Sat 10/4/08 Noon
Marshall W 27-3
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Morgan St W 38-0
Last Meeting: 2007
WVU - Reed Williams (Shoulder) Questionable, Patrick White (Thumb) Probable, Pat Liebig (Head) Doubtful, Brantwon Bowser (Knee) Questionable, Zach Hulce (Knee) Out
RU - Gary Watts (Knee) Out, Jabu Lovelace (Leg) Out, Kordell Young (Knee) Questionable, Mason Robinson (Hip) Probable
WVU offense vs. RU defense
Last week Rutgers held Morgan State to just 109 yards of total offense, which the fewest total yards allowed by a Rutgers team since Greg Schiano took over as head coach. The Scarlet Knights also held Morgan State to just eight first downs and 32 yards rushing. That is the good news for Rutgers, but keep in mind this was against Morgan State, which is not exactly a perennial power.
Anchoring the Scarlet Knight defensive line is senior captain Pete Tverdov. Tverdov started the season on strong note against Fresno State finishing with seven tackles, (including two for loss), one sack, one quarterback hurry and a pass breakup. While Tverdov missed the game against Navy he returned last week against Morgan State and put in another fine showing. He is a classic defensive linemen, checking in at 6-4 and 260 pounds. He has a great motor, and creates havoc both in the run game and the passing game.
Another standout up front is Jamaal Westerman. Westerman shifted over from defensive end this yeare, where he was the Knights' sack leader two years running. At 6-3 and 260 pounds, he has lived in opposing backfields, using a quick first step and great closing speed to bag 34.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks since coming Piscataway.
Rushing from the outside will be George Johnson, who replaces Westerman at end, and Gary Watts, both of whom played extensively last fall. At 6-4 and 250 pounds, Johnson has the athletic ability and speed of an outside linebacker with the mentality of a pure pass rusher. He had 32 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and three pass breakups last season. Watts is more of a situational rusher who won't offer a ton of help in run defense. Only 6-3 and 245 pounds, he used his speed to earn playing time.
Junior Ryan D'Imperio is primed to have the huge season that many predicted when he was one of the nation's most sought after linebacker recruits in 2006. A broken leg in the spring impeded his progress and limited him to just 14 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in 11 games last year. At 6-3 and 235 pounds, D'Imperio has the size-speed package to be so much more than the typical overachieving Scarlet Knight linebacker. He has played early and will only get better.
Flanking D'Imperio will be senior Kevin Malast and redshirt freshman Manny Abreu. The 6-2, 230-pound Malast excelled in his year starting at weakside, making 92 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Currently Malast leads Rutgers and ranks third in the Big East in tackling. He is good all-around athlete with terrific lateral quickness.
One of the most heralded defensive players to ever sign with Rutgers, Abreu is poised to make a big splash in his second season. He was in the mix as a true freshman before an injury limited him to just a couple of September cameos in his initial season. An exceptional all-around athlete at 6-3 and 220 pounds, his role is about to mushroom.
Four-year starting safety Ron Girault is gone, but Rutgers got a big break when All-Big East free safety Courtney Greene opted to return for his senior season. The team leader with 101 tackles a year ago, he has started every game of his three-year career and should be a lock for all-star honors once again. The 6-2, 210-pounder hits like a ton of bricks and will be the tone-setter in the secondary.
Starting at the two corner back positions are Jason and Devin McCourty. The brothers are a big reason that Rutgers ranked fifth nationally against the pass last year. Jason had 12 pass breakups in 2007 and is in his third year as a starter. Devin played well last year recording 63 tackles. Both are quick and athletic and are rarely caught out of position.
Rutgers has loads of talent but hasn't been able to put it together yet. West Virginia seems to be getting closer to finding the balance between Rich Rodriguez's mentality that there is no defense that can't be run through and the new approach of Bill Stewart and Jeff Mullen that the offense should attack the defense in a more balanced manner.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Offense 23.0 ppg, Rushing Offense 239.5 ypg, Passing Offense 123.5 ypg, Total Offense 363 ypg
RU Scoring Defense 22.8 ppg, Rushing Defense 166.8 ypg, Passing Defense 150.8 ypg, Total Defense 317.5 ypg
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU defense vs. RU offense
Rutgers returns seven starters from last year, but one person who did not return is running back Ray Rice. Rutgers relied on Rice heavily last year and has struggled this year without his presence in the backfield. The Scarlet Knights do return a 3,000 yard passer in Mike Teel and a pair of 1,000 yard receivers in Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt. The talent and playmaking ability is there but thus far Rutgers hasn't been able to put it together. Rutgers is putting up 19.5 points per game this season, which ranks then 116th nationally in scoring offense. Even without Rice, more has been expected from a unit with such talent.
Fifth year senior quarterback Teel had a breakout season in 2007 in which the Oakland, N.J. product completed 203 of 349 passes for 3,147 yards and 20 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He threw for more than 300 yards in three consecutive games last fall, and eventually finished the season ranked 17th nationally in passing efficiency. That, however was last season. So far his 2008 campaign hasn't been what most expected. Teel has completed 59% of his passes this year for 825 yards but has only thrown two touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. In Rutgers' opening game loss to Fresno State, it failed to score until the 11:20 mark of the fourth quarter. There is no doubt the talent is there. so Teel is always a threat, but so far this season he hasn't played like the Mike Teel of last year.
Rutgers returns two big playmakers on the outside in Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood. Both are big, athletic receivers that can flat out make plays. Underwood has just 15 receptions this year for 115 yards while Britt has 21 receptions for 262 yards. It's puzzling that their numbers aren't better, but don't be fooled. Britt and Underwood are as good a wide receiver combination as anyone in the country. The pair are also feeling the loss of Rice. This offense liked to use play action last year, and without the threat of Rice in the backfield, secondaries have been able to blanket Underwood and Britt.
Rice isn't the only loss on offense for Rutgers, which begin the season with three new offensive linemen. The starting five for Rutgers will go as follows, Anthony Davis at left tackle (first year starter), Kevin Haslam at left guard (first year starter), Ryan Blaszczyk at center, Caleb Ruch at right guard (first year starter), and Mike Gilmartin at right tackle. Three new offensive linemen for Rutgers has been a difficult adjustment as Teel hasn't had the time to throw the football and Rutgers hasn't moved the ball on the ground as well as they have in years past. The Scarlet Knights want to control the tempo of the game, and thus far their offensive line hasn't allowed that to happen.
Running the football has been mainly up to Jourdan Brooks and Mason Robinson. Brooks has handled the majority of the running game carrying the ball 42 times this season for 241 yards and five touchdowns. Brooks is the bruiser of the combo weighing in at 6-1 245 pounds. The key to stopping Brooks is gang tackling, because he is strong enough to run through arm tackles. Robinson has carried the ball 28 times for 112 yards and a touchdown. He had had a big game against North Carolina in which he ran for 82 yards on 16 carries, but for the most part this season is has been on Brooks' to shoulder the load.
With the current play of the West Virginia defense there is no reason to think they shouldn't keep Rutgers in check. The only major concern thus far for the West Virginia defense has to be their inability to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis. If Teel has time to stand in the pocket and not move his feet too much it could be trouble. With that said, Ellis Lankster and Brandon Hogan played well in coverage last game and shut down a good receiver in Darius Passmore. Look for West Virginia's defense to continue their recent success against an offense struggling to find an identity.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Defense 16.2 ppg, Rushing Defense 125.5 ypg, Passing Defense 201.8 ypg, Total Defense 327.2 ypg
RU Scoring Offense 19.5 ppg, Rushing Offense 136.2 ypg, Passing Offense 210.2 ypg, Total Offense 346.5 ypg
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU special teams vs. RU special teams
Rutgers has the unenviable task of replacing All-American place kicker Jeremy Ito, who also doubled as the team's punter last year. His successor at kicker is redshirt freshman San San Te, who was a prized recruit two years ago. He is an accurate kicker with good fundamentals, but he has to prove he can handle himself in pressure situations.
Ito was not the best punter around, which is the positive to his graduation. The contenders for the job are sophomore Teddy Dellaganna and junior Matt Voliva. A former transfer from Bakersfield (Calif.) Community College, Dellaganna was brought in to win the job last year, but couldn't deliver. Voliva is a former Maine transfer who can also pitch in as a placekicker in an emergency. In the return game watch out for Underwood. Underwood is fast and athletic and can take it to the house at any moment. With West Virginia's kickoff coverage team fighting to find consistency, Underwood is a threat to be concerned about.
By The Numbers
WVU Net Punting 43.4 yards per punt, Kickoff Returns 23.2 yards per return , Punt Returns 12.7 yards per return
RU Net Punting 34.8 yards per punt , Kickoff Returns 17.6 yards per return, Punt Returns 12.2 yards per return
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Dorrell Jalloh
On Defense: J.T. Thomas
Rutgers is chock full of talent, but for whatever reason they haven't been showing it. Last week West Virginia showed signs that it can play like many Mountaineer fans know it is capable of.
This game will come down to the defense of West Virginia. If it can hold Rutgers as it did for the last combined seven quarters against Colorado and Marshall, it will take a lot of pressure off Jeff Mullen and allow the offense to operate much more freely. Considering Rutgers' offense hasn't done much so far, I like West Virginia's odds.
WVU - 38 RU - 14