10 WSU questions with Rutgers Scout publisher

HOW MUCH DO you know about Rutgers, the Cougs' opponent tonight in the season opener for both schools? You're about to learn a whole lot more about them. We spoke with ScarletReport.com publisher Sam Hellman and came away with some great nuggets along with a surprising answer to our final question ...

CF.C: How different do you see the Rutgers offense looking this season under Ralph Friedgen and do you see early success right from the jump?

SAM: The biggest difference will be in execution. It is the same general scheme that Rutgers has shown since Greg Schiano took over, but Friedgen is easily the most established OC in Piscataway since John McNulty almost a decade ago. Friedgen runs the traditional, balanced pro-style look but he does it in a way that allows the playmakers to take center stage. Look for an early and often effort to get the ball to guys in open space and look for a more controlled Gary Nova at quarterback.

CF.C: Some media have opined Kyle Flood is on the hot seat – agree or disagree?

SAM: Agree. It's a make or break year for Flood. He is the first coach in school history to win any type of conference title (unless you count Rutgers winning the national championship in 1869), but last year did not end well and it has been a tough offseason. Flood is a beloved coach in the locker room, but will have to show true improvement from last year's 6-7 season.

CF.C: For WSU fans unfamiliar with Rutgers, what’s a thumbnail sketch of the offense and defense (alignment/scheme, key traits, etc.)

SAM: Offensively, Rutgers is your traditional pro-style offense. Lots of quarterback under-center. Establish the run early to open up the pass. Rutgers loves to use the tight end and fullback, and two of its best overall players are at those positions in Tyler Kroft and Michael Burton. Kroft will be an All-American candidate and was a freshman All-American last year at the position. Ever since Ray Rice came to Rutgers in 2005, Rutgers has been about running the ball first, and will do the same this year.

Defensively, Rutgers runs a 4-3 scheme that likes to create pressure in unconventional ways. At its best, Rutgers and new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi would hit Washington State with pressure from places they would least expect. Rutgers has three big-time linebackers and a very good defensive line. The secondary is a huge question, and the top concern among Rutgers fans. Rutgers gave up the most passing yards in school history last year, but that included games against NFL draft picks Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Garret Gilbert. Rutgers uses one tradition defensive end and one hybrid DE known as the "R." The "R" is a pass rush specialist that is also asked to drop into coverage against tight ends and halfbacks.

CF.C: Gary Nova has been a hot and cold QB over his career, do you expect more of the same in 2014 or do you think he’ll put it all together as a senior?

SAM: Look for more of the same, but kicked up a notch. Nova is going to have his inconsistencies, and will hold school records in both touchdowns and picks by the end of the year. Friedgen has been great for him, and Rutgers has also hired Mike Teel to the staff (the best quarterback in school history and a sixth round pick of the Seahawks in 2009). I don't expect another six-interception game like he had against Kent State on Homecoming, but he is going to have the same highs and lows overall. When Nova is on, he is an NFL caliber passer. When he is off, it gets ugly fast.

CF.C: Fall camp began with a lot of questions surrounding the secondary -- and now it seems like there are even more unknowns. What’s the latest and what’s your guess on how the DBs will do in defending WSU’s pass-oriented offense?

SAM: The secondary is going to have a tough time against Washington State. They gave up 52 points in an opening loss to Fresno State last year, and are in a similar situation in 2014. Rutgers plans to start senior Gareef Glashen, who was inconsistent last year, and sophomore Justin Goodwin. Goodwin is a running back that moved to corner two weeks ago. The biggest thing to watch will be true freshman Dre Boggs. Boggs is a prep-school kid so he is less raw than your average freshman. He is an incredible athlete, and will have some big responsibilities this season. The question is how much will Rutgers trust him in his first career game.

CF.C: What’s the biggest strength and weakness of the Rutgers defense?

SAM: Rutgers is very, very strong in its front seven. The Scarlet Knights are about nine-deep on the defensive line, including defensive tackle Darius Hamilton. Hamilton is the highest rated recruit in school history and the son of former New York Giant Keith Hamilton. In every sense of the word, he is a beast. Rutgers is experienced at linebacker, and highlighted by sophomore Steve Longa. Longa moved to the WILL this year, which is the ultimate play-making spot in the Rutgers scheme. The biggest weakness comes in the secondary. Rutgers is OK at safety, but has some serious cornerback questions after last season.

CF.C: Who are the other guys you haven’t already mentioned that WSU fans should keep an eye out for?

SAM: I'll give you one on each side of the ball. Offensively, WSU fans need to be aware of where Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo is at all times. You will hear his name on Sundays a lot in the coming years, and he one of the best in the world at what he does. Three times last year, Carroo won games based on third- or fourth-and long wheel catches down the sidelines. He has been friends with Nova since childhood, and is going to be one of the best receivers in the Big Ten this season. Defensively, watch No. 58 Kemoko Turay when he is on the field. Turay is the definition of a raw, freak athlete. I kid you not when I say he didn't even know the names of the positions at this time two years ago. He is a stellar pass-rusher at defensive end, and will be the ultimate disrupter on third-and-long for Washington State. He is about two years away from scratching his potential, but his athleticism is going to be a problem.

CF.C: What must Rutgers do above all else to come out of Seattle with a victory?

SAM: Force turnovers. The Rutgers secondary is going to give up yards -- a lot of them. But Rutgers can score points, and stop WSU from scoring on a few drives and who knows what can happen? The best Rutgers teams in the history of the program are ones that win the turnover battle. Doing that this Thursday is the best chance at beating Washington State.

CF.C: Will traveling across the country across three different time zones be much of a factor?

SAM: Not really. Rutgers opened at Fresno State last year and didn't show signs of fatigue. It went into triple overtime, so Rutgers was gassed by the end, but I don't see it as an issue last year. Rutgers opened on a Thursday night at 7 p.m. PST at Fresno last year and did just fine.

CF.C: What is your prediction?

SAM: I usually wait until the very last minute to pick a score, but right now I like Washington State to win based off a second-half shootout for both sides. I see this one well exceeding the current 61-poind over-under in Vegas. This one is going to come down to which kicker makes more clutch kicks and which offensive play-caller gets more creative in the end.

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