WSU opener: Getting to know Rutgers defense

THE COUGARS' SEASON opening opponent, Rutgers, has undergone big changes this offseason with a coaching staff upheaval and a move to the Big 10. Here's an early look of what Cougar fans can expect to see Aug. 28 when Washington State takes the field on offense to square off against Rutgers' D.

Spring ball has yet to take place but an educated guess can be made of what Rutgers will look like on defense in 2014. That's because despite staff changes, including a new defensive coordinator in Joe Rossi, Scarlet Knights head man Kyle Flood and Rossi have each said they don't plan to change the scheme.

Improvement, they say, will come through execution.

In basic terms, the Rutgers defense is a multiple 4-3 with linebackers who have significant coverage responsibilities.

That said, Rutgers generally looks quite a bit different on passing downs and this just in: WSU throws the ball a lot.

Last season on passing downs, Rutgers mostly went with a 30 front (three down linemen) and two outside linebackers with rush capability. They then placed two safety-types at inside linebacker and filled out with four more DBs in coverage.

THE RESULTS were disastrous.

Rutgers during the regular season allowed 4,872 yards, the third-most in school history. Of that total, 3,737 hashes came through the air -- nearly 1,000 air yards more than Rutgers had ever allowed in a season.

The storyline this winter has been that the scheme was sound, the execution was not. But some in the media are speculating Rutgers may, on passing downs, go back to what worked so well in 2012 on defense: a four man front that featured three typical down linemen plus their best pass-rushing outside linebacker, an outsized safety linebacker-type and six defensive backs.

The flip side to that coin is that the 2012 Rutgers defense simply featured a lot of very good players, many of whom were seniors.

Rutgers will return seven starters on defense in 2014 -- 2 DL, 2 LB, 3 DBs. A lot of young players saw significant playing time last season -- seven Rutgers cornerbacks had at least one start in 2013.

Rutgers spring drills begin March 25. Their spring game will be held April 12.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Rossi served as the team's special teams coordinator before his promotion.

  • After his second year, Flood cleaned house this offseason in firing his defensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and offensive line coach. Another assistant left for the NFL. Rutgers will have two new coordinators in 2014, with former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen coming out of retirement to become offensive coordinator. The other new faces are linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Bob Fraser, wide receivers coach Ben McDaniels and offensive line coach Mitch Browning.

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