sought after high school seniors will be on official visits, and a bevy of other recruits will be on unofficial visits, there is plenty of significance in the nationally televised (ESPN) game.

Rutgers offense vs. West Virginia defense
Can Rutgers score with consistency?

The Mountaineers run an unconventional 3-3-5 defense, which is heavy on blitzing off the corners and utilizes speed much more than brawn.

Defensive tackle Scooter Berry and nose tackle Chris Neild sit in the middle of the defensive line, and both are hard to move off the line of scrimmage. However, middle linebacker Reed Williams is key in stopping the run through the middle, and is a sure tackler who tracks runners very well.

Rutgers' success of the "Wildcat'' package last week at Louisville gives hope to a running game that has been inconsistent, at best, but also puts a lot of pressure on freshman receiver Mohamed Sanu. He was magnificent in running for 148 yards against a slow-footed and unenthusiastic Cardinals defense, but West Virginia should pose more of a challenge.

Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu
However, the rugged Sanu could have success if he can get to the second level of defenders since West Virginia's defensive backs are involved in stopping the run. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Sanu is a physical runner who can overpower defensive backs.

But the biggest unknown is whether Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage can be patient against a Mountaineers defense that will vary its blitzes, and sit back in coverage and look for the big play. West Virginia doesn't do many things exceptionally well defensive, but it does force turnovers and intercept the quarterback.

Savage has done a tremendous job taking care of the football, throwing four interceptions in 231 attempts. But the Mountaineers have done a better job at intercepting the ball than anyone in the league. They have a conference-best 15 interceptions, led by Robert Sands (5), a read-the-quarterback's-eyes free safety.

The health of Rutgers receivers continues to be an issue, although coach Greg Schiano said Tim Brown (ankle) was ready and freshman Mark Harrison (head) could play for the first time in three weeks. And West Virginia has allowed 18 touchdown passes.

West Virginia offense vs. Rutgers defense
Noel Devine's speed and Jarrett Brown's play-making ability.

Rutgers needs to limit those two things in order to be successful.

The 5-8, 176-pound water bug Devine can score from anywhere on the field, even after he appears bottled up. He has a quick change of direction, and it doesn't take him long to hit full speed. If he gets in the open field, the only Rutgers defender capable of catching him is cornerback Devin McCourty.

Devine is second in the Big East in rushing with 1,232 yards, and he has scored 11 touchdowns. Rutgers has done well against him in the past, but sure tackling is a must. Devine does not break a lot of tackles, but he is the most elusive player in the Big East.

Brown brings a different look offensively.

He's not an exceptional thrower or runner, but does each effectively enough to create problems for a defense.

Rutgers DE Alex Silvestro
When the Scarlet Knights shut out South Florida earlier this season, they used a linebacker and a safety to spy quarterback B.J. Daniels, who was confused beyond belief and turned the ball over three times in the first half.

But Daniels was a red-shirt freshman with limited experience. Brown is a fifth-year senior who beat Rutgers in the triple-overtime game in 2006, and understands defenses much better.

He has completed 176 of 272 passes for 2,013 yards and 11 touchdowns, but also has throw eight interceptions. Brown is also the second-leading rusher (387 yards, five touchdowns), and at 6-4, 225 pounds, is difficult to tackle.

Rutgers likes to bring pressure to force the play, and usually do it with safeties and linebackers. Rarely, will the Scarlet Knights send a cornerback at the quarterback.

McCourty is key in defending the passing game because his coverage ability give Rutgers the flexibility to role a coverage to help sophomore cornerback David Rowe. The Mountaineers do not have explosiveness in the passing game, but they are effective, especially if too many resources are put into stopping Devine.

Slot receiver Jock Sanders, who is 5-7, 178 pounds has 65 catches, but is more of a possession guy. He is averaging 9.4 yards per catch. Brown's second favorite receiver is Alric Arnett (40 catches).

Special teams
Rutgers has blocked kicks and returned a kick for a touchdown, but West Virginia is much better in the traditional special teams play.

West Virginia placekicker Tyler Bitencurt has made 12 of 13 field goal attempts, and Scott Kozlowski is averaging a league-leading 45.2 yards per punt.

Rutgers' San San Te is 15 of 23 on field goals, and there is an added problem of holder Teddy Dellaganna dropping two snaps in the last three games. Dellaganna is averaging 42.5 yards per punt.

Prediction: West Virginia 24, Rutgers 20

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