Sat 10/08/05, Noon.
Poll Rank: NR
VT 17-34 L
Rtn Lettermen: 41
Rtn Starters: 17
Poll Rank: NR
Pitt 37-29 W
Rtn Lettermen: 43
Rtn Starters: 17
Last Meeting: 2004
This year, though, the Scarlet Knights have done some things to back up the hype. Rutgers, which was picked to finish as high as third in the Big East this season by many preseason publications, is off to a 3-1 start, and it notched a win over Pittsburgh last Friday to start 1-0 in the conference. Only an overtime loss to Illinois in the season opener has kept the Scarlet Knights from a perfect start.
RU head coach Greg Schiano was just 12-34 in his first four years at the helm of New Jersey's state university coming into the 2005 season, but it looks as though this could be the year he finally earns a postseason trip and produces the first winning record for the program since 1992.
One of the keys to that turnaround is a much-improved defense. After starting 4-2 in 2004, the Scarlet Knights allowed an average of 38.4 points in the final five games of the year to finish with a disappointing 4-7 record. But this season they are allowing less than 18 points per contest, and it has paid off.
The big question, though, is whether the Scarlet Knights will be able to keep that trend going. Two of its three wins came against Buffalo and Villanova, not exactly the cream of the college football crop, and its two noteworthy opponents, Pitt and Illinois, combined to score 62 points against the RU defense.
Replacing three-year starter Jarvis Johnson at safety appeared to be a major problem before the season, but sophomore Ron Girault has filled in just fine. The Spring Valley, N.Y., native is third on the team with 24 tackles, and he also has an interception to his credit. Girault may be young, but the other starting safety, freshman Courtney Greene, is even younger. Just like his counterpart, though, Greene has been off to a strong start. After four games, he leads the team with 24.5 tackles, including a tackle for loss and a sack. His statistics also include a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
Joe Porter and Derrick Roberson have struggled at times at the cornerback position, but experience seems to be making them better defenders. Porter, a junior from Franklin, N.J., leads the team with four pass breakups, and he has 14.5 tackles on his resume. Roberson has just one pass breakup on the year, but he does have 13 tackles and a fumble recovery to brag about. Roberson's struggles have also earned senior Corey Barnes some starts, but there is little difference in the two. Both are not exactly blessed with height, and Barnes has made just five tackles on the year. He has, however, picked off a pass and caused two quarterback hurries.
The fact that tackles are so prevalent in the RU secondary indicates that teams are completing a large number of passes, and the statistics back that up. Rutgers opponents are averaging 297 yards per game through the air, and the Knights have intercepted just three of the 188 passes thrown against them.
|WVU 4-1, 1-0
RU 3-1, 1-0
|Sat 10/08/05 Noon|
|Series: 26-4-2 WVU|
|TV: ESPN Regional|
|BCS: WVU 33: RU: 73|
|Line: WVU -3|
|Stats & Trends|
Rutgers' inexperienced defensive front is led by senior Ryan Neill, who topped the team in both sacks (8) and tackles for loss (13) in 2004. This season Neill is sixth on the team with 17 stops, but what pleased the defensive coaches the most is the fact that 10 of those stops have come behind the line of scrimmage, including four sacks. The Knights' defensive end has also forced opposing quarterbacks into 14 hurries and recovered a fumble.
Senior Val Barnaby starts at the other end position, and he has also made a habit of getting into opponents' backfields. No. 94 has made five of his nine tackles behind the line, and four of those have been sacks. As if that wasn't enough, the Franklin, N.J., native has forced a fumble and blocked a kick during the first four games of the year.
The middle of the line has also been a pleasant surprise. Junior Ramel Meekins already has six quarterback hurries, four-and-ahalf tackles for loss and two sacks on the year while making 12 solo tackles. Cameron Stephenson, the other defensive tackle, has not been nearly as active, with four tackles and a fumble recovery on the year, but as a whole the line has been solid.
The Scarlet Knights have allowed a total of just 399 rushing yards in four games, and opponents have found the end zone on the ground just once. Putting pressure on the quarterback has not been a problem either, as RU has made 17 sacks and forced opposing signal-callers into 38 hurries.
Quarterback Ryan Hart set school records for completions, attempts and passing yardage a year ago, but even with those statistics, he was forced to fight for his job once again in the offseason. Redshirt freshman Mike Teel has all the tools to be a star, and the RU coaching staff kept its mind open to the possibility of benching a two-year starter. Hart, though, proved he was the man for the job, and Teel has thrown only 11 passes all year.
Hart has been very efficient after gaining his starting spot back, completing 68-of-118 passes for 926 yards and eight touchdowns through Rutgers' 3-1 start. Another number the coaches like is the two in the interception column, a statistic that Hart had struggled with in the past.
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Tight end Clark Harris has also played heavily into the passing equation, catching 14 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. The Mackey Award candidate caught 53 balls for 725 yards last season, and if he continues on his current pace, the junior from Manahawkin, N.J., could be an All- American by the time he leaves RU. There is little question, though, that junior fullback Brian Leonard is the star of the Rutgers offense. The first team All-Big East selection leads the team with 376 yards rushing, and he is third in receiving with 14 catches for 175 yards. His touchdowns have also been very balanced with three of them coming on running plays and three of them coming through the air. Leonard is strong, fast and smart, and he creates nightmares for opposing coordinators.
Freshman tailback Ray Rice is almost a forgotten man in the RU backfield because of Leonard. Rice has carried the ball just 45 times for 244 yards, and he has found the end zone only once.
Both running backs, though, have had the advantage of running behind a line that is especially strong on the right side where seniors John Glass and Sameeh McDonald return. The left side, though, is filled with youth, although sophomores Pedro Sosa and Jeremy Zuttah now have some experience under their belts.
Connecting the two sides is senior center John Glass, a veteran who has helped the group come together.
Rutgers' special teams are considered to be average overall, but they are strong in the return game thanks to return specialist Willie Foster, who is handling both punt runbacks and kick return duties again this season. Foster is averaging 17 yards a return on punts, and he has already taken one to the house. He has also taken a kickoff the distance and is averaging 32 yards on his seven returns.
West Virginia and Rutgers have met 32 times through the years with the Mountaineers holding a 26- 4-2 advantage. The Scarlet Knights have not beaten the Mountaineers since a 17- 12 win at Rutgers Stadium in 1994, and they are 0-4 against Rich Rodriguez, whose teams have outscored the Knights 189-56. Last season's meeting, though, was much closer, with WVU surviving a 35-30 scare.
This will be the second year in a row that West Virginia and Rutgers have met at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. The realignment of the Big East forced the Mountaineers to make the trip in back-to-back years. That is not good news for WVU, as all four of its losses to Rutgers have come in New Jersey.